I love it when people try to prove their point with an argument that starts with “Everyone likes this” or “No one likes this”. This style of debate is easily dismantled since the person declaring this statement must prove it for “everyone” or “no one”, which could be quite time consuming and expensive considering the world’s population. Its dismantled by simply supplying one counter example. Then its QED, bitches.
A friend was trying to convince me that no one likes Grindhouse films with this style of argument, however my counter example was that I liked them and therefore he lost. This friend is a cinematic snob, only seeing films that are “of substance” or “culturally relevant”. That’s nice and I don’t begrudge him that right but I see films for any number of reasons, sometimes just because they are, gasp, fun.
Grindhouse is a term thrown about loosely, mostly to describe the films paying homage to the genre born in the 70’s. Grindhouse was, at some point during the era of no fun (prohibition) an actual theatre in NYC that played porn. In the era of too much fun (the 70’s) it was was used to describe a genre of film and the theatres that played them. 70’s Grindhouse films were characterized by excessive violence, sex, poor production quality and low, low budgets. They were mostly Shanghai-exported martial arts, slasher and blaxploitation films. Harlem is often noted as the birthplace of blaxploitation. More recently, thanks to the ever-quirky Quentin Tarantino and Texas’ own Robert Rodriguez, Grindhouse genre films have been resurrected and polished up for a new generation.
I like Grindhouse because its fun in an excessive and distorted way, maybe its a boy thing. I usually resort to Grindhouse when I’ve seen one too many introspective and weighty foreign films and need a counterbalance.
From the new generation
If you are not familiar with these, then you might not be familiar with Pam Grier, who has been the undisputed queen of Grindhouse for almost 40 years. The film Jackie Brown was obviously Tarantino’s homage to the film that catapulted her to queendom, Foxy Brown. I wonder how Grier, now in her 60s, must feel knowing that her 70’s films are still in play at midnight showings in college towns across the country. She has done other things in her life but she will forever be Foxy Brown despite those efforts.
Grier made a cameo in the film that started my argument with the cinematic snob. Despite a really low IMDB score, I liked The Man with the Iron Fists. I didn’t love it, I won’t watch it again and it definitely had some problems but, for RZA’s entry into Grindhouse, not bad. The problems I had with this film were (1) RZA as lead; he’s an ambitious and successful guy but his acting is off. I think he was trying to play stoic but he came across as bored. (2) The attempt to blend blaxploitation and martial arts genres was a great idea, however it was not as successful as it could have been, maybe more Tarantino involvement would have helped.
The reasons to watch this are (1) Russell Crowe, who seems to have found a use for his weight gain and bad temper by playing a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities. He is the anchor for this film and thoroughly convincing. (2) Lucy Liu, who might be the only person with a remote chance of dethroning Grier as the reigning queen of Grindhouse. Her role as Madam Blossom in Iron Fists is played with the same sly, wicked genius as her O-Ren Ishii role in Kill Bill. (3) Soundtrack – you think martial arts and rap don’t mix, right? I would have thought so too but this is where RZA proves his talent.
While Grindhouse films are not for everyone, they have a place in my life. My suggested approach to the genre – brain off, drink on and enjoy it for what it is.