Saturday, April 07, 2007

Grindhouse: A retrospective experiment in movie making for its own sake

Title: Grindhouse
Directors: Robert Rodriquez, Quentin Tarantino (features), Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie (“previews”).
Distributor: Dimension Films, The Weinstein Company.
Production Company: Troublemaker Studios, Austin Texas
Country of Origin: USA, Mexico
Length: 191 minutes, including both “features” and all “previews”
Release: April 2007

A “grindhouse” is, according to movie slang, a theater showing a platform release of a B-movie double feature. As the reel moves from theater to theater, the print becomes damaged or reels get lost, and so typically the double-feature viewer sees fuzzy, damage prints with snow and stretch marks, and dropouts. It’s the equivalent of playing a DVD that skips.

So TWC tried an experiment, to assemble a 50s to 70s double feature “show” and simulate the experience of a moviegoer from that era. There is one introductory preview, a feature, three more previews, and a second feature. (One of the previews, "Don't" subliminally, at least, reminds one of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" which was a spoof horror film, review here.) Not that many area theaters can set aside 3-1/2hours for one admission. I saw it at the National Amusements in Merrifield, VA. The huge auditorium was about half full (Friday night April 6 at 8 PM) and the actual projection appeared to be DLP from a high-definition DVD. Some of the footage deliberately simulates the poor technical quality of old B-movies, and other stretches are quite state-of-the-art. In the second featrue, the Texas Hill Country and downtown Austin scenery is striking, as is the California scrub desert later.

But what was most interesting was the underlying concept. Separate stories or story segments are spliced together for an entertainment experience. Are the stories related? Not really, although that idea is interesting to me because of a concept that I want to try. The second feature (“Death Proof” – the first is the prosaic “Planet Terror”) is interesting in that the story itself is bifurcated. Single women are congregating in Austin bars, meeting attractive University of Texas men, it seems, and then one of the girls meets this creepy character played by Kurt Russell (who just appeared on Jay Leno the other night, across from the charismatic self-made comic Shia La Boeuf from “Disturbia”). The guy wants to give her a hot car ride, and he has murderous intentions. The second half is repeated with another set of women making an adult movie. Not, there is not a lot of connection between the women’s preparatory conversations and the action that will follow. I think there was opportunity here for a more textured story – but after all, this is a B-movie. Yet, Tarantino is known for playing with story structure and even set it up out of time sequence (as in “Pulp Fiction”). Here, he could have tried to work the contents of the supposed adult movie into the story, or the previews in between the features. He really didn’t.

I have an experimental script, not yet public, where I have perhaps three stories to thread. One of them is autobiographical – my being expelled from college in 1961 for saying that I am gay. The second is a modern day setting of a movie director who could have been involved with the 1961 even as a student and who now is interested in making a “Christian film” based on a screenplay that I have written, and who hires a young adult man who knows me. The third is another screenplay that I have written that gets me in trouble with the law—and the young man sets up a situation that would get me out of the trouble, Now, the problem here is how to show all the story threads visually and keep the basic concept clear. So I say, make this (still imaginary – I would need to raise $10 million or so to pull this off movie 2.35 to 1 anamorphic, state of the art filmmaking. Show the college sequence in black and white and present day in neutral, or perhaps garish color. Show the “Christian film” short in 1.85 to 1, cropped. Show the imaginary troublesome script in rotoscope animation (as in “A Scanner Darkly” where characters are in plenty of trouble). The “challenge” at the end and courtroom scenes are in full 2.35 to 1 with normal filming. There would be some provocative “real time” or “present day” scenes that match the rotoscope imaginary scenes.

I’ve seen this sort of furcation before. In “The Prestige” (NewMarket), the story is divided along the sections of the magic trick. In “Memento” the story moves backwards. Th Lars Von Tier ‘s “In Praise of Love” there is a two part “Beethoven 32nd Piano Sonata” structure, the sonata in black and white and variations in Color, where the sonata looks back onto the variations.

More details of the Grindhouse contents: here

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