BOOK REVIEW: GRINDHOUSE NOSTALGIA: MEMORY, HOME VIDEO, AND EXPLOITATION FILM FANDOM / AUTHOR: DAVID CHURCH / PUBLISHER: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
David Church's new book for Edinburgh University Press, Grindhouse Nostalgia: Memory, Home Video, and Exploitation Film Fandom, is a book which very ably takes its title and spins it into an entertaining and informative read. Church does what so many authors fail at, in that he lays out the exact amount of historical context required to understand the topic at hand.
He assumes that you have a general concept as to what a grindhouse is, but may not know how they came to be, so he gives you those particulars, then moves on to explaining how the reality of these theaters has been transmuted by time and distance. The background is both evidence to his point and something which clarifies issues to make his explanation more easily understood. So few authors are willing to take the couple paragraphs required to get everyone on the same page, that this simple gesture seems almost revolutionary.
The various sections of Grindhouse Nostalgia offer up different aspects of exploitation cinema, and each one relates what once was to modern interpretations or reproductions. A lot of the book is tied to the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse and how that particular feature set the modern template for how the exploitation cinema of the pre-digital age is now interpreted. Church devotes a lot of verbiage to the fact that the viewing experience is often what's being reproduced, as opposed to the actual films themselves. So much effort is expended by directors in trying to make movies look faded, scratched, and as if they've been battered for ages, rather than tapping into the idea of attempting to make the best film possible for the money at hand. One could either agree with Church that the films of this "retrosploitation" age which best succeed are those which lean more toward pastiche or disagree and prefer those more akin to parody.
We’re inclined to agree with Church's pastiche theory, especially as his final chapter, Dressed to Regress? The Retributive Politics of the Retrosploitation Pastiche, does an excellent job of demonstrating that films which take the shocking aspects of exploitation cinema – sex, race, and violence – and use them purely for prurient purposes, rather than as an incidental aspect of a grander story, are the films which seem shoddy, rather than fulfilling entertainment.
David Church's Grindhouse Nostalgia is a book which spans decades, but in doing so, provides a modern context for films of a different age. It presents the films which homage that age in a light by which they can be analyzed as works on their own, as well as parodies or pastiches. It's a fabulous addition to any film library.
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