June 27, 2007
You couldn’t really call the Broadway Centre Cinemas complex in downtown Salt Lake City a "grindhouse," not by the usual definition. It goes much deeper than that.
Where, in the main, a grindhouse might stay open all night while pandering to man’s baser instincts a community service, some might say the Broadway keeps normal hours, catering to a somewhat-more-elevated sensibility. The "bookish" among us are their target demographic — the art house, independent- and foreign-film crowd.
To be sure, in the sense that cerebral pleasure centers are involved, it’s still a form of exploitation. It’s just that the titillation occurs upon higher planes of perception. Not that high art never found a home among the low chakras.
Take, for instance, back in the day when L.A. would wink before blushing on the cusp of skid row and burlesque hoofed it all night long to the less than subtle strains of its imminent swan song. "Rim shots," slapstick routines, and counter-rotating pasties were the order of the day. In those "grind" houses, art was in the eye of the beholder.
These old, mostly-urban, show palaces would morph into venues for the continual screenings of what critics came to call "exploitation films." They would show non-stop, one perverse plot point following another, with the quantum building block being the double feature where two films were shown back-to-back.
Then came the advent of home video and all bets were off. The old show houses disappeared. A void in the communal viewing of violence, gore, profanity, drugs, sex, vulgarity, nudity and racial epithets lay upon the land. It was heartbreaking.
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Seizing the day, longtime filmmaker-buddies Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino stepped into the breach and created an "homage" to the now-lost school of ’70s trash cinema. Titled "Grindhouse," the film is a double-feature unto itself, complete with appropriate trailers for a succession of non-existent, slasher horror flicks.
Prior to wearing out its welcome upon Utah screens, this obvious labor of love totally re-insinuated the notion of the double feature into the local film-buff mindset. Now, this is where the Broadway Centre Cinemas come into play. As the main venue for the "Salt Lake Film Society," they have long been ahead of the curve when it comes to film coupling.
This place provides the perfect ambiance for building your own double feature on the fly. And the construction needn’t be thematic in order for the aesthetic configuration to equal more than the sum of its parts. The best one yet featured "Capote" and "Good Night and Good Luck."
Over this past weekend, yet one more attempt was made to prove the thesis. As usual, the options were many. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. Although there was the usual batch of quality films from which to mix and match, the actual moving parts of the double feature were pretty well set.
This is probably as good a spot as any for a "spoiler alert!" If you are unaware of the Daniel Pearl role in post-911 history and plan on seeing "A Mighty Heart," you may want to stop here.
In that the prime motivation for the trip down the canyon in the first place had to do with checking out Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Mariane Pearl in "A Mighty Heart," half of the decision-making process was already "in the can," as it were. Coupling that with the fact that the buzz surrounding "Once" had become as loud as an Irish Pub, need for further analysis faded to black. It was a wrap.
It would seem that almost anyone with an interest in attending "A Mighty Heart" would arrive with most all the facts concerning the story’s shattering conclusion already in place at least those who were around when the events unfolded. If the timeline is a bit hazy, it’s because most of us were on a two-week pleasure binge known as the 2002 Winter Games.
If you recall, we were still busy toasting Bode Miller’s epic final run to become the first U.S. man ever to medal in an Olympic giant slalom when they broke in with the news that the State Department had confirmed Daniel Pearl’s death. A video sent by the kidnappers had detailed the horrific end.
The film involves itself mainly with the desperate search for Pearl and includes a smattering of epilogue. It works brilliantly on many levels. It draws you in while invoking the required suspension of disbelief. A rugby fan would say it "sells the dummy."
You are in Karachi, Pakistan, on the trail of shadows. The usual suspects are cloaked in agenda and mistrust. They appear invisible. It is a quite raw and unsettling environment. Even the traffic terrifies. The smell of the diesel exhaust overwhelms, while the sound of the vehicle onslaught is a symphony of inorganic mayhem.
Vulnerability rules. An unending assortment of heroics is required just to make it through the day. There is a "captain" of police with whom you bond. He walks upright through bleak and threatening alleyways. He exudes integrity. He is "goodness" itself. But, if he wants you to spill your guts, comply.
"Once," the second feature of the afternoon, is a film that allows you to breathe much more deeply than "A Mighty Heart." It gives you more elbowroom. The streets of Dublin where The Guy meets The Girl while "busking" with his guitar for spare change are way less terrfying.
It is a lovely, seemingly flawless film — a must-see, actually. Where a smuggled-in Pinot Noir worked extremely well with "Sideways," a pint or two would have been perfect for "Once." You come away knowing what all the fuss was about at Sundance.
And, as a built-from-scratch double feature, it worked quite well, actually. You really can’t miss at the Broadway.