Grinding It Out with Quentin Tarantino

THREE HOURS I will never get back. That’s the verdict after seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, a tribute to the horror and exploitation movies of the 1970s.

Tarantino’s contribution to this long, double feature is Death Proof, the story of a sadistic former stuntman who seeks out women to stalk, mutilate and kill. But before we get to this, Robert Rodriguez, director of Sin City, offers up the flesh-eating zombie thriller Planet Terror.

I won’t dwell on Rodriguez’s film, whose credits begin with an extended dance by go-go dancer Cherry Darling, who uncontrollably weeps while she performs. Soon, her leg will be eaten by zombies and replaced first by a table leg and later a machine gun–but only after she is almost raped by one of her captors, a sadistic zombie aptly played by Tarantino.

Rodriguez stays truer to the grindhouse aesthetic, replicating the grainy film quality and shaky projection of the old movie houses and drive-ins. This must have been really hard when the director had a multimillion-dollar budget and stars like Bruce Willis on set. After all, Rodriguez and Tarantino have come a long way–$67.5 million long, as a matter of fact–since they made El Mariachi or Reservoir Dogs on shoestring budgets.

Planet Terror can be funny in parts. It imitates the ridiculous plot turns and wooden dialogue of the original “grindhouse” movies, not to mention some of the most disgusting bodily emissions on screen ever. However, there’s no getting around the fact that these movies are called “exploitation” for a reason, and it’s only worse when they’re made by skilled and well-financed directors.

The scene where zombie Tarantino forces Cherry Darling to dance on her one leg before he tries to rape her is excruciating, and no amount of retribution she metes out can make up for it. Also chilling was the laughter in parts of the theater every time a female character got a bone broken or was threatened with a hypodermic.

I guess what it comes down to is that you have to be “really hip” to understand. You have to appreciate the obscure cultural references. And you have to be “smart” enough to understand that it’s not sexist, it’s irony.

This is one of Tarantino’s problems. He’s snuggled up so warmly in the clever world of pop-culture references that he doesn’t think he has to face the real world or real people. There’s no debating that Tarantino can make an entertaining film. He can mimic and even improve on many genres–for instance, his tribute to Hong Kong films Kill Bill.

It’s undeniable that Tarantino is a powerful voice in movies today. The problem is that he has nothing to say. (Even Roger Corman, who made low-budget cult classics like A Bucket of Blood, took a stab at social commentary when he made The Intruder in 1962 about a racist instigator, played by none other than William Shatner.)

Tarantino’s lack of a “message” and focus on form over function wouldn’t make a difference if he weren’t so deliberately oblivious to the real world–so oblivious that he can “pay tribute” to some of the most sexist stereotypes and recreate terrible scenes of mutilation and violence, and not think it matters in the least. So in the name of pure entertainment in Death Proof, the killer can yell “Get ready to fly, bitch!” or the camera can pan over each woman in a car as they lose their limbs or faces in a crash.

Film critics Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times and A.O. Scott of the New York Times gushed over Tarantino’s supposed prowess at writing dialogue for women, arguing that some of the best scenes included the women of Death Proof talking among themselves. I guess if you think that all women want is a mix tape and we love to flip our hair around and dance in the backseat of cars, then it’s realistic dialogue (actually, it’s about as realistic the “mother protecting her cub” bilge that Tarantino put in Kill Bill: Vol. 2).

No, Tarantino’s women are only as real as the women in the exploitation films he’s emulating. There are weak ones and strong ones, ones who get murdered or decapitated and ones who fight back. While Tarantino might think he’s created some “strong female characters,” they might as well be the busty, dominating women of Russ Meyers’ Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

To be fair, Tarantino doesn’t empathize with women any less than men, because his films are completely removed from human interaction, period. The violence in all of his films is so stylized and removed from its impact on real human beings that it becomes pointless. Even the much-awaited revenge sequence in Death Proof is ruined by its over-stylized homage to other movies and other fight scenes.

It’s the ultimate in alienation. A Tarantino movie is the product of years of Tarantino sitting in a room, watching movies and never going out for air. When you watch a Tarantino movie, you’re watching that guy. Make sure you go out for air yourself.

ELIZABETH SCHULTE is a reporter for the Socialist Worker.


More articles by:
January 29, 2020
Jefferson Morley
Weakest Link: Impeachment and National Security
Peter Lackowski
Venezuela, January 2020: Hardship and Resistance
Kenneth Surin
BoJo Johnson’s Brexit Fantasies
Ron Jacobs
The Swamp That Trump Built
Scott Corey
A Different Impeachment
Peter Cohen
How to Survive this Election
Manuel García, Jr.
Mutually Assured Madness: Immunity to the 25th Amendment
John Kendall Hawkins
Soviet Hippies: The Grass is Greener on the Other Side
Chandra Muzaffar
The International Court of Justice and the Rohingyas
John Grant
Iran is Not Responsible for US Deaths in Iraq
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The World Demands Us Out of the Middle East
Shawn Fremstad
Marital-Status Discrimination Reduces Fertility in China
Lawrence Wittner
Could the Climate Crisis be “The Good News of Damnation”?
Tom Engelhardt
The Fate of the Earth (See Page Five)
Myles Hoenig
Why the Green Party isn’t the Problem
January 28, 2020
Patrick Cockburn
China’s Coronavirus Outbreak Reminds Me of the Irish Polio Epidemic I Survived
P. Sainath
Making Rebellion Attractive: Why the Establishment Still Hates John Reed
Geoff Dutton
Where Was Rudy Giuliani When Democrats Needed Him?
Sam Pizzigati
The Evolution of “Davos Man” into . . . Trump Fan!
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Truth a Major Casualty of Impeachment Hearings
Michael Welton
Autobiographical Roots of Habermas’ Thought
Greta Anderson
Remove the Livestock, Not the Wolves
Nick Pemberton
Sorry Chomsky and Friends, The Green Party isn’t the Problem
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s Feeble Phase 1 China-US Trade Deal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Natural Gas Pipeline Corridor Threatens Imperiled Species and Inventoried Roadless Areas
Daniel Falcone
Make America Radical Again: A Conversation with Harvey J. Kaye
Binoy Kampmark
Split Hearings: the Assange Extradition Case Drags On
Eric Toussaint
Greece: a Chronology From January 25, 2015 to 2019
Nino Pagliccia
An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Venezuela
Robert Hunziker
Reflections of a Scientific Humanist
Jeffrey St. Clair
Who Cares If It Leaks? An Afternoon at Hollyhock House
January 27, 2020
Peter Harrison
Adani and the Purpose of Education
Dean Baker
Can Manufacturing Workers Take Many More of Trump’s Trade “Victories”?
Robert Fisk
Trump in Davos: US isolationism is Reaching Its Final Narcissistic Chapter
Ariel Dorfman
The Challenge for Chile and the World
Victor Grossman
The Misuses of Antisemitism in the UK and the USA
Thomas Knapp
Bernie Sanders, Joe Rogan, Human Rights Campaign, and Truth in Advertising
Fred Gardner
NewsGuard Can Save You From Putin!
Lawrence Wittner
A Historian Reflects on the Return of Fascism
Rose Miriam Elizalde
Cuba: a Matter of Principle
Bob Topper
The Better Moral Creed
George Wuerthner
Giving Cover to the Abuses of Big Ag
Christopher Packham
This is Really Happening
Negin Owliaei
Americans Need to Hear More From Iranians, Here’s Where to Start
Ted Rall
Corporate Crap That Doesn’t Kill Bernie