American Grindhouse (2010) is a broad overview of the exploitation genre. One could make the argument that most of film is exploitative because of its need for quick profit and profit means you fulfill some desire within the audience–art be damned!But of course, when we refer to grindhouse and exploitation we are focusing on sex, violence and oddly enough morality. The documentary had a lot of territory to cover and it is not extensive, more like an introduction to film history or the film history that we should be taught because while independents were exploiting audiences, the big players like MGM, Universal, and Columbia were exploiting the independents. They would wait to see if an independent film was a huge success on a low budget and then make their own big budget production knock-off. It often works the same way today.
What is interesting for Freethunkers on viewing this documentary is the shattering of the prevalent illusion that films are getting worse: more sex, more violence, more blasphemy and more everything against family values. Looking at the periods of the late sixties and seventies it is almost shocking to see the level of blood and sexual violence. Many of today’s productions seem tame by comparison and the past is only saved from its hardcore elements by its lack of realism with blood that is ridiculously red or bad acting. The nudity was certainly there which elevated into big production porn and sadly most pornos these days are unimaginative but bright spots do appear for what we call reality porn or low budget scenarios like vampire nuns. If you want to check out what porn will hopefully continue to branch out into then preview “Ultimate Surrender” with female wrestling that ends up in someone being penetrated.
Now if Christians think that film was clean before the sixties they need to give American Grindhouse a viewing. Before the Hays era, a religious moralist who was called into clean up Hollywood standards, there were nipples on screen and there was a pretty high level of violence. The filmmakers gave audiences something they couldn’t see anywhere else and while it didn’t reflect the hum-drum of daily American life, in some instances it was an exaggerated parody of the more extreme aspects of it. The fact is, much of film is inspired by current events and gossip–what was talked about in secret after church services. Couples cheated on each other, husbands beat their wives, children were sexually abused, racial violence persisted and all in all the culture was not as reasonable as it is today. Again, our culture is getting better, not worse. The apocalypse may be canceled.
The other interesting aspect to exploitation films is the morality or educational angle. Filmmakers were able to make hits out of movies that showed how babies were born (the documentary shows one rather graphic birth sequence that should be shown to all of our young teenage girls–yeah, that big head will come out of your vagina as a result of unprotected sex) or movies that showed how sex happens within marriage. Drug movies moralized at how crazed and criminal people could become such as the classic Reefer Madness (The Seventies Show did a great little parody of this flick). Violence, in general, was acceptable as long as it showed the bad elements getting their just due and that crime does not pay.
Religion was not overlooked as exploitative with an interesting comparison to the early grindhouse picture roadshows. They would travel from town to town like carnival evangelists. They didn’t save your souls but they would show you something new. John Landis, near the end of American Grindhouse made the interesting observation that the biggest and most successful grindhouse picture in the last decade was The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson. Why did Christians, who feel it is inappropriate to hear foul language, view graphic violence or see nudity feel it necessary to see the depiction of their savior getting the living shit beat out of him? Much like Hostel or the Saw series, it was their version of a torture film with a happy ending.
Notable directors interviewed for American Grindhousewere John Landis, director of Animal House and American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante of Gremlins and Piranha, and Herschell Gordon Lewis of Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs. Like I said, a nice overview so you can write down certain films to continue your studies…especially the nudist films.