Thursday, April 05, 2007

grinding (part 2): this time… it’s personal…


I actually used to go to the “grindhouses” on San Francisco’s Market Street. Or rather my dad, a big fan of the shoot-em-up, chop-socky, samurai, and blaxsploitation flicks that cut-rate theaters would run, took me to them. They provided as many movies as you wanted to sit through on a Saturday afternoon for like a buck-fifty. After a movie was done you just had to ask yourself, “Do I want to see another one?” The concession stand had Jujubees or Ice Cream Bon-bons or whatever and orange soda and no lines so you could quickly settle back in for another juvenile entertainment. There were plenty of vacant seats so the only thing that would shorten the stay would be the ‘itchiness’ of the whole scene… seriously, I know I got flea bites and my sneakers were stuck to the floor coated with soda and god knows what else. Luckily there was no encounter with roaches or rats.

I recall another shortened stay when the movie selection was ‘The Human Tornado,’ a Dolemite flick that, in classic exploitation-film style, had a poster that made Dolemite look like a super-hero. Of course the film was totally inappropriate for a child of my age and we decided to leave. As my dad argued to get a refund I remember staring up at 'The Human Tornado’ poster trying figure out how the swirl behind Dolemite (actually a blur of his arm) would actually make him fly…

Most of the films that I saw were revivals or on their last legs of their circuit to other grindhouses or drive-ins around the country. I never had any intention of seeing them again even with the recent appreciation for some of them.
Apparantly ‘Vanishing Point’ is one of the bigger cult films of our day. All I remember of ‘Vanishing Point’ was the sense of velocity and power that seems to go with movies starring muscle-cars. I also remember being totally confused by the plot, especially the parts that weren’t shots of our hero driving like a maniac across a desert.
I saw both ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and have always confused them in my head. Until very recently I would have bet the house that Clint Eastwood was in ‘The Eagle Has Landed.’
‘Enter the Dragon’ was awesome but when Jim Kelly showed up again in ‘Three the Hard Way’… now that was cool. After that screening I tried to duplicate his kung-fu moves for the rest of the day.
I also saw age-appropriate stuff like ‘Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo.’ All of the current romance of the sleazy aspects of the grindhouse days ignores the fact that these theaters would run other things that aren’t considered exploitation films. These were second-run flicks that had run their course as the main feature. Although, I suppose, live-action Disney films could be considered an exploitation of a different sort.

‘Three The Hard Way,’ for example, may not be the best of it’s genre but the thrill of watching it on a big screen is forever tied to my experience of that movie and so it will remain one of my favorites. I have no desire to watch it again on DVD.

I might revisit ‘Vanishing Point’ though… just to keep track of the plot this time.

When I sit in the stadium seating of the multiplex I don’t miss the seediness of The Strand (part of the Grauman theater chain) or The St. Francis or The Embassy… but they hold some good memories just the same.