Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grindhouse and Postmodernism

Grindhouse and Postmodernism

            Grindhouse was released in 2007; it consists of two films, Death Proof (directed by Quentin Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez). The film is meant to bring back the days of B-movies and exploitation films. There are also fake trailers in between and various interstitial segments. On DVD, Grindhouse was released as two separate films. They were also released separately outside of North America, partly because countries besides the United States don't necessarily have the grindhouse double-feature tradition. However, some saw it as a way to make more money, as people would have to pay for two separate tickets.

             The films don't really have anything to do with each other. There are a few connections, but they never congeal into anything meaningful. Death Proof is about a sadistic stuntman who hunts down women in his specially-made stunt car. In Planet Terror, there is an outbreak of a dangerous virus that turns people into zombie-like creatures.  Grindhouse is definitively a postmodern film. This is due to heavy use of intertextuality, mixing of genres, and the concept of simulacra.

            Tarantino and Rodriquez throw together aspects of all sorts of different genres. According to Javier Martinez " Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror simultaneously occupies a number of generic spaces: a horror film about encroaching zombie hordes; an sf film about an experimental gas that unleashes a biological plague; an over-the-top black comedy; a splatterfest drive-in film; a fetish film; a tragic love story; a film about the creation of a Latino utopia. (331)

             Grindhouse is mainly a horror film, but there are decent amounts of drama, action, comedy, and sci-fi elements as well. Planet Terror includes zombies, a common staple of horror flicks. There's plenty of disgusting, gross-out violence in both parts. Thrilling action sequences are also a key part of Grindhouse. There are many jokes as well, especially in the faux trailers. Planet Terror is, at times, intentionally bad, and this is played for laughs. Tarantino is known for mixing genres throughout his career. "…The film gleefully combined various periods, genres, and styles, producing the perfect postmodern cinematic stew." (Booker 48) Booker's quote refers to Pulp Fiction, but could just as easily refer to this movie.

            "Postmodern artists, however ingenious and inventive their works might be, are unable to establish and maintain a distinctive and easily identifiable personal style in the modernist sense" (Booker 188). The makers of Grindhouse aren't trying to make an original, creative film. Intertextuality in the form of reference to other films is another key factor that makes Grindhouse postmodernist.

             As stated in an article in Film Quarterly, "Rife with references to Rodriguez's other films as well as 1970s film conventions, Machete creates the past-and-present in which the rest of Grindhouse takes place. This blurry fictional temporality is figurally represented by the onscreen dust and scratches that appear in both Machete and Planet Terror" (Benson-Allott 1). The constant scratches make the film seem like an actual grindhouse feature that has been damaged from being shown too many times.

            In another quote that refers to Pulp Fiction, but could equally apply to Grindhouse, "The film exemplifies the postmodern appropriation of elements from the popular culture of the past" (Booker 13).  It does this in an "ahistorical" way with "little genuine nostalgia"(Booker 47) Also, "[Tarantino's] Jackie Brown nostalgically looks back on a number of predecessors in film, beginning with its opening airport sequence, a pastiche of the opening of The Graduate (1967)" (Booker 14). Clearly, Grindhouse is the continuation of a trend that has been present in Tarantino's career from the beginning.

            These and many other elements serve to constantly remind the audience that they are watching a film. This is in strong contrast to most movies that try to keep the viewer engrossed in the story and feel like they are in a fictional world.

            For example, "The title of Tarantino's contribution, Death Proof, is made to look as though it's been crudely spliced into the opening credits, as though, in the meta-world surrounding the film, the distributor hastily decided that the original title wasn't quite lowest-common-denominator enough to ensure brisk business" (Figler). Things like that actually happened in the real world with B-movies. This mood is set from the very beginning, when a title card saying "Our Feature Presentation" is shown that looks like it is straight out of the 1970s. Furthermore, when Cherry and El Wray have sex, the film completely deteriorates and a title says, "Missing Reel". When things like that happen, it's hard to forget that one is watching a film.

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