Friday, May 23, 2008

old notes on Grindhouse

It's been over a year since the special experience of a double bill that Rodriguez/Tarantino served up to a mainstream audience while paying their dues to a genre that was anything but mainstream. The risk is laudable, but the Weinsteins have been funding QT's fanboy obsession with counter-cultural pop trash with abandon. There's a lot to savour, but the final product is not without elements that challenge one's patience.
The first film is the work of a craftsman and the second that of an artist; with a craftsman you get a quality product, but little to nothing of the texture of the incomplete or the unfinished or the rough that you can get from an artist; QT's the critical darling and it didn't take much to predict that Death Proof would get more attention and mileage than Planet Terror (among friends, I've found few that even remembered the title of Rodriguez's film -- some even -- shudder!! -- transferred the name of the package to it). Saying that Death Proof is packed with a lot of interesting dialogue, characters, a wonderful mix-tape of a soundtrack and a clever reworking of genre elements (a slasher flick with a car as the weapon) is tantamount to saying that QT delivers his bag of familiar tropes. Although there's a sense of Jackie Brown in the flourishes of dialogue, Death Proof serves as a showcase of the excess a filmmaker can wallow in as he indulges in his gift -- QT has a ear and pen for dialogue; the racist cussing that peppered True Romance and Pulp Fiction is superseded by a rich swathe of pop cultural references and tributes to genre pieces. The problem seems to have germinated in the second Kill Bill film. The comical blood baths and violence that fuelled the roller coaster of the first edition were replaced in a film that spent its time cooling down to a talky finale. photo courtesy The shadow of the first may have saved the series, but there's nothing to cushion the drop here. All the glee in his imitations and homages takes a severe beating when we are presented with the ladies riffing around the table in a single revolving shot lasting over 8 minutes. That breathtaking flourish of bravura damages the intent of the package.

While Rodriguez came out tops with a faithful reworking of splatter and zombie flicks, QT cheated and took off from his assignment on a creative flight that sought another kind of audience. Although Miramax denied home theatre viewers the chance to experience the 191 minute monster by issuing them separately on DVD, the brothers Weinstein may have offered each film its own space. One hopes that it does not diminish the power and success of Planet Terror, however -- with that lovely motif (Rodriguez echoes John Carpenter as he does his own score yet again), the ingenious machine-gun-leg device, the delcious bloody exploding goop, Naveen Andrews lending glee and British relish to his lines, the artificial aging of the film and the cameos truly deserve their due.

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