Grindhouse: Perspective Dichotomy

Nostalgia is a poison. Our current nostalgia-obsessed culture tends to forget that, at its root, there is a sadness that stems from the idea that what you had in the past is no longer attainable in your present or future. It is an infection that, much like the virus in Grindhouse’s opening feature, Planet Terror, spreads rapidly throughout a community (it runs especially rampant in the gaming community, but that is a discussion for another day). There are those who look back fondly on their high school selves, but I am not one of those people. I’ve heard it said that growing up is hating who you were five years ago, and that seems especially true of myself. And nothing highlights this dichotomy better than my shifting opinions on the two feature films that compose 2007’s Grindhouse – Planet Terror and Death Proof.

There is an irony at the heart of this post, and I feel I should acknowledge it right away. Yes, I am simultaneously tearing down our nostalgic inclinations while hailing a pair of films whose very premise is founded on the nostalgia for a cinematic golden age.

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My defense is this: Planet Terror knowingly revels in the camp of its inspirations, creating an idealized cinematic present that relishes the ideas of the past, marrying them with the capabilities of the future. Death Proof, much like all of Tarantino’s work, uses its homage to subvert the insidious themes of its same inspirations.

However, my love of both films is not equal, for I consider Death Proof Tarantino’s left-handed masterpiece, while Planet Terror is a lark.

Yet, this was not true from my first viewings, for in 2007, I was a 16-year old misogynist who thought he knew everything there was to know about movies.

That’s right, folks! All aboard as Jeffrey attempts to reconcile with his past self.
Take, for example, the utterly foolish notion that I once believed that Planet Terror was the truest descendant of the 70s’ exploitation era.
This coming from a guy who had never seen a single one of those movies.
Meanwhile, I dismissed Death Proof as a boring, self-indulgent movie that utterly misunderstood the exploitation films it was celebrating.
Again, coming from a boring, self-indulgent idiot who utterly misunderstood the exploitation films he was celebrating.

Shit, I wrote an excruciatingly long and whiny post about it (on a young Facebook) that I wish I could share with you now, but alas, is gone to whatever hell awaits the tears of a hormonal teenager. I’m pretty sure I called out Quentin Tarantino for masturbating on screen, though. [Admin’s Note: That’d be a great pull quote for a DVD/Blu-ray]

Self-hatred aside, this blossoming, young fool highlights the dichotomy that exists within Grindhouse. The first feature, by Robert Rodriguez, is a teenager’s idea of an exploitation film after seeing one of their legitimately awesome trailers. 70s grindhouse films had neither the budget nor the resources to sustain the level of entertainment which Planet Terror flaunts so vividly. Indeed, it is too entertaining for its own good. Every left-field idea spewing from Rodriguez’s brain is given its due time on screen, with lavish props and sets that don’t look like they were made on a shoestring budget in some dude’s backyard. In short, it was my 16-year old self’s idea of a grindhouse film.

Now, I’m older and wiser –
Still a stone cold fucking idiot, though.
– and I’ve come to the realization that Death Proof is indeed the superior film. It is precisely due to its insistence on practical effects and mind-numbing dialogue (read: intentionally boring) which makes it the truest descendant of the exploitation era. But the film has more progressive themes at play than many of its 70s kin. For, in it, Tarantino creates a rape revenge metaphor through American muscle cars and chases. Kurt Russell is the seemingly hard-boiled stuntman at the heart of the picture who is ultimately revealed to be a maniac coward, pursuing women and killing them to satiate some carnal desire. Or, as one character so eloquently puts it, “I bet it’s the only i-spit-on-your-grave-poster-1978way he can shoot his goo.” Thus, with the victory of the women after they’ve turned the tables on Stuntman Mike, the film becomes a feminist picture that manages to avoid the murky waters of 70s rape revenge thrillers like I Spit On Your Grave.

Nostalgia is a poison, but like most poisons, the antidote is usually a smaller dose of the venom. So, maybe my younger self wasn’t a complete waste of human consciousness, just another lost teenager trying to make sense of the world around him. He was able to relish a silly film like Planet Terror. The problem arose when he so readily dismissed another film because he refused to engage with its themes. Maybe I’m no wiser now, but I like to think I’ve at least learned this much:

Don’t talk out of turn, boy.

And so now, I’ll shut my mouth.

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