Bringing the Grindhouse Mainstream
This is my contribution to the Misunderstood Blog-A-Thon. Go over to Culture Snob for a great amount of misinterpretations.
Everyone's wondering what happened to grindhouse movies. It's not that hard to see. They've been accepted into the mainstream. The Saw films have been major successes, and grindhouse staples like The Hills Have Eyes have been remade for mass consumer tastes. The prevalence of the grindhouse in the mainstream is embodied by the massive success of 300, the modern grindhouse film. 300, despite a reported budget of $60 million, uses a flimsy plot to show the audience extreme violence and some gratuitous nudity. It's almost as if 300 is the movie Robert Rodriguez wishes he had made for his half of Grindhouse.
To be fair, there was only one image in 300 that I didn't find hysterical. "Breathtaking" images, like Leonidas kicking the Persian messenger into a bottomless pit, were so sudden and ridiculous that I couldn't help but laugh out loud. The first conflict between the 300 Spartans and the Persian army, with its constant shifts from slow-motion to normal speed and back again, reminded me of Viewtiful Joe, and the hat that Ephialtes receives for betraying the Spartans to Xerxes struck me as very similar to that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was simply too ridiculous to take seriously. And then it hit me, after 2 months of hearing the political interpretations and the gay interpretations. The movie is too shallow to have a message. It's purely bread and circus.
In so doing, it rejects the Dawn of the Deads and the The Hills Have Eyess of the world and their political statements while accepting the viciousness of Lucio Fulci's Zombie and the spectacle of Dario Argento. It is pure grindhouse, resisting any other sort of interpretation. Any political reading is muddled. The Spartans' homefront makes King Leonidas look like George W. Bush, but it is the evil Xerxes who tries to invade the pure state of Sparta and impose his own view of life. Though the sexual interpretation holds more water, we cannot forget that all the emphasis on the Spartans' rock hard bodies forgets that the only nudity we get are from Queen Gorgo and the prophet atop the mountain. All that remains is excessive decapitations and blood, gawking at strange creatures, and a little nudity.
It's also worth noting that the sex scene between Leonidas and Gorgo appears to be very similar to the beginning of the sex scene in Planet Terror. Rodriguez' film has a post-modern distance that prevents the fun and humor that 300 has in such abundance. 300 remains a bunch of fun, as all good grindhouse films should be.