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Just watched this fascinating documentary on the exploitation movies of the last 100 or so years on Hulu.com. Many interesting insights from various figures like John Landis, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jack Hill, Fred Williamson, and the late Don Edmonds, the last one had died not long after filming his interview. He's the one responsible for that infamous Nazi (or possibly anti-) flick that introduced Ilsa (which I have yet to watch in its entirety). This possibly won't be the last word on the various genres that played in various grindhouse and drive-in theatres over the last several decades but it's certainly one of the most essential that I'd highly recommend. Many quotable lines and interesting clips abound here.
I love grindhouse films, especially the gore of Herschell Gordon Lewis,
horror like The Last House on the Left, and exploitation films, whether
they be blaxploitation, women in prison films, and even nunsploitation.
I guess that makes me weird, but grindhouse films in various forms have existed from the birth of motion pictures. Films like Maniac, Reefer Madness, and more have titillated moviegoers for almost 100 years.
This documentary does an excellent job of reviewing exploitation from the beginning, complete with uncensored clips from the movies they talk about.
If grindhouse is something you are not familiar with, then this documentary will enlighten you. It is for all those who want to know more.
American Grindhouse explores the exploitation genres from their inception with Thomas Edison all the way to now(though very briefly). Along the way we get candid, short interviews(more like blurbs) from the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Ted V. Mikels, and Herschell Gordon Lewis - just to mention a few. I found the approach, the interviews, and the clips to be very interesting though not much was given to any particular subject. Many faces that should have been on here are notably absent like Roger Corman and Quentin Tarrantino, but that in and of itself should not diminish this look at something that really only lately has received a bit more respect than it is generally accorded. I saw clips of films that I had no knowledge of and will now seek some of those titles out. This is a breezy look at the history of a side of film that gets ignored for having a reputation that the films are garbage. Some without a doubt are,but some are gems. I wish more time had been given to those films. Exploitation films when it is all said and done(can I lace any more clichés through this review?) have stood the test of time better than many, many "mainstream" films.
American Grindhouse (2010)
*** (out of 4)
This film begins with people debating on what a grindhouse film really is and after the release of the film GRINDHOUSE it seems like everyone was debating the true definition. This documentary, to me, covers pretty much everything that wasn't accepted by the mainstream. We cover a wide range of films starting with some early silents from Edison and then moving to Hollywood movies like FREAKS as well as trashier things like MANIAC, REEFER MADNESS and then going through other decades. Included are the "birth" films from the 40s, the nudist films of the 60s, the gore period starting with Herschell Gordon Lewis and then moving through the 70s with stuff like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and the blaxploitation pictures. John Landis, William Lustig, Ted V. Mikels, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Dante, Kim Morgan, Fred Olen Ray, Fred Williamson, Allison Anders, Larry Cohen, David Hess, Don Edmonds and Jack Hill are just a few of the people interviewed here and they too have a wide range of opinions on the films covered here. For the most part I think this is a terrific introduction to those unfamiliar with the genre but if you have a good idea of these films and their history then it's doubtful you're going to learn much here. I think American GRINDHOUSE would best be used as a training tool for those new movie fans wanting to see about this stuff and be able to see countless clips as well as get some nice recommendations for rentals. I think the documentary does a good job at covering various genres but at just 83-minutes there's really no way it can really dig deep into everything. Europeon films are pretty much overlooked and this is somewhat frustrating especially when certain films are made to appear as if they started a sub-genre when in fact it was usually something overseas. The film also does a nice job at showing how certain production rules in Hollywood is what helped change the exploitation filmmakers and how Hollywood eventually had to drop what they were doing and offer people what they wanted.
I really, really enjoyed this. At the same time, though entertaining
and informative, it leaves one yearning for so much more. The clips
from the films shown are usually VERY short, and quite often, they are
not directly discussed by the commentators. Instead, they are used to
"illustrate" a more general discussion of one of the sub-genres covered
her (ie: pre-code; nudist camp, nudie cuties, etc). I look forward to
someone expanding upon this introduction to provide us with a film
exploring each of the sub-genres in more depth.
Finally, I was pleased to hear John Landis refer to PASSION OF THE Christ as an Exploitation film, as that's exactly how I viewed it... with total delight, I must say. In fact, given it and APOCALYPTO, an argument could be made for Mel Gibson as the greatest Exploitation film director of the past decade... even if he does not exactly see his own films in that light.
About as interesting as a loosely-related series of sparse conversations with cult-favorite directors is likely to get. The goal seems to have been the assembly of a "straight from the horse's mouth" oral history of exploitation at large in cinema, but none of the subjects could really nail down the outer limits of what the term meant. So, instead, it became a crash-course history of underground film, decorated at all corners with vaguely familiar old men reminiscing about their glory days. The narrative jumps all over the place, sometimes floating from the '20s to the '90s over the course of a single sentence - that's OK, though, because the sheer breadth of knowledge and a shared recollection of the crazy promotional stunts each film undertook to get noticed makes the journey worthwhile. It's also one hell of a Netflix recommendation engine.
Just saw "American Grindhouse" at The Boston Underground Film Festival
and loved it. Very insightful, very fast and very funny. I enjoyed that
they have a couple of witty female interviewees, as well. I thought I
knew a lot of movies - particularly grindhouse a.k.a. exploitation
films, but this movie puts it all into perspective for me.
I thought that this documentary would mainly focus on the exploitation most of us think of from the 60's on to present day. I am glad to say that is has a much more interesting approach then just that obvious plot. It starts at the turn of the 18th century at the dawn of cinema, all and while amusing classic clips. It progresses decade by decade comparing more contemporary films to pre code Hollywood. These are things most exploitation fans would never really think of...'Where did the 70s exploit films come from, and what inspired them?' I personally welcome this lesson, and don't worry you get the schlock and gore too! My point? Even if your a 'know it all' go see it, it's academic with a punch line. Now if I can only find all of these amazing movies they talked about.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The trouble with movies like American Grindhouse is that they cast their net too wide. Elijah Drenner admirably attempts to provide a comprehensive history of exploitation movies from the dawn of the cinema to the present day, but with a running time of only 80 minutes manages to provide nothing more than a potted history. The film sort of skims across its subject matter like a stone on water, taking a brief look at some particular aspect before quickly moving on. There's plenty of film clips featured, but most of them last little longer than a second or two - and are mostly just the title screen. And although the movie succeeds in piquing your curiosity so that you do actually want to see maybe one or two complete movies, you also see enough to know that as soon as you do start watching one you're going to wonder why you bothered. The talking heads are probably more interesting than the film clips, and it's a shame more time wasn't devoted to letting the practitioners of this dubious genre recall their times in the business instead of showing us tiny snippets of their output.
'AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE': Four Stars (Out of Five)
A documentary on the history of exploitation films, which are as old as film itself. As the movie points out as soon as man had the power to keep a video recording of things the first thing we naturally wanted to do was record something exploitative. The film is directed by Elijah Drenner (in his feature film debut) and written by Drenner and Calum Waddell. It features interviews with such legendary exploitation filmmakers as John Landis, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jack Hill, Larry Cohen, Don Edmonds and many more. The film is narrated by Robert Forster.
The movie follows the history of exploitation film from the turn of the century, when film was invented, to present day and displays a decade by decade examination of it. It intercuts clips from various movies with interviews from different filmmakers, critics and actors discussing them. Some of the earlier clips are the most interesting and shocking. It examines the effects of various things on the industry, like the Motion Picture Production Code as well as the 'Grindhouse' theaters themselves. 'Grindhouse' theaters were movie theaters that almost solely showed exploitation films and usually stayed open all day and night. They were named after the run down burlesque theaters on 42nd Street in New York City. The film follows the history of 'Grindhouse' theaters and the exploitation film industry all the way to it's near extinction in the mid 70's when movies like Steven Spielberg's 'JAWS' finally blurred the lines between indie exploitation and Hollywood films and made exploitation 'B' movies a mainstream excepted thing.
The movie is extremely interesting and educational. It's also very entertaining and never dull. It moves at a remarkably fast pace and finishes in a very quick 80 minute running time. There are a few movies and filmmakers I'm surprised they never touched on, especially considering some of the ones they did, which makes me feel the film is not as complete a film history lesson as it could have been (but then again no movie possibly could be). It is only 80 minutes like I said and I'm sure there were budget restraints as well (It is a very low budget movie itself). The interviews are outstanding and the clips shown are as shocking and disturbing as any movie I've seen. Which makes you wonder if the documentary itself isn't exploitation filmmaking.
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It's a far ranging exploration of the exploitation cinema. It takes a
history trip from the beginning of film all the way to today. It
doesn't really try to limit the scope, and skims through 100 years. It
features several talking heads. The most famous of the experts is
director John Landis.
This serves as a general documentary of the fringe movie world. The best thing is all the clips of these old movies. The talking heads aren't digging too deep but are generally well informed. Robert Forster does a good job as the narrator. His gruff voice isn't the normal narration but somehow fits the subject matter. This is a steady march through history categorizing all the major movements hitting the big moments. The best interviews are the actual participants who are talking about their own movies. The doc does grind down as the movie has nowhere to go with the arrival of porn. I guess that's another doc. The final section of Hollywood trying to rip off the grindhouse isn't quite as compelling. As a general doc, it hits most of the big points.
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