Saturday, April 07, 2007


At the tender age of twelve I was finally allowed to ride the city bus on my own. So, of course it was off to the movies. My allowance was two dollars a week -- slave wages, even for forgetting to take out the garbage -- and after packing three peanut butter sandwiches; every Saturday I would tell my parents I was going to the museum, and hop on the thirty-one bus for the 6 mile trip to second street in downtown Milwaukee. It was there that sat The Grand Theatre. It even had a balcony. And it was there I saw some of the greatest crap to ever hit the screen. Movies so bad they're not even out on DVD.

Bus fare was thirty-five cents there, and thirty-five cents back. Twenty cents for a Coke. Ten cents for a Three Musketeers bar. And a buck for admission. That left me destitute but well-fed and with a full afternoon of cheap horror, terrible sci-fi, Mexploitation, sexploitation, blacksploitation, and chop-socky ahead of me. Look up bliss in the dictionary and it's a picture of me as a boy munching a peanut butter sandwich in the balcony of the Grand Theatre.

That was grindhouse. Grindhouse was all about sticky floors and using plot-points to achieve one of two goals: Violence or bare breasts -- but when truly inspired, both. The movies were awful. Even then we knew they were awful. But it wasn't about that. It was about the crowd who yelled at the screen. It was about being out on my own. It was about the rare gems that quieted the crowd: the reissues of Pam Grier or Bruce Lee; the Shaft trilogy, and movies I still worship like The Outfit, The Stone Killers, or Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. It was also about the coming attractions and getting excited about what we'd see the next week. I would dream about those trailers and count down the days to when they would become reality. What a time that was.

Unfortunately, it didn't last very long. After a year we moved to the suburbs where the buses won't come. Seven years later my very first apartment was intentionally four blocks from the Grand. But by then the weekend double features were gone, it cost two bucks to get in, and they had closed the balcony. Things also ran much smoother. The prints were cleaner, no more missing reels, and if you yelled at the screen they tossed you out. Me and my peanut butter sandwiches still went every weekend though. And every once in a while we'd get lucky. Every once in a while they'd show a real shitty movie.

Tarantino's Grindhouse works very hard to recapture the feel of those afternoons. He and Robert Rodriguez both contributed a film, but it's the stuff in-between that really took me back: The coming attractions, advertising, and lame cards announcing The Feature Presentation. Rodriguez's Planet Terror was pretty fun. Tarantino's Death Proof was pretty disappointing, and absolutely nothing like a grindhouse film. It's forty minutes of girls talking with an okay car chase. Grindhouse films were many things, with many flaws, but they were never talky. I suggest you wait for DVD.


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