Friday, November 13, 2009

Breaking up the pair

Quentin Tarantino just can't seem to keep things simple when it comes to whether his movies are parts, or wholes.

First it was Kill Bill. He wrote such a long script and had so much good material -- at least, according to him -- that he had to divide the movie in two. Kill Bill Vol 1. came out in October of 2003, then Kill Bill Vol. 2 followed six months later.

While this was a little ungainly, it was manageable. The films had two distinct release dates and were quite clearly two different movies. Even the tone was markedly different between the two volumes. Steven Soderbergh used the same trick again last year with Che.

But then Grindhouse came along to really muck things up. Grindhouse was always completely up front about the fact that Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez each directed one half of the material in this intentionally z-grade celebration of exploitation movies, while providing secondary input on each other's work. It was a double feature, to be sure. In fact, fake movie trailers, directed by some of the directors' disciples/colleagues, provided a buffer in the middle. But unlike most double features, it wasn't possible to see one movie by itself, at least not in American theaters. For a single admission price you got both movies, plus all the fake trailers, at least one of which actually proceeded the first feature. Together they made one "film" called Grindhouse.

I was very comfortable with this, and I enjoyed the "movie" overall. I vastly preferred Planet Terror, the Rodriguez zombie movie that kicked things off, to Tarantino's Death Proof, a car fetishist's fantasy about a murderous stunt man. Planet Terror put Death Proof on its back and carried it, translating to a fun three hours at the theater.

But things got a little fuzzy when the Siamese twins were surgically separated. For both the international and DVD releases of Grindhouse, one "film" became two, and Grindhouse itself sort of ceased to exist. I understand this was done for a number of reasons: 1) Most foreign countries don't understand the "grindhouse" concept (as if most regular Americans do); 2) Most foreign countries don't have the double feature tradition (this I didn't know); 3) The three-hour-plus running time was considered a box office deterrent and would further hamper sales on DVD; 4) Tarantino wanted his film to qualify for international film festivals as an independent entity (though I can no longer find verification of this rumor I heard at the time). Tarantino's film also received an additional 27 minutes of footage. I think Planet Terror was largely unchanged.

For most everyone, this amicable divorce was probably well and dandy. But for a person like me, who likes things in neat little boxes and doesn't know how to cope with changes to the very classification of a piece of art, it was troubling. I ranked Grindhouse as one movie on all my lists, and I have since refused to adjust that ranking on any of them. And I'd have liked that to be the end of it.

Except it has come up again, which is why I'm writing about it today, in case you're wondering.

When I first started with Flickchart, it classified Grindhouse as one film, the way it was originally released, the way I preferred it to be classified. In fact, I remember getting a little thrill that they had endorsed my perspective on the subject.

But a few days ago, I first noticed Death Proof come up for a separate ranking. Then Planet Terror. The administrators of the Flickchart website must have reevaluated their own stance on the issue. Instead of ranking a film I did not acknowledge to be a film, I exited the program and went back in.

The strange thing is that when these films come up for duels, I am in the midst of ranking only films that Flickchart knows I've seen. Surely, I've seen both of these "films," but never did I officially accept either of them onto the list. They just started coming up. Which leads me to believe that the site's programmers have determined that Death Proof and Planet Terror should be included in this category by default, since anyone who has seen Grindhouse has necessarily also seen Death Proof and Planet Terror.

I might have been forced to accept this new classification if they had just removed Grindhouse from the list. But they didn't. I can still find Grindhouse as a "film" in their database. In fact, for me, it's been in 63 separate duels, 55.56% of which it has won. Meanwhile, both Planet Terror and Death Proof are still officially listed as unseen films -- even though they are coming up for duel. When you go to their home pages, the link that says "Add to my Flickchart" is live.

So now I'm confronted with a situation where instead of one film, instead of two films, Grindhouse actually constitutes three separate films that I have supposedly seen. I can't say for sure that Grindhouse is still coming up randomly for further duels, but I believe it is.

Quite simply, I don't know what to do.

Death Proof came up again today, and I liked the other film better. Without thinking about it too much, I dropped my objection to ranking Death Proof and impulsively gave the win to the other film. This meant now that Death Proof had officially been added to my rankings, that it had been ranked exactly one time. Not knowing what to do, I removed it. But I feel like it will come up again. I feel like this issue needs to have some kind of resolution I can live with.

So what would you do, dear readers? Would you remove Grindhouse and banish it from existence, so you could rank the two films separately going forward? And if so, what about all those duels Grindhouse has already won/lost? What happens to them, to those rankings?

Or would you continue to work around having to rank Planet Terror and Death Proof? Continue to quit the program -- or really, just click to some other part of the site -- every time it comes up?

Or would you leave all three of them, on the theory that they really are three distinct viewing experiences with three distinct qualities? Keeping in mind that this could result in duels between them, where I would have to choose Planet Terror over Grindhouse because the inclusion of Death Proof hurts Grindhouse, or choose Grindhouse over Death Proof because the inclusion of Planet Terror helps Grindhouse?

I depend on you to help me see things clearly, dear reader. No pressure. Just keep in mind that my lists -- even my very understanding of how to classify my world -- hang on your response.


Nathan said...

You're struggling with the same question we faced. We had many users who hadn't seen the theatrical presentation of Grindhouse (especially international users). I personally think that it should be seen as one experience as well, but since a large amount of users missed the theatrical version and have only seen the individually released films, we decided to add Death Proof and Planet Terror as seperate titles to rank. I'd contend you CAN rank the individual films against the entire experience of Grindhouse. From your comments above it sounds like you can too. I'd rank them Grindhouse > Death Proof > Planet Terror, for what it's worth. It's definitely a weird case we have had to deal with.

Paul said...

I saw Grindhouse in the theater the day that it opened. It definitely is a different experience than seeing the two films separately. In fact, I think my favorite part was the 'Don't' trailer by Edgar Wright. In my opinion, Planet Terror is complete trash and Death Proof - while an interesting and meticulous homage to grindhouse cinema - ultimately is just pretty boring. That being said, put together, they were a unique experience that I cannot compare to anything else I have seen in a theater. So...I rate Death Proof and Grindhouse fairly high, Death Proof slightly higher because I respect what Tarantino accomplished. Planet Terror is certainly the lesser of the two films and I rate it much lower.

Don Handsome said...

I'm coming around to including all three in Flickchart as well...Grindhouse is the film that we saw in the theater, and possibly will never be able to see in any other place - it must be considered as a whole (previews and all). Death Proof and Planet Terror are two separate films that you could see in the theaters overseas and on DVD in the States.

However, because we're saying that they are three separate experiences, you can't tell Flickchart that you've had all three experiences if you haven't. In other words, you can't include Death Proof or Planet Terror in your Flickchart if you haven't seen them independently of Grindhouse...well you could, but then you'd be lying to Flickchart and for that you should feel shame.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think I've determined what I have to do: watch both of the films again. And then they will indeed be three distinct viewing experiences. Plus, that will help me straighten out my apparently confused idea of the relative values of the two movies ... I seem to be alone in championing Planet Terror ...

Kyality said...

Personally, I really don't think Grindhouse as a movie in and of itself should even be considered in the ranking. There have been tons of double-features throughout the years and you don't see those being compiled into the Flickchart system. I totally realize that those two flick are totally interrelated, but you can't even get them together via Netflix!

And let's face it, EVERYONE likes one more than the other!!!! (Deathproof, duh)