My penultimate film for this year's Another Hole in the Head festival was the documentary American Grindhouse. The film's definition of what constitutes grindhouse is pretty expansive and the first half hour spends a lot of time discussing films and genres I wouldn't have thought to include, but I won't disagree with the director's perspective except to say I can't really agree with ascribing film noir as grindhouse cinema. Noting how such films as Babyface and Freaks led to the Hayes code and how much titillation and prurience were on display prior to its creation casts what follows in an interesting light, but I was actually hoping for something a little more salacious from the get-go. In other words, who really wants to see a documentary about grindhouse full of talking heads still connected to bodies?
When the film gets to looking at the fifties, where biker movies and teenage delinquent films really come into popular culture at full force, it starts to become more engaging, though there's some interesting commentary and food for thought beforehand to be sure because the film's premise is that grindhouse is really about exploitation, and exploitation has been a part of American cinema from the very beginning. That's a fine thesis, one I can agree with, but bring on "Blood Feast" already. The usual suspects and some surprising ones offer some pretty interesting commentary along the way, especially Hershell Gordon Lewis, whose impact on horror films is perhaps unmatched by any other director.
There's an interesting section on "roughies"- a genre I was unfamiliar with prior to watching "American Grindhouse" that intrigued me. "Roughies" combined the sex found in the "nudie cuties" of Russ Meyer with a distinctly nasty violence, epitomized in a film called "The Scum of the Earth" which is something I now have to see. I also appreciated a segment on the Corpse Grinders, a film I saw in a Hollywood Blvd grindhouse as a teenager that always lingered in my mind because it was so badly done but so perverse one really couldn't forget it. While I'm reminiscing about my own grindhouse experiences, I should mention the ultimate- skipping school with Paisley Yankolovich in 9th or 10th grade to be driven down to the Wiltern Theater by the coke-sniffing older sister of a friend of ours. We sat in the deserted parking lot out back while she packed her nose, then walked past the bums in the front of the theater to take in a double feature of "Torso" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Inside, there were less than a dozen grungy, crashed-out old guys in the cavernous, dilapadated theater. The three of us were the only people under 40, I was certain. Then the lights when down and "Torso" began, and so did my fascination with this particular world.
"American Grindhouse" is well worth your time if you have any interest in the subject.