2012, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 54, fall 2012
“The lesser of the attractions”:
Grindhouse and theatrical nostalgia
by Kevin Esch
“There's another reason that Grindhouse is, for some of us misfits, such a happy trip. It affirms our sense of community…. I'm sad that most people will see Grindhouse on video. It should be consumed (or, depending on your perspective, endured) in a theater full of shrieking, gasping, cheering, borderline-ashamed exploitation junkies. Nowadays, people smoke dope and drink and jerk off in front of TV screens in the privacy of their homes. They really need to get out more.”
—David Edelstein, “Blood and Guts. No Urine”[open endnotes in new window]
“…[O]nce upon a time there were theatres where the movies were the lesser of the attractions.”
—Land of a Thousand Balconies: Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archaeologist
The Weinstein Company’s high-profile marketing campaign for Grindhouse (2007), Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s $67 million nostalgic ode to exploitation double features, was notable for two not unrelated things: its frequent need to explain the term “grindhouse” to potential viewers, and its inability to prevent an equally high-profile collapse at the box office (a lowly $11.6 million on opening weekend, $25.4 million worldwide overall). The film’s poor showing resulted in many critics wondering whether the studio had overestimated filmgoers’ interest in grindhouse cinema. In the subsequent DVD release, the studio backed away from the double feature exhibition experiment: Planet Terror and Death Proof have appeared on separate “extended edition” DVDs, but without most of the accompanying faux trailers, advertisements, and “X-rated” warnings that surrounded the features and announced the project as something more than just another big-budget neo-exploitation film. Only after years of fans’ complaints about the unavailability of the theatrical version (except as an expensive 6-disc Japanese import containing both the theatrical and the individual extended versions) was it at last released in the U.S. on Blu-ray in 2010. Surveying this state of affairs in 2008, Caetlin Benson-Allott boldly but justifiably lamented in her review essay on the film, “Grindhouse, grindhouses, and indeed theatrical exhibition itself are now dead.”
Occupying a period between the end of the studio-owned theater and the rise of the corporate multiplex, the grindhouse era of U.S. film exhibition has all but disappeared from the cinematic landscape—and, judging from Grindhouse’s dismal box-office failure, from moviegoers’ minds as well. My own experience going to see Grindhouse echoes this sea change. I had planned to see the film at the Prytania Theater, the only neighborhood theater left in New Orleans. It felt fitting to see Grindhouse amidst the Prytania’s walls of old New Orleans theater photos, the aging balcony, and the dusty organ pushed to one side of the screen. When I arrived one weekend afternoon to catch a matinee, however, I was disappointed to discover that the theater had been rented out for the evening; but by then I was determined to still see the film, so I drove out to a suburban megaplex. I walked through the lobby, dominated by several enormous black-and-white photos evoking a “golden age” of movie palaces in sad contrast to my current surroundings. Then, joining in the routine shared by most U.S. moviegoers today, I sat in my comfortable stadium seat and watched the movie in a nearly empty theater, a bit guilty that I had abandoned the charismatic dilapidation of New Orleans for this sterile setting. I felt like I had traded history and community for banal commerce.
In this article I wish to examine how, despite the filmmakers’ painstaking strategies for recreating the grindhouse experience in a multiplex environment, the film’s box-office failure stemmed in part from its nostalgic tone—a nostalgia less for exploitation films themselves (which has served Tarantino and Rodriguez well in past films) than for the theatrical and social experience of grindhouse. The nostalgia of Grindhouse attempts to offer a progressive critique of the business practices of late capitalist cinema-going and exhibition, one that ultimately fails because of the film’s inescapable place within Hollywood’s political economy—an economy exemplified by that compromised DVD release of the film.
I argue that Grindhouse’s nostalgia operates on two levels, both in its desire to look like an old, damaged film print and in its “cheesy” nostalgia for dated racial representations. First, a nostalgia for disrepair (as Benson-Allott has also noted) is evident in the film’s aesthetic of decay, simulating celluloid damage and reels “missing” from the projection, as if one were viewing it at an actual grindhouse. This “decay” diverges from the modern multiplex’s attempts to mask film’s instability and fragility and thus create an economy of continual newness. Second, the film’s nostalgia for grindhouse theaters as a truly alternative (if troubled) form of spectatorship—where social interaction frequently supplants the film as the featured attraction— shows up indirectly in its self-consciously “cheesy” aesthetic. Annalee Newitz has compellingly argued that at the heart of what most of us consider cheesy—an aesthetic related to but distinct from “campy” or “corny”—is an ironic sublimation of racial and ethnic tensions (just as gender difference is the root of camp). Through these representations, Grindhouse addresses the lack of meaningful social interaction and contemplation, particularly across race and class, in the modern cinema itself.
Despite the increased attention film studies has paid to theaters and audiences in recent years, the grindhouse has received scant attention. Eric Schaefer’s invaluable study of exploitation cinema, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!, devotes one chapter to exhibition issues but deals only with what Schaefer calls the classical period, ending in 1959. In fact, his book is clearly meant as a corrective to the popular notion that exploitation filmmaking began in the 1950s and 1960s with American International Pictures and other groups. Douglas Gomery’s major exhibition history, Shared Pleasures, spends a chapter on segregated black theaters through the late 1960s, concluding with two pages on the de facto African-American theaters in urban centers in the 1970s. Other recent anthologies on exhibition and moviegoing contain no entries on grindhouse at all. The subject has largely been left to aficionados and amateur anthropologists, each of whom exhibits clear nostalgia for a lost mode of moviegoing. Freed from the constraints of academic prose, these authors often color their nostalgia in purple, as in the introduction to Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema:
“Grindhouses have always churned away in a seamy corner of the American psyche…. From First Avenue in Seattle to Canal Street in New Orleans, if you wanted to see all the sexy stuff that the Purity Patrol kept from the mainstream, a grindhouse always beckoned.”
Referring to a theatrical environment but also to the kind of films playing in it, “grindhouse” as a film term appears to date back to the 1920s, though the word also has been used to describe burlesque houses (perhaps from “grinding-house,” English slang for a brothel). They were distinguished by their continuous double- or triple-feature programs of pornographic or exploitation fare, and by their disreputability, subsisting on the theatrical (and often geographic) margins, as the center was dominated by the deluxe downtown movie palaces and the second-run neighborhood theaters. In the contemporary imaginary, “grindhouse” is most frequently associated with the late 1960s and 1970s and the theaters of Times Square, as former first-run Hollywood theaters in major urban centers began to target an audience much changed in the wake of white flight to the suburbs and the first suburban mall multiplexes. Before the advent of home video, these theaters were one of the few venues for films that exploited or subverted social taboos surrounding sex, violence, and race. Tarantino enthuses about this era,
“All the exploitation movies, women-in-prison movies, the horror films, the black-exploitation movies, all the wild stuff… the last stop before oblivion would be the grindhouse.”
Ironically, this enthusiasm for the unruliness of the grindhouse as a production and reception space lives on in non-theatrical markets and cult fandom groups devoted to what Jeffrey Sconce has called “paracinema”—a “most elastic textual category” encompassing not only grindhouse films but virtually all manner of exploitation or “bad” or “trash” cinema, from “mondo” and “nude cuties” to driver’s-ed and sexual hygiene films to compilations of trailers, intermission announcements, and snack bar inducements. Paracinematic figures like online entrepreneurs 42nd Street Pete and Something Weird Video review these films for discerning audiences and make them available on DVD, often in double- or triple-bill formats which evoke the memory of the grindhouse double feature from a more domesticated setting.
Tarantino and Rodriguez clearly traffic in this kind of nostalgic feeling for the bygone experience of grindhouse cinema. (Rodriguez famously intended his debut film El Mariachi for the Spanish-language straight-to-video market, before it won the Audience Award at Sundance and was purchased by Columbia.) While Grindhouse is a joint directorial venture, I will focus here primarily on Tarantino’s influence, as he is often described as an older mentor to Rodriguez and other young exploitation-savvy filmmakers such as Eli Roth. Rodriguez also confesses that Tarantino has “been educating me in grindhouse cinema for the past twelve years. Up to a point, Tarantino’s excitement about the margins of socially respectable cinema fits with the standard interpretation of his films.
As a director, Quentin Tarantino is depicted as the prototypical video-store brat, the first of a generation of U.S. filmmakers who learned about film not through film school—as had the previous generation whose members included Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma—but from clerking at video rental stores, in Tarantino’s case Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California. This kind of clerk Gerald Peary describes as
“someone embarrassingly overqualified to be there, yet whose $6 an hour salary cannot dim the energy and spirit for non-stop discourse about film, film, all types of film, whether European auteurist masterpieces, Hollywood genre works, or Hong Kong kung-fu.”
At the well-stocked video store, one’s education could easily include Italian giallo as well as Hawks and Welles, the Shaw Brothers alongside Bergman and Godard. For Tarantino, the result has been films whose pleasure often stems from the constant referencing of other films, from the residue of the French New Wave in Pulp Fiction (1994) to the casting of blaxploitation icon Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997) to Uma Thurman’s yellow-and-black jumpsuit in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), a replica of the one Bruce Lee wears in Game of Death (Robert Clouse, HK/US, 1978). Writing about the rife intertextuality of Kill Bill, Chuck Stephens argues,
“Now more than ever, the moral of the cineQT [sic] is that it takes a video store to raise a child.”
What is often neglected in analyses of Tarantino’s work but vital to understanding it is the conflicted importance he ascribes to the theatrical experience, particularly the grindhouse, in forming his outlook on film. Tarantino is well known in Hollywood for his weekly double-feature home screenings of exploitation fare, complete with vintage trailers between the films. The day his grandmother took him to the grindhouse was, he says, “one of the best days of my entire childhood,” and he laments the introduction of home video and its effect on the “communal,” “ritualistic” aspects of moviegoing. In a 1995 conversation with director Robert Zemeckis, Tarantino expresses admiration for laser discs as an improvement over home movie watching on videotape. Even here, though, he makes an exception that suggests the continuing pull of the grindhouse on him:
“Robert Zemeckis: I’m in a constant conflict about having to make a movie for the big and the small screen at the same time, stylistically. So I just basically make it for the large screen. And I actually have a hard time watching videotapes at all. I can only watch laser discs now. Because it’s getting that I can’t stand…
Quentin Tarantino: The pan-and-scan?
RZ: And just the degradation of the image.
QT: I feel the exact same way. Except if I’m looking at an old exploitation film that I have on videotape, that doesn’t bother me, because more than likely, when you were having the theatrical experience on that [sic], it was with a one-light projector anyway, and a big hole in the screen. [laughter]
RZ: But you don’t get the experience of the wine bottle rolling down underneath the seats.
QT: No, you don’t have that. And you don’t have the audience going ‘Yes! Punch him again! Blow his head off!’”
For Tarantino, the degraded video image evokes the gross imperfections of the projected image at the grindhouse, even if it ultimately fails to communicate the full theatrical experience.
Nostalgia for disrepair
The nostalgic embrace of a dissolving image is what Grindhouse works to achieve through its loving simulation of disrepair, both in its structure and most evocatively in its digital distressing of the image. Tarantino and Rodriguez each approached the concept differently. Tarantino opted for actual manual scratching and burning of the work print (reminiscent of Woody Allen’s film-aging approach in his film Zelig ). In contrast, Rodriguez worked with a digital effects team to lift various kinds of damage residue from existing prints and then painstakingly manage the wear and tear of the film, moment by moment. The film begins with a blank white screen accompanied by the hiss and crackle of a worn soundtrack, suggesting the hand of an inattentive or unconcerned projectionist. Soon after, an abrupt splice introduces a vintage “Prevues of Coming Attractions” leader, scratched and discolored with age. Yet another harsh splice and more blank screen brings us into a badly damaged trailer for Machete, directed by Rodriguez. Like the other previews in the film—Edgar Wright’s haunted-house film Don’t, Eli Roth’s slasher film Thanksgiving, Rob Zombie’s take on the short-lived Nazi exploitation genre Werewolf Women of the S.S., and in selected Canadian releases of the film, the Nova Scotian Jason Eisener’s vigilante-justice movie Hobo with a Shotgun—it announces a film that doesn’t and may in fact never exist.
When the go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) takes the stage at the beginning of Planet Terror, the eroticism of her routine sends the celluloid into paroxysms, quivering in the gate and then bursting into flame. The moment may remind us of the famous final shot of Monte Hellman’s car-chase film Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971). For Caetlin Benson-Allott, it expresses Planet Terror’s “celluloid affect”—as in Hellman’s final shot, the film itself appears to respond materially to the images within and “cannot but get carried away by the narrative it contains.” While Benson-Allott specifically emphasizes the “digital scar” in Planet Terror, both for its narrative qualities and its echoes of the film’s splatter-genre-inspired bodily damage and decay, I want to consider the disrepair of Grindhouse as a whole as an expression of theatrical nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a complex subject, no less so when discussing a film such as Grindhouse, which like many nostalgic texts seems to encompass both ends of what Paul Grainge has described as a spectrum ranging from nostalgia as mood to nostalgia as mode. The nostalgic mood is more common in popular discourse and traceable to the term’s late-17th-century origins as a medical description of the homesickness soldiers experience fighting in foreign lands—the Greek nostos (return home) plus algos (pain). Feelings of loss and longing for “the way things used to be,” of course, are also accompanied by selective remembrance of that idyllic past and imagined as stable in comparison to our destabilized present.
The nostalgic assemblage of images invoking multiple eras, genres and cycles that defines the past work of both Tarantino and Rodriguez (e.g. Desperado  or Sin City ) appears to suffer from historical amnesia, stylishly serving up a bouillabaisse of history for the eager viewer. Grainge describes this nostalgia as mode, writing of its relation to mood:
“Nostalgic loss has been transformed into a marketable style, a kind of entertainment.”
The most well-known proponent of this way of thinking about nostalgia is of course Fredric Jameson, who argued against a “crisis of historicity” in a pastiche culture awash in plundered historical images without historical context. Particularly worth mentioning is Jameson’s account of “nostalgia films” such as American Graffiti (1973), with its evocation of the 1950s, and Body Heat (1981), a simulacrum of 1940s film noir. In neither of these films, Jameson argues, does the past represented critically engage with the present in which it is consumed. All is superficial aestheticization of the past.
It would be easy to paint Grindhouse with this same brush, seeing it as a tag-teaming continuation of the same principles from these two filmmakers’ earlier works (and with the assistance of Edgar Wright, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie). And there is undoubtedly a strong element of pastiche at work here—with the film’s riffing on 1970s zombie movies, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, Brigitte Bardot, Vanishing Point, deep-cut 1950s pop music references, and so on and on. At times one could be forgiven for thinking that what we have here is simply more of the same energetic pop-culture petty larceny. I would argue, however, that Jameson’s analysis of nostalgia is insufficient for understanding Grindhouse, which is hardly a mere “nostalgia film.” Jameson has frequently been critiqued for the nostalgic tone of his own work, pining for the lost days of “genuine historicity”. Furthermore, he allows no possibility that an aesthetic of nostalgia might do anything but regressively appropriate historical narrative. What of using nostalgia to produce critical historical narrative?
To show this critical nostalgia at work in Grindhouse, we must consider more closely the digital and manual effects the film uses to create the sensory impression of a badly degenerating 35mm print. The effect, for a contemporary viewer rarely exposed to prints older than a couple of months, is a startling reminder. Reels appear badly scratched, frame drops create jumpy transitions, patches of the film are bleached and tinted, and the sound (particularly unsettling for a viewer accustomed to multiplex Dolby crispness) is often muddy and distorted. Completing the picture, as it were, of a print that has been through the wringer, both films in the double feature are “missing reels” halfway through the film, replaced by title cards from the management apologizing for the inconvenience. In their painstaking simulation of celluloid degradation and irresponsible exhibition, the filmmakers display their affinity for what Laura Marks calls “loving a disappearing image.”
The decay of the film or video image is inherent to the viewing experience, Marks reminds us, though the modern multiplex works hard to mask or minimize it. Film history results from the excavation of that decay, for without film disintegration there would be no film history. Over time, in fact, film transforms from depths to surfaces, “from what the image represents to the complex of histories of its destruction.” Lucas Hilderbrand further illuminates the impact of image decay on the meaning of Todd Haynes’Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987). Arguing for the film’s “bootleg aesthetic,” as successively degenerating video dupes are passed from viewer to viewer, Hilderbrand notes that the video de-resolution becomes metaphoric of the film’s chronicle of Karen Carpenter’s anorexia:
“The film’s theme becomes expressed on the tape’s surfaces, even as deterioration obscures the visual and audio information, thus frustrating standard spectatorial engagement with the narrative.”
Hildebrand describes his own experience watching an actual 16mm print of Superstar for the first time, and he confesses that for him the experience felt less complete, not more, without the image and sound decay of his precious dub. “Analog reproduction of the text,” he concludes, “rather than destroying the original’s aura, actually reconstructs it.” Damage becomes the signature of authenticity.
Of course, the “damage” inflicted on the surfaces of Grindhouse is at the textual level only a cleverly wrought simulacrum. The pre-distressed product created may remind us of other fashionable goods pre-worn for our convenience, from “vintage” jeans to “shabby chic” or “antiqued” furniture. Designed to create the impression of being either discovered at a flea market or having been in one’s family for generations, the faux patina of these products strives to hijack an ideological system of status and consumption. Patina has long been “a sign and guarantee of standing,” whereas brand new goods carry “the mark of commonness.” The superficial marks of quality of the pre-distressed object resemble the trend towards black-and-white images in popular media during the 1990s, from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) to Apple’s “Think different” campaign to the widespread backlash over film colorization. Paul Grainge describes this emphasis on monochrome, at a time when the United States was in the midst of the so-called “culture wars,” in terms of its nostalgic appeal to more “authentic” times, before the perceived social upheaval of the present. By creating an impression that the black-and-white image has been spirited from the archives, Grainge writes that the use of black and white
“seem[s] to efface its own relation to the sphere of capitalist simulations, sustaining the illusion that it was somehow removed from the market culture in which it was necessarily produced.”
Certainly, Grindhouse’s own visual effects also seek to instill a sense that the film arrived, as if from a miscalibrated time machine, at the multiplex, where its distressed patina is not only unwelcome but is actively suppressed by the modern theater’s business practices. The feeling of remove we get from Grindhouse is not the aura of the archive, as with Grainge’s monochromatic images, but of the dustbin. Grindhouse replicates the fate of images that have not been reserved for time everlasting but have been cast aside and are out of time.
Time is a central measurement in the modern theatrical marketplace. Charles Acland, in his essential book on contemporary cinemagoing, proposes several “vectors of temporality”—the length of the film itself, the length of the theatrical run, and the motion picture release calendar—to help us grasp how movie theaters organize and standardize their film product for maximum return on investment. The length of a film’s run is of particular concern here. Increasingly shortened by the growth of DVD and cable distribution, direct home streaming, and iTunes and pay-per-view options—together more vital to the bottom line than the theatrical run itself—a movie’s brief shelf life reminds us that, more than ever, “film texts grow old elsewhere” (italics in original). This is the existence of a product that the industry perceives but rarely admits is highly perishable, as in the story Acland relates where former Disney and DreamWorks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg compares a film’s life to a supermarket tomato’s. (The tomato wins.) A few university film societies and a few dozen repertory theaters nationwide—and even those regularly tout the “newly struck prints” on show—make older prints available to a specialized, typically well-educated audience. Aside from those, the educational film market (where distributing on film is less and less common) and drive-in exhibition, which in some places still serves as a second- or third-run venue, are the only vehicles where the average filmgoer today is exposed anymore to film prints that have noticeably degenerated.
The apparent damage done to the Grindhouse print is, in one sense, a nostalgic reminder of a previous industrial model, a less perfectly late capitalist Hollywood, when the theatrical release was not primarily the opening act for the home viewing market. It replaces what Acland calls the “ephemerality” of films under saturation-release global Hollywood with an alternate vision, one where films are removed from the wringer of late capital and put through a wringer of a different kind. Grindhouse’s digital decay hints at a theatre experience, largely forgotten, where films not only fall apart before one’s eyes but where many films come to die—“the last stop before oblivion.” Thus, Tarantino and Rodriguez’s film offers an alternative, even critical, historical narrative—one that, on the film’s very surface, does not aestheticize past films as much as it argues the significance of the materiality of past films. It is a fact Hollywood wishes we forget.
Perverse spectators at the grindhouse
Working in tandem with the nostalgic look and structure of the film is a second level of nostalgia for grindhouse spectatorship, displaced onto its cheesy, outmoded depictions of race and ethnicity. To understand this level of nostalgic discourse, we must first take a closer look at how the multiplex viewing experience differs from that of the grindhouse. I borrow the term “perverse spectators” from Janet Staiger’s essay collection of the same name. For her the term admits greater complexity and deviation of response than typical cultural-studies terms like “negotiated” or “oppositional.” The deviation from the norm in perverse spectatorship may be politically progressive, but it also may not be. Writing about talking in the movie theater, Staiger notes that even when talk is not progressive, even when it is “quite incendiary,” it can nevertheless be “binding and supportive.” This is an important point to emphasize about the grindhouse, which was both a site for interaction and (possible) education across lines of race and class, and a venue hostile to women both on and off the screen (even as it creates a safe space for gay male desire). Yet while Staiger and Acland both point out the potential for perverse spectatorship in the mainstream movie theater, this potential pales in comparison to the range of perverse practices and experiences (in all connotations of the word) that make up the grindhouse.
The theatrical experience Acland portrays contrasts starkly with the grindhouse milieu Rodriguez and Tarantino wish to evoke. Acland’s temporal vectors help to standardize and organize film spectators in the same way they do so for the film product—on the one hand eliminating contact with aging celluloid, on the other eliminating (or at least greatly reducing) the possibility of meaningful social contact of viewers with one another. In the multiplex, standardization of start times encourages regular viewer turnover throughout the day and night, while fleeting theatrical runs provide only a brief window to see a film publicly, before it becomes a domestic activity. These temporal vectors provide an organizational and disciplinary framework for filmgoers themselves, “establishing the parameters within which audiences act, make decisions, and respond.” But Acland argues that, within this regimentation of the theatergoer by release dates and starting times, a great deal of possibility for individuation exists. Despite the wide range of methods designed to promote bourgeois civility and discipline in the theater—the presence of ushers and security cameras, entreaties to keep feet off the seats, to not talk, to turn off cell phones—the faceless mass of servile consumers quickly breaks down through the varied and seldom-discussed practices of everyday moviegoing.
Here I want to quote at length from Acland’s striking inventory of such activities:
“Public movie performances are occasions for eating, for disregarding one’s usual dietary strictures, for knowingly overpaying for too much food, for sneaking snacks and drinks, for both planned and impromptu socializing, for working, for flirting, for sexual play, for gossip, for staking out territory in theater seats, for threatening noisy spectators, for being threatened, for arguments, for reading, for talking about future moviegoing, for relaxing, for sharing in the experience of the screening with other audience members, for fleeting glimpses at possible alliances and allegiances of taste, politics, and identity, for being too close to strangers, for being crowded in your winter clothes, for being frozen by overactive air-conditioning, for being bored, for sleeping, for disappointment, for joy, for arousal, for disgust, for slouching, for hand holding, for drug taking, for standing in lines, for making phone calls, for playing video games, for the evaluation of trailers, for discussions of what preceded the film and what will follow, and for both remembering and forgetting oneself…. Here, cinemagoing is banal, it is erotic, it is civil, it is unruly; it is an everyday site of regulated and unregulated possibility.”
From this list it would seem that the cinema is brimming with life, rife with the prospect of chance encounters and interactions, in a way that one rarely sees anymore in your average town square. Indeed, Acland suggests that contemporary multiplexes “linger as talismans of an alternative public sphere that might have been but has not developed as yet,” constrained as they are by the incentives of late capital.
What kind of theatrical space results when these temporal vectors are not there to delimit the practices of theatergoers? If Acland regards life in the multiplex as “unruly” and “unregulated,” perhaps he should consider the following description (again quoted at length to parallel the above):
“The Anco was the raunchiest, most dilapidated Deuce grindhouse of them all…. At the Anco you’d base your seating choice on avoidance—a hellhole for decades, its filthy, broken chairs were a haven for a host of area criminals. Keep your eye out and you’d see needy closet cases searching for desperate rough trade. Predominately white and frequently upscale professionals like lawyers, these tricks earned a reputation for being obnoxious and unpleasant. The hustlers who hung around at the Anco—trade that existed to finance their next blackout—were often killing time before starting their midnight-to-eight shifts at nearby all-male theaters. Latino junkies on the lam after a quick strongarm robbery slumped in the aisles, enjoying their nods relatively undisturbed. Professional black Deuce criminals—men who stole credit cards, pickpocketed wallets, and burned suburbanites with phony drug deals—also hid out, knowing no tourist would ever lead the cops in here.”
The Anco, formerly across the street from New York’s Port Authority bus terminal, is the sleaziest establishment recounted by the authors of Sleazoid Express, an early-Tom-Waits-like ethnography of the culture of the grindhouses of Times Square (a.k.a. the Deuce), and one of the few works on grindhouse to concentrate as much on the theatrical experience itself as on the films. It should be noted that the line separating empirical, historical reality from mythology is unclear here. Sleazoid Express, like the Muller and Faris book Grindhouse mentioned earlier, is likely a somewhat exaggerated and romanticized account of the grindhouse experience, even a kind of tourism of the underclass.
That said, the book’s depiction of the Anco and other Deuce theaters is a far cry from the limited set of activities chronicled by Acland, bringing to mind Michael Bérubé’s neat definition, via Raymond Williams, of hegemony as “merely seek[ing] to set the bounds of the thinkable.” Such a scenario, embellished or not, is literally unthinkable in the current exhibition environment, for the reasons Acland notes—there is simply too much institutional emphasis on the theater as a space for watching films, whatever one’s subsidiary conduct. Now, I’m not proposing the Anco as the best model for Acland’s alternative public sphere—if in fact such a public sphere ever existed—and a more detailed history of grindhouse spectatorship would have to contend with the dearth of empirical evidence about these spectators and with the possible embellishment of the few anecdotal histories. My concern, which will soon bring us back to Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, is with examining the grindhouse—or at the very least the mythology of it—as a space of class and racial heterogeneity.
Consider that the grindhouse audience is typically discussed in terms of gender. Eric Schaefer notes that with the introduction of sexploitation in the 1960s, followed by hardcore pornography, grindhouse audiences became almost exclusively male, a shift from the classical exploitation film’s cross-gender appeal. The location of grindhouse theaters in skid-row neighborhoods further discouraged female attendance.Sleazoid Express describes most of the Times Square theaters as unfit for unaccompanied females, especially the bathrooms and back hallways. (Concerns for women’s safety were cited as one reason for the Times Square corporate redevelopment project in the 1990s.) The grindhouse as venue for unpoliced sexual activity is well-known, and the subset of hard-core grindhouse theaters has elicited scholarship on both straight and gay porn spectatorship.
However, what has not been as often discussed is the racial and cross-class diversity and interaction in the grindhouse, and the possible social benefits of such interaction. Samuel R. Delany’s thoughtful book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is instructive here. The book comprises two long essays. First is an anecdotal recollection of Delany’s decades as an habitué of Times Square theaters, especially its all-male venues, and his sexual and non-sexual encounters therein. The second part offers an extended analysis of valuable modes of personal interaction as expressed in Times Square and derailed by the destruction of the grindhouses and other businesses and the Disneyfication of the area. While many of the theatrical encounters Delany describes are predicated on sex or the possibility of it, for him the sex is a pleasurable vehicle for something even more important, namely, the ability to interact with a wide range of individuals across races and classes:
“The population was incredibly heterogeneous—white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Native American, and a variety of Pacific Islanders…. I’ve met playwrights, carpenters, opera singers, telephone repair men, stockbrockers, guys on welfare, guys with trust funds, guys on crutches, on walkers, in wheelchairs….”
Tarantino grew up in Carson, California, a small suburb adjacent to Long Beach and Compton, where whites comprised only 24% of the population, according to the 2010 census. He tells a similar tale of audience diversity:
“I lived in the urban area of the South Bay. In the city of Carson, a big black, Hispanic, and Samoan area, there was a theater called the Carson Twin Cinema…. There was this one double feature that they whipped out at least twice a year, and that was Five Fingers of Death [Chang-hwa Jeong, HK, 1972] and Enter the Dragon [Robert Clouse, HK/US, 1973]. And they knew, when they showed Five Fingers of Death and Enter the Dragon, that it was just going to be fuckin’ pandemonium. People would always go see it. Black guys, the Crips, yelling at the screen, all the Samoans there, people getting into kung-fu fights and shit…it was a blast. It was so much fun. Video has taken that away, a little bit… the communal aspect of it, the ritualistic aspect of it.”
Judging by these two examples, it seems hardly the case, as Douglas Gomery once argued, that the grindhouses “were servicing only African-Americans.” One suspects they may have been more racially and class-diverse than those in suburban neighborhoods. For Delany, this interaction across class—and, given society’s makeup, across race—that he calls simply “contact,” is the essence of city life, and it is the only opportunity for its widespread sustainability and improvement. Delaney writes,
“If our ideal is to promote movement among the classes and the opportunity for such movement, we can do it only if we create greater propinquity among the different elements that make up the different classes.”
The grindhouse, while hardly a utopian venue for such cross-class, cross-racial contact, offers a wider array of possibilities than a multiplex audience, however diverse, because of the lack of overwhelming institutional focus on the film playing at the front of the room. Tarantino is wrong when he singles out video for taking that sense of community away; the film theater itself in its contemporary form is just as much to blame. Contrary to Acland’s portrayal of the theater as a space of diverse activity and interaction, any possibility for a truly alternative public sphere is upset by its emphasis on turnover and discipline. Grindhouse must therefore find an alternate means, as it does through its digital image degradation, to convey filmgoing practices lost to a transformed theatrical economy.
The power of cheese
As spectatorial heterogeneity and interaction common to the grindhouse has been suppressed in modern exhibition practices, Grindhouse has supplied its own sort of heterogeneity via its cheesy aesthetic and content, both in the text of its double feature and the paratext of its trailers and additional footage. The disappearance of the especially cheesy paratext from the DVD release, however, signals that the film is ultimately still beholden to a Hollywood political economy that undermines such commentary. The recuperation of grindhouse in the video market, which followed the disappearance of the grindhouse exhibition circuit, and which ultimately fed the cinematic imaginations of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Grindhouse, is indebted to the rise of cheese as a peculiarly late-20th-century phenomenon of taste.
Calling something “cheesy,” whether approvingly or disparagingly, has become something like recognizing pornography in that while its contours and boundaries may be poorly defined, we know it when we see it. At times it appears to overlap with “campy” or “corny” in its appreciation of excess and datedness (though “corny” is more strictly about being out of fashion). Steven Cohan calls camp “that little something extra,” while for Andrew Ross it is the “rediscovery of history’s waste.” Additionally, both “campy” and “cheesy” are used to describe both production and reception practices. Esther Williams movies or The Brady Bunch (ABC, 1969-1974) can be watched as camp or cheese, and John Waters’ work or the films of Troma Entertainment are self-consciously made as camp or cheese. But I think most would also agree that camp and cheese are not synonymous, that John Waters’ films are campy but not cheesy, or that The Brady Bunch and Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971) are cheesy but hardly campy. What is the difference, then, and why has “cheesy” overtaken “campy” as the favored descriptive term? Annalee Newitz’s article “What Makes Things Cheesy? Satire, Multinationalism, and B-Movies” is to my knowledge the only effort to construct a theory of cheese and to account for its ascendancy as a marker of taste. Newitz doesn’t explicitly address the question of precisely who uses the term and whether it is independent of race and class—she does suggest, for example, that blaxploitation is now consumed cheesily by black and non-black communities alike but offers no concrete evidence. (In my own experience, I have heard the term applied by students at both state and private universities, both prestigious and less so—though these classes have all been predominantly composed of white students.)
Building on the scholarship on camp, from Susan Sontag to Pamela Robertson Wojcik to Andrew Ross, Newitz makes a similar argument about cheese, namely that it critiques social conventions through mockery and derision, “relegat[ing] their power to the ash can of history.” However, whereas Sontag describes camp as primarily a Euro-American phenomenon whose subject is gender norms, Newitz sees cheese’s critique of normativity turning instead to issues of race, ethnicity, and nationalism. As global trade patterns of the late-20th and 21st-century United States have shifted from Europe to the Pacific Rim, the cultural exports of Japan, China, and Mexico have enabled such “cheesy cultural hybrids” as the telenovela-tweaking Ugly Betty (ABC, 2006-2010), Hello Kitty, the Hollywood career of Jackie Chan, poorly-dubbed Hong Kong action films, and the tentpole remakes of Godzilla (Roland Emmerich, 1998) and Speed Racer (Andy and Larry Wachowski, 2008), to name just a few examples. Through their failed “attempt to unite, through satiric spectacle, all the cultures and nations on the planet,” these cheesy texts parody or deflect the troubling histories of imperialism and racism between the United States and these countries. (In turn, the Pacific Rim’s cheesy consumption of Elvis, James Dean and Disney become a sardonic means of defusing its own legacies of imperialism and colonialism.) Similarly, to revel in the cheesy pleasures of 1970s blaxploitation, the “wah-wah” bass line in the Axe body spray ads that trades on blaxploitation, the parodic whiteness of The Brady Bunch (original series or big-screen adaptation), the faux-jazz or “Latin” stylings of Henry Mancini or Lawrence Welk, etc., the spectator’s awareness of cheesiness defers historical, and ongoing, racial divisions and tensions. The ubiquity of cheese in our current culture, then, results from the constant, unresolved presence of cultural concerns over race, ethnicity, and national identity.
Given this, it should not be at all surprising that Tarantino and Rodriguez play significant roles in Newitz’s analysis of cheese. Newitz goes so far as to christen Tarantino “the auteur of cheese,” and draws several examples from both his and Rodriguez’s work. Tarantino’s stylistic intertextuality regularly intersects with racial and national discourses:
Rodriguez’s debut film El Mariachi (MX/US, 1992) was filmed in Mexico and in Spanish, and his subsequent films have often literally and figuratively straddled U.S./Mexico cultural borders. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), directed by Rodriguez and written by Tarantino, tells the story of two criminals escaping across the border, only to land in a Mexican saloon inhabited by vampires; Newitz points out the film’s indebtedness to Mexican horror cinema and its similarity to the work of “Brazilian gore auteur” José Majica Marins in particular. The DVD extras for Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003) even contain a short film of Rodriguez demonstrating to the viewer how to cook Puerco Pibil, a favorite dish of Johnny Depp’s character in the film. In short, the prospect of a Tarantino-Rodriguez double feature promises a veritable smorgasbord of cheese.
The racial discourse of Grindhouse does continue the cheesy tradition of both directors but with some important differences. Many observers have written about both features’ central female characters, the beautiful, “empowered” women who take revenge on their male oppressors. For example, Rose McGowan’s hysterically phallic machine-gun prosthetic leg in Planet Terror seems to parody this exploitation trope—in a campy rather than cheesy vein—while the representation of the three women taking down Kurt Russell in Death Proof (and led by real-life Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell) suggests a more critical, even proto-feminist take. Less discussed have been the films’ many re-articulations, and at times inversions, of racial conventions through the power of cheese. Death Proof is constructed in two parallel halves, each depicting the adventures of a trio of women composed of a Caucasian, an African-American, and a Latina (the first half ends tragically, the second in ass-kicking jubilation). Notably, though, little is made of these racial differences, either by the characters themselves or others. In one early scene, the first trio of women yell out each time they drive past a billboard advertising “Jungle Julia,” the radio show Julia (Sydney Poitier) hosts. Julia's moniker, accompanied by an image of her lithe, prone body sprawled out on a bear rug, evokes a history of racist, sexualized depictions of black women, and yet the women in the car regard it with winking pride. Tarantino playfully nudges the portrayal of black women, especially in the blaxploitation films he loves, through the cheesy image, and the cheesy pleasure the characters (and by extension the audience) take in the portrait that sublimates racial inequities.
Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse is even more pointed in its reworking of racial tropes. Besides Rose McGowan's Cherry, the other star of Planet Terror is Six Feet Under’s (HBO, 2001-2005) Freddy Rodriguez as ex-military Latino action hero El Wray, who is leading a band of chemical plague survivors from Texas to safety in Mexico, and sacrifices himself in the effort. In the film's final scene, with the United States assumed to be decimated by the plague, Cherry and the other survivors are living happily in an ancient Mexican seaside ruin that is clearly designed to evoke Olmec or Mayan architecture. The conclusion casually suggests the rebuilding of long-dead or -vanquished cultures, beyond colonizing influences. To cite another example, an early scene involves a generically Middle Eastern mercenary biochemical engineer (played by Lost's [ABC, 2004-2010] Naveen Andrew) collecting the testicles of an underling. But this stereotypical portrayal of villainous, emasculating Arabs is complicated when he joins up with El Wray and Cherry against the real villains of the piece, the U.S. military. We later learn in a convoluted tale that a rogue lieutenant (Bruce Willis) killed Osama bin Laden unexpectedly in Afghanistan, and it's implied that the upper echelons wanted him to die a less mundane death,or perhaps not die at all. For his sins, the lieutenant is exposed to the deadly toxin created by Andrew's scientist. Thus the cheesy Arab villain motif, with its imperial undercurrent, is turned into a swipe at the forces in charge of the current Middle East occupation.
But the cheesiness of Grindhouse is shot through more than just the two features on its double bill. Because of their compactness, the faux trailers and other footage that flank the features are even more pronounced in their cheesy sensibility. Nicolas Cage makes a cameo appearance as Fu Manchu, complete with Orientalized musical accompaniment; in the preview for Werewolf Women of the S.S. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving uses the Capraesque atmosphere of small-town, white-bread, parades-on-Main-Street Americana as ironic counterpoint for a demented serial-killer tale. An advertisement crops up in between the double feature for the Acuña Boys restaurant (also the name of a Mexican gang in Kill Bill Vol. 2), promising “Authentic Tex-Mex Food” on its logo. Accompanied by easy-listening instrumental music and unappetizing photos of menu items, the ad subtly provokes anxieties over cultural hybridity and fidelity that are at the heart of cheesy consumption.
The most sustained expression of cheese in Grindhouse, though, is Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete. It concerns the eponymous adventures of a rogue Mexican federal agent (played by Mexican-American cult actor Danny Trejo) who is hired by a powerful man to kill a sitting U.S. Senator. “As you may know,” the man tells him, “illegal aliens such as yourself are being forced out of our country at an alarming rate.” The Senator (whose crimes against the undocumented are left to the imagination) must die, “for the good of both our people.” Naturally, Machete is double-crossed and nearly killed, after which he vows revenge and enlists the help of his brother, a shotgun-packing Catholic priest played by Cheech Marin. The trailer builds to its climactic line: “They just fucked with the wrong Mexican!” Making little clear narrative sense, but taking potshots at the undocumented immigrant debate, the hypocrisy of America’s wealthy and its politicians toward the foreign other, and even the Catholic Church, Machete becomes, to use Newitz’s words,
“simply a way of laughing at something that seems utterly horrifying in its complexity: the totality of social connections and disconnections we call multinationalism.”
The high cheese of those trailers and other inserts suggests that Grindhouse was (the past tense is appropriate here) attempting to be cheesy not only on the textual level but also on an exhibition level—promoting an alternative model of cross-racial contact and contemplation through those elements usually only seen in the theater. Except for the Machete trailer, which introduces the Planet Terror DVD, this flotsam that surrounds and contextualizes the two features is not to be found on the individual DVD releases. The fact that the cheesiness of Grindhouse occurs not only in the texts of the features themselves but also in the paratext is an important distinction. In the decision to release Planet Terror and Death Proof separately, an industrial decision has clearly been made to regard the attendant trailers and add-ons as something less than text, less than central to the home viewing experience. And why not, since the promotion and criticism surrounding the film constructed Grindhouse as a theatrical experience? “I'm sad that most people will see Grindhouse on video,” critic David Edelstein laments, meaning of course that the home viewer will not truly see the film in the same way as the moviegoer, even once the paratext has been restored to the inevitable “directors’ cut” release. (The anticipation surrounding such a release, evident on DVD aficionado websites, restores the film to the temporal logic of DVD release patterns, where DVDs are reissued in “improved” form to maximize profits.) Arguments such as Edelstein’s are familiar, but they resonate even more with Grindhouse. The cheese melts once the disc hits your DVD player. Grindhouse’s desire to extend some fragment of “the totality of social connections and disconnections” into the theater is radically inconsistent with the highly disciplined, temporally managed, late capitalist exhibition system in which this Hollywood film was consumed.
In her examination of “the disappearing image,” Laura Marks argues that to engage with these images
“invites a kind of compassion and open-ended love that can also be a way to engage with people and with death.”
The box-office failure of Grindhouse, and its subsequent years-long disappearance from the landscape in anything resembling its original form, invites a kind of compassion of its own, regardless of one’s feelings about the filmmakers involved. Though undeniably a product of late capitalist Hollywood, Grindhouse was also an ambivalent experiment in cinema exhibition, an attempt to simulate a theatrical experience outside of the strict temporal regimes and behavioral guidelines of the modern multiplex. Its failure illuminates the chasm separating its simulated image dissolution with the grindhouse’s real thing, received (or ignored) by an audience whose makeup and interaction is both precipitated and sanctioned by that disappearance. Such a model of spectatorship, which at its best fostered a kind of contemplation, however troubled, beyond one’s social enclave, can also be seen reflected in Grindhouse’s cheesy text and paratext. But the kind of contact (to use Delany’s term) that is variously parodied, questioned and embraced in the film, has only a pale analogue in the theaters in which it played.
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Constance Balides, Jennifer Petersen, and panel attendees at the 2008 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference for their generous advice on earlier versions of this article.
2. Jack Stevenson, Land of a Thousand Balconies: Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archaeologist (London: Headpress, 2003), 76.
3. Brandon Gray, “Grindhouse Dilapidated Over Easter Weekend.” 9 April 2007, <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=2289&p=s.htm> (2 April 2009); “The Grindhouse Second-Guessing Scorecard,” 9 April 2007 <http://www.thereeler.com/the_blog/the_grindhouse_secondguessing.php> (2 April 2009);
“The Morning After: Length, Timing Gutted Grindhouse B.O.,” Daily Variety, 10 April 2007, 1. For sections of the international audience even less familiar with the exploitation double feature, The Weinstein Company announced they would be distributing the two features separately—a strategy demonstrating the malleability of the film’s high concept under a global Hollywood regime (“Not the Same Old Grind,” Daily Variety, 19 February 2007, 5).
4. Caetlin Benson-Allott, “Grindhouse: An Experiment in the Death of Cinema,” Film Quarterly 62:1 (Fall 2008): 20.
5. Annalee Newitz, “What Makes Things Cheesy? Satire, Multinationalism, and B-Movies,” Social Text 63 (Summer 2000): 59-82.
6. Eric Schaefer, “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999)
7. Douglas Gomery, Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).
8. Ina Rae Hark, ed., Exhibition, the Film Reader (New York: Routledge, 2002); Gregory A. Waller, Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in the History of Film Exhibition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).
9. Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square (New York: Fireside, 2002); Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris, Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996); Stevenson, Land of a Thousand Balconies: Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archaeologist.
10. Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris, Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema, 8.
11. Larry Carroll, “Tarantino and Rodriguez Eager to Exploit More Exploitation Flicks,” 27 March 2007, < http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1555723/story.jhtml> (2 April 2009).
12. Jeffrey Sconce, “‘Trashing’ the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style,” Screen 36:4 (Winter 1995): 371-393.
13. <http://www.42ndstreetpete.com> (24 April 2010).
14. 14. Emmanuel Itier, "Planet Terror/Death Proof: A Modern Day Double Feature from the Masters of the Grindhouse," 29 March 2007 <http://www.buzzinefilm.com/interviews/film-interview-quentin-tarantino-robert-rodriguez-grindhouse-04032007> (10 September 2012).
15. Gerald Peary, ed., Quentin Tarantino: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), vii.
16. Chuck Stephens, “The Whole She-Bang: The Incredible Two-Headed Tarantino and the Last of His Double Bills,” Film Comment 40 (July-August 2004): 44.
17. Cindy Pearlman, “Blood & Guts: Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez Dare to Bring Bloody Back with Grindhouse, Their Late-Night Double Feature Gorefest,” Chicago Sun-Times 1 April 2007, D1.
18. Chris Willman, “Celluloid Heroes,” in Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, ed. Peary, 139-140.
19. Alain Bielik, “Grindhouse: Pistol-Packing VFX,” 6 April 2007, <http://www.vfxworld.com/?sa=adv&code=319b255d&atype=articles&id=3235&page=1> (30 March 2009); Martin McEachern, “Grindhouse,” Computer Graphics World 30 (April 2007), <http://www.cgw.com/Publications/CGW/2007/Volume-30-Issue-4-April-2007-/Grindhouse.aspx> (10 September 2012)
20. Though Rodriguez, Wright, Roth all discussed in interviews the possibility of expanding these trailers into actual films, the financial failure of Grindhouse has made this less likely. Only Machete (2010) has made it to the theater, starring Danny Trejo, Lindsay Lohan, Robert DeNiro, and Cheech Marin. Hobo with a Shotgun, originally the winner of a Grindhouse trailer competition at 2007’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, was shot in Halifax and released in 2011 with Rutger Hauer as the titular hobo.
21. Caetlin Benson-Allott, “Grindhouse,” 21.
22. Paul Grainge, Monochrome Memories: Nostalgia and Style in Retro America (Westport: Praeger, 2002), 19-40.
23. Grainge, Monochrome Memories, 29.
24. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 19-20, 279-296.
25. Simon During, “Postmodernism or Post-colonialism Today,” Textual Practice 1:1 (1987): 32-47; Linda Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern,” 1998 <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/criticism/hutchinp.html - N69> (2 April 2009).
26. Given the film’s exploitation origins, it may not be surprising that both missing reels happen during scenes promising erotic activity—a love scene in Planet Terror, a lap dance in Death Proof—which, of course, never arrive (though the lap dance does resurface in Death Proof’s stand-alone “extended” DVD release).
27. Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 93-94.
28. Lucas Hilderbrand, “Grainy Days and Mondays: Superstar and Bootleg Aesthetics,” Camera Obscura 57 (2004): 71.
29. Hilderbrand, “Grainy Days and Mondays,” 71.
30. Grant McCracken, Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991) 13; see also Erving Goffman, “Symbols of Class Status,” British Journal of Sociology 2 (December 1951): 294-304.
31. Grainge, 3.
32. In fact, in 2010 yet another version of Planet Terror was released on Blu-ray, dropping the Machete trailer and removing nearly all the digital scratches and other damage done to the film. The Blu-ray of Death Proof, which had from its theatrical release shown less aggressive print degeneration, remained in this respect “intact.”
33. Charles R. Acland, Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 62-67.
34. Acland, Screen Traffic, 65.
35. Janet Staiger, Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 2.
36. Staiger, Perverse Spectators, 55.
37. Acland, 68.
38. At the theaters of the now-defunct Kerasotes chain in the Midwest, I have often laughed at the Panopticon-like warning preceding the show: “We are always nearby.”
39. Acland, 57-58.
40. Acland, 243.
41. Landis and Clifford, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square, 79.
42. Michael Bérubé, “Theory Tuesday V (part two),” 6 September 2006, <http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/theory_tuesday_v_part_two/> (5 January 2009).
43. Schaefer, “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959, 123-124.
44. José B. Capino, “Homologies of Space: Text and Spectatorship in All-Male Adult Theaters,” Cinema Journal 45 (Fall 2005): 50-65; John Champagne, “Stop Reading Films! Film Studies, Close Analysis, and Gay Pornography,” Cinema Journal 36 (Summer 1997): 76-97; Scott MacDonald, “Confessions of a Feminist Porn Watcher,” in Film Quarterly: Forty Years—A Selection, eds. Brian Henderson and Anne Martin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
45. Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (New York: New York University Press, 1999). For an account of the Times Square redevelopment project and its ramifications, see Benjamin Chesluk, Money Jungle: Imagining the New Times Square (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007).
46. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 15.
47. Don Gibalevich, “Out of the Past: Quentin Tarantino—On Ambition, Exploitation, and Playing Psycho,” in Peary, 177.
48. Gomery, Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States, 169. Jane Gaines has written intriguingly on the possibility of a long history of white spectators attending “race movies” at segregated theaters, as well as the historiographic dilemmas involved in such a project. Gaines, “The White in the Race Movie Audience,” in Going to the Movies: Hollywood and the Social Experience of Cinema, eds. Richard Maltby, Melvyn Stokes, and Robert C. Allen (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007).
49. Delany, 179.
50. Steven Cohan, Incongruous Entertainment: Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989).
51. Annalee Newitz, “What Makes Things Cheesy? Satire, Multinationalism, and B-Movies,” 59.
52. Newitz, “What Makes Things Cheesy?” 61.
53. Newitz, 60.
54. Newitz, n31.
55. For some considerations of Grindhouse and feminism, from multiple perspectives, see Richard Corliss, “Why Can't a Woman... Be a Man?” Time, 5 April 2007, <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1607257,00.html> (2 April 2009); Dana Stevens, “Bloody Good,” Slate, 5 April 2007, <http://www.slate.com/id/2163590/> (30 March 2009).
56. Newitz, 61.
57. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media, 109.
58. Is there is a better film example to argue for the potential research value of downloading in-theater recordings of films off the Internet? As I was unable to afford (or stomach) buying the Japanese 6-disc theatrical release, my Bittorrent file was until fairly recently the only access I had to the theatrical version.
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