This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez said they weren't making an ordinary movie with "Grindhouse," but an event - a double-barreled three-hour homage to the raunchy and disreputable B-movies that inspired them.
But what happens when you throw an event and nobody shows up?
That's the question Hollywood - and more specifically, Harvey Weinstein, head of the company that produced and released
"Grindhouse" - is asking after the Tarantino/Rodriguez mash-up scored a woeful $11.6 million at the box office over Easter weekend.
What went wrong? Everybody and his brother has a theory (as I discussed on my Movie Cricket blog earlier this week). Here are some of them:
It's too long: Three hours is a lot of time to ask of a moviegoer. It's also a lot of time to ask of a theater owner, who gets only three screenings per day (compared with four or five for a standard-length film).
It's too bloody: The hard-R rating probably pushed people away.
It was the wrong weekend: Even the most hard-core movie geek had to do a little family face-time on Easter weekend. The rest of us had eggs to dye.
The hype was too much: Much like "Snakes on a Plane" last year, "Grindhouse" arrived on a cloud of media hype that told everyone how cool the whole movie was - and how cool you, the moviegoer, would be for seeing it. Alas, as nobody in Hollywood has figured out yet, the target demographic is particularly allergic to being told what's cool. (The hype machine went into overdrive after the disappointing weekend, as the movie's stars hit the late-night talk circuit. On Monday night alone, Rose McGowan was on Leno, Zöe Bell did Conan, Rosario Dawson appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, and Kurt Russell chatted with Craig Ferguson.)
Cult status isn't enough: For some movie geeks, just mentioning the names Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez is enough to trigger salivating. But not as many as Weinstein was expecting.
Women were turned off: This was the observation from the writer of the Film Fatale blog on Movie City News: "That marketing campaign was downright nasty. Even if you account for the formulaic nature of movie trailers (stars! action! money quotes!) the message sent to me - a Tarantino fan, an action fan, a horror fan - was 'This movie's not for you. You're not invited.' "
It's the moviegoers' fault: This is what Weinstein, in announcing plans to re-release the two "Grindhouse" titles separately, said (as quoted by the British newspaper The Guardian): "I don't think people understood what we were doing. The audience didn't get the idea that it was two movies for the price of one." See? We weren't smart enough, or hip enough, to groove on the esoteric coolness of what Tarantino and Rodriguez were laying down on us. We were the ones who, reportedly, walked out after Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" because we lacked the mental capacity to grasp the concept of a "double feature."
But the main failure, I believe, was with the directors and Weinstein in overestimating the appeal of the "grindhouse" tradition of cheesy movies in dilapidated theaters. Maybe in California (where Tarantino discovered crappy movies) and in Texas (from which Rodriguez hails), these old theaters were as prolific as Starbucks franchises are today. But not every city had a "grindhouse" tradition.
In preparing for the release of "Grindhouse," I tried to find out if such theaters operated in Salt Lake City, but a cursory look at the Tribune's movie ads for the '60s and '70s yielded nothing. Even Grant Smith, who maintains an impressively obsessive Web site devoted to Utah moviehouses past and present (http://www.utahtheaters.info), knew of few theaters that trafficked in such old movies - and the one he could think of, the old Broadway Theatre (formerly the Isis, demolished and no relation to the current Broadway Centre Cinemas), he only knew because of a mention in a 2000 column by the Deseret News' Chris Hicks.
Failures like "Grindhouse," and the hand-wringing and finger-pointing that followed, are the reason the great screenwriter William Goldman coined his famous assessment of Hollywood: "Nobody knows anything."
* SEAN P. MEANS writes a daily blog, "The Movie Cricket," at blogs.sltrib.com/movies. Send questions or comments to Sean P. Means, movie critic, The Salt Lake Tribune, 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or e-mail email@example.com.