Monday, April 16, 2007

Absolutely loathing Grindhouse

I made the mistake of going to see Grindhouse last night with Colin. I'd only seen one preview for it and had had a favorable recommendation from a friend (whose name I shall not mention). The preview had certainly made it look trashy. But I couldn't remember any of the details and so I just thought it would be a Gone In Sixty Seconds kind of a movie except a lot cheesier. Of course, I should have realized that it was actually going to be more of a Sin City/Kill Bill kind of a movie.

And it was - to an extent. Only a lot worse. In fact, it was the worst movie I've ever seen. And by that I mean it was disgusting, it was horrific, it was pointless, it was misogynistic, it was lacking any sort of believable or interesting plot; in short, it was utter trash. It was everything that a real grind house movie would have been. Too bad I didn't know the meaning of the term 'grind house' before I saw the movie...

I began to long to leave the theatre part way through the first half of the first movie (Grindhouse is actually 2 movies - both terrible - shown together) when I realized my eyes were closed more then they were open. But Colin had been nice enough to pay for my ticket and he was enjoying it (he's an avid video game/anime fan with a high tolerance for extreme violence) so I felt bad for disrupting him. Plus I felt like I needed to sit there a while longer to figure out why it was that I wanted to leave so badly (yes, really).

I've walked out of a few movies. And I've sat through one or two movies that I wish I'd walked out of. My sister and I walked out of Blade II because of its stupid plot, terrible dialogue, and over-the-top violence. I walked out of Sleepy Hollow when I was still a JW because I was getting scared out of my wits.

I guess what perplexed me as I watched Grindhouse was the fact that I'd watched Kill Bill 1 & 2 and liked them. And I'd also watched Sin City in its entirety (although I seem to recall wanting to walk out but not following through on the urge). All of those movies are full of bloodshed and gore. So what made me stay for them but leave Grindhouse? The only reason I could come up with was that, in contrast to Grindhouse's gore-fest, the violence in Kill Bill and Sin City is extremely stylized. If you've seen the Kill Bill movies you'll know what I mean.* The violence is shocking at first (at least to me it was - am I just that easily shocked?), even revolting, but it soon becomes tolerable because they make it seem so damn cool and fashionable. Plus they've got this awesome music playing over the killing sprees turning it all into one big, beautiful death dance.

I'd also argue that Kill Bill and Sin City at least had semblances of a plot. Maybe not very good plots, but still - the plots were there and they were intriguing enough that you wanted to keep watching and just keep your eyes closed for the gory parts. Ultimately you left the movie theater feeling slightly stunned and nauseous but not quite to the point where you wanted to demand your money and your wasted time back.

Grindhouse, on the other hand, has NO PLOT (or if you're going to insist that it has one, then it is an awful plot). The first segment of Grindhouse - called Planet Terror - can be summed up in a few sentences: a virus is released into a dark, misty rural countryside. All but a few of the local citizens become infected. Most of the uninfected are soon killed in grisly, horrific ways. In the end, those that have survived the gauntlet of infected zombies escape by helicopter. So, as you may have already surmised, to create a movie like Planet Terror you'll need the following: take the plot of any Resident Evil movie or game, then dumb it down as much as you can (I know, its hard to believe that's possible), add 10x the blood, gore, and random nudity, insert as many disgusting ways of dying as possible (no matter whether you're dealing with men, women or small children), toss in some extreme misogynistic violence,* a cameo appearance by Quentin Tarantino [gag], and there you have it.

The second segment is called "Death Proof" and as soon as the violence in this one started up - a man offers a girl a ride home in his stunt car which has no seat belt on the passenger side and is boxed off by glass from the drivers side... can you see where this is going? - I walked out and sat in the lobby for the next hour reading Great Expectations. (Unfortunately, I was at the part where Pip arrives in London; Dickens' descriptions of dirty London and its filthy inhabitants were not the best thing to be reading in a queasy state. It just felt like grime on top of grime. Ugh.)

But back to the point. The point being, why do we watch these movies in the first place? Whether its The Matrix or Seven Samurai or A Clockwork Orange - most of us are susceptible to the lure of stylized violence.

There is actually a very well written Wikipedia article on the topic of aestheticized violence. According to the article, film critics have generally fallen into two categories: One side "sees depictions of violence in films as superficial and exploitative" and "argue that it leads audience members to become desensitized to brutality, thereby increasing aggressivity." The other side includes "critics who view violence as a type of content, or as a theme, claim it serves a 'cathartic or dissipating effect..., providing acceptable outlets for anti-social impulses.' They argue that '...screen violence is not real violence, and should never be confused with it. Movie violence is fun, spectacle, make-believe; it's dramatic metaphor, or a necessary catharsis akin to that provided by Jacobean theatre; it's generic, pure sensation, pure fantasy. It has its own changing history, its codes, its precise aesthetic uses.'"

I'd love to say that I fall unconditionally into the first category of critics and abhor all glorified violence and avoid it completely. But evidently I don't since I can tolerate violence in certain movies, in certain contexts, and up to a certain level.

I think most of us are like this. When violence serves to propel the plot we often have a higher tolerance for it.

But when the violence is the plot?

That's when I walk out.

P.S. I have so much more I could say on this topic but I'll leave it for another time.

P.P.S. Colin redeemed himself by buying me chocolate donuts on the way home. However, when I got out of the car I dropped them on the ground. I considered picking them up and eating them anyways (you know, the 3 second rule) but I could see the gravel. Yuck!

* Xavier Morales writes of Kill Bill in his review Beauty and Violence: "Tarantino manages to do precisely what Alex de Large was trying to do in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange: he presents violence as a form of expressive art. We watch in wonder and awe, not horror. Intellectually, we should be horrified by what we see. But the violence is so physically graceful, visually dazzling and meticulously executed that our instinctual, emotional responses undermine any rational objections we may have. Tarantino is able to transform an object of moral outrage into one of aesthetic beauty. Moreover, like all art forms, the violence serves a communicative purpose apart from its aesthetic value."
*And the few instances of what one reviewer has called Grindhouse's "sexy girl power" in no way redeem the movie from its overall portrayal of women as sex objects and victims. Letting the girls "win" in the end doesn't make up for all of the horrible abuses that are enacted on them throughout the majority of the movie.


Elliot said...

Woot! Right on!

Anonymous said...

why're the donuts in the fridge?


this single spark said...

I wasn't super keen on seeing this one (two?) anyway, but now that I know Tarantino has a cameo, you couldn't drag me into the theatre.

Anactoria said...

I'm glad you have been spared. :P

TheBrightGreySpot said...

Interesting. I was planning to go see Grindhouse because I enjoyed Kill Bills and Sin City. Now...I'm not so sure. In my opinion, violence alone does not make or break a movie. No pun intended. :P