John Cline and Robert G Weiner (eds)
As far as concepts go, this book’s proposed undertaking is pretty ambitious. Deciding to take the road less travelled means that there are few big names here to lure in the casual film fan –Tarantino and Russ Meyer are mentioned only in passing, and John Waters’ Pink Flamingos is discussed only to point up the multiple deficiencies of Borat, though that alone might make it worth your while if you’ve got £35 burning a hole in your wallet.
The essays are by a range of film writers from backgrounds as diverse as you might expect from something conceived at the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association. Some are journalists, some are film lecturers, all are undoubtedly passionate about their chosen topic. In terms of quality, however, each chapter varies and that’s down to the editors. Not only is one writer allowed to get away with starting every other sentence with ‘Indeed, …’, but the actual subject of the book doesn’t seem to have been adequately defined. The result is a bit of a mish-mash.
In Part 3, ‘Exhibition’, the four chapters focus exclusively on the world of the grindhouses and porn theatres. These are interesting, particularly Johannes Schönherr’s piece about how Tokyo’s Tobita Cinema functions as a de facto homeless shelter, but don’t hold much for anyone who cares only about the films themselves. And without at least one attempt to cover the exhibition of arthouse films, the impression is that arthouse cinemas are just too boring for anyone to want to write about.
Likewise, the chapters dedicated to boundary-pushing porn, sleazy porn theatres and adult movie stars are not only going to get you tutted at if someone reads over your shoulder on the Tube (sorry, lady) but also don’t seem to make much sense if the book’s title is adhered to. Porn is ‘obviously’ transgressive; it would have been more relevant and useful to discuss stars and films that were more subtle about widening the parameters of film (e.g Rene Searfos’ chapter examining Lon Chaney’s ‘humanist’ transgressions).
Despite its shortcomings, Arthouse to Grindhouse contains enough substantive material to make it a useful, though not essential, addition to any cineaste’s bookshelf.