Dir. by Elijah Drenner - 1 hr. 20 min.
I always enjoy watching documentaries about film history - I've watched a ton of movies, but my actual education in film can be largely attributed to one class I took in my senior year of college (a really good class that started with James Cagney's "The Public Enemy" and wrapped with "Pulp Fiction"). I spent those years of voracious ingestion of history and minutiae pointed squarely at comic books, instead. So when I get the chance to see a movie that shines a little light on an area of film history I haven't really stumbled across, I jump in it.
"American Grindhouse," as the title indicates, is a documentary on the seedy, murky, filthy, and a little bit sticky history of grindhouse movies in the U.S.A. It's narrated by Robert Forster, and has interview footage with both directors who were into these kinds of disreputable films (Joe Dante, John Landis, and Allison Anders, to name three), as well as some of those responsible for the films themselves (like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Don Edmonds).
Over the course of this documentary, these non-Hollywood studio productions are variously credited as pre-punk (Allison Anders offers the DIY, fast/cheap/dirty, low-budget nature of these films as being spiritual kin to the punk movement in the 1970's), educational and empowering for women (there was a span of "educational" films, which were sometimes the only means through which women could obtain information about sexual health), a trendsetter for actual Hollywood productions (for the most part, whatever grindhouse movies would do would end up in Hollywood movies in some manner in a matter of years), and as no different than Hollywood productions (a direct comparison of Hitchcock's "Psycho" and Lewis' "Blood Feast"), budget aside.
The commentary is intelligent and enthusiastic throughout, which is a relief. Probably the best part of this film for me is that it was a way to sample a ton of marginally-known films, and find a few that I wanted to check out in full. Beware though, for that privilege, you have to sit through a clip of an actual live birth. I'm not sure those things even out, but it's a good, concise history of grindhouse films.
3.5 / 5 - NF Streaming