Although I won’t be able to make the premiere of AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE in New York, I’m kicking myself for missing seeing this documentary in a theater. This is the type of documentary I’d love to see more of. It’s informative, with awesome clips and guest appearances sharing insightful and fun anecdotes about an area of cinema that rarely gets the respect it deserves. One thing on my mind going into AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE was that I didn’t know exactly what grindhouse meant. Though most of the readers of AICN are familiar with the term, a direct definition eluded me until seeing this film. Sure, Tarantino and Rodriguez’ semi-homage to the genre was fun and I’d seen my share of trashy movies, but I didn’t know what distinguished grindhouse films from all of the rest. AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE goes out of its way to bring meaning to the term and provides scores of examples of grindhouse classics through the years.
What I loved about this documentary was the way it incorporates modern and classic directors, producers, writers, and stars with their own takes on what grindhouse is. The term grindhouse, originally given to those films made outside of the Hollywood code, played in seedy theaters that never closed. Films were played over and over, which gave the films that scratched, repaired, aged look that films go out of their way to computerize these days. AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE dubs a film called TRAFFIC IN SOULS (a cautionary tale about white immigrant slavery) as the first official grindhouse film, but also states that exploitation (a major factor of the grindhouse feature) was born when the very first images were captured on film. Though these films focused on taboo subject matter, it was the only place unfettered glimpses of “real life” could be seen. Hollywood’s glitzy and soft-lit view of life was fun, but grindhouse showed everything and anything, beautiful and ugly.
Some of the best stuff in AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE comes from John Landis, who seems to be especially enamored by this type of cinema and is shameless enough to admit that although most of them were pretty shitty, the films were extremely influential on his own work. The film goes through the varying eras of America and links them with trends of the grindhouse. During Viet Nam and the death of JFK, the films became more violent, when in the past they focused on more voyeuristic presentations. There is a great segment on Herschell Gordon Lewis, as he talks about his success with BLOOD FEAST that is worth the price of admission alone.
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE is an excellent documentary that sports tons of clips of classic grindhouse films and interviews with some of the films’ most influential makers. It offers an in depth look at this gripping type of film through the years focusing on how the American society both loved and loathed the genre. Everything from FREAKS to THE MACK is featured. Narrated by Robert Forster, AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE is a documentary no reader of AICN should miss.