American Grindhouse

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/28/10 05:47:14

"Schlock Cinema 101"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Cinema lovers: Have you spent your time in theaters and at the video store working your way through the Criterion Collection, absorbing the work of international masters, and seeing the most acclaimed films of a century of motion pictures only to come up blank when introduced to another film lover, finding that you know nothing of exploitation movies? If so, you've got two options, and nobody likes the guy who claims he's too good for something. But, in just an hour and a half, "American Grindhouse" can give you an introductory course and offer suggestions for further study.

American Grindhouse makes no bones about it - it is Schlock 101, presented in a dozen or so chapters. It starts with "Edison to Freaks" and steps through the history of exploitation film in the twentieth-century to "Porn-o-Copia" and "The Final Grind...Or Is It?" In between, there are bits on the Paramount Decision, beach movies, nudie cuties and "roughies", women in prison, and others.

Robert Forster narrates, and director Elijah Drenner interviews a number of interesting folks, both experts and folks who were involved. These are, for the most part, a blast to watch; most involved are enthusiastic but also irreverent. John Landis, in particular, frequently has a hard time keeping himself from laughing when discussing old exploitation films. Folks like Joe Dante, David Hess, and Fred Williamson each also contribute great anecdotes, and I strongly suspect that the "Send in the Nazis" segment is there entirely because the story Don Edmonds tells about becoming the director of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is not just an example of how the memorable B-movies are the ones where the filmmakers were as committed as they would be to any more legitimate project, but comes out with great self-deprecating wit.

Drenner and his co-writer Calum Waddell, happily, don't just settle for interviewing familiar faces or focusing on the relatively recent films that have a fairly visible cult audience. They dig up footage of old Edison company films from the early twentieth century which are filled with casual violence and sexuality, and spend a great deal of time on the exploitation films of the 1930s which first boomed after Hollywood started enforcing the Hays code in earnest. Even fairly knowledgeable movie fans will likely learn something, such as how bank robber Roy Gardner and Louis Sonney, the cop who arrested him, were some of the earliest exploitation stars. Drenner and Waddell also do a fine job of tying the history of exploitation films to that of the more "legitimate" entertainment industry and America in general.

They also use a lot of clips to illustrate what they're going for, which will likely make it difficult for "American Grindhouse" to nail down a video release. So if it plays a film festival near you and you're interested in the subject, it's probably a good idea to give it a look; who knows whether or not it will be available in this form later.

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