February 17, 2008 I like to have my hands in various film spools on campus. Part of that is setting the programming for Samuel Kirkland Film Society. This weekend brought Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez's Grindhouse to campus. Three hours and eleven minutes of juvenile humor and celebratory gore. I was quite giddy. The concept is simple, each director would make a 70's style exploitation film, then mash them together as an intentionally designed double feature, complete with trailers for movies that will never exist. It is designed to be an experience as much as a movie.
Unfortunately, it was an experience no one was looking for, and very few people understood. That's why there is no other way to see this film. With $25 million made and a production budget of $67 million, Grindhouse was a tremendous flop. After failing in America, Dimension Pictures thought it was a good idea to cut the double feature in half. Released on their own, without even the benefit of the meager marketing the complete Grindhouse had received, Planet Terror and Death Proof skunked it up internationally. Theaters became deserts as projection booths flopped film around in endless unwatched loops. Then came the final insult, when Grindhouse was split in half and re-edited for American DVD release. That way, even those who recognized the title from theatrical release would not have any incentive to buy it. Those few fans, rabid as they were, wouldn't purchase the DVDs, because they did not contain the trailers and fake advertisements that made the theatrical release such a unified and fun experience. I am one of those people who will never purchase the DVDs, even though Grindhouse is one of the most fun theatrical events I have ever attended.
In designing the line-up for this semester's films I decided to see if I could duplicate the original theatrical experience of Grindhouse on this campus. Our film distributor had on offer only one option: VHS. There are no film prints or DVD screeners of a brand new film, with contributions by two famous directors, anywhere in the country. I took the VHS. It would mean poor quality, but would enhance the underground cinema feel of the whole event. It ran, people cheered, yelled at the screen, and generally had a good time. It was an experience never to be duplicated again.