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Sunday, March 11, 2007

At SXSW: Robert Rodriguez, Harry Knowles, and 'Grindhouse 101'

Here at SXSW...lots of good panels yesterday about Internet video, next-gen TV, and other digital stuff. Will try to post some impressions...

But this morning, I'm at the 'Grindhouse 101' session. Robert Rodriguez and Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News are reminiscing about the movies of their youth. Harry remembers seeing lots of blaxploitation films as a kid -- his parents considered him some sort of psychological experiment, apparently. Robert recalls going to a drive-in with multiple screens, and watching snippets (without sound) of movies like 'Aliens,' 'Boob Tube,' and 'Jaws.'

Rodriguez says the clips he's showing today haven't yet been reviewed by the MPAA -- that happens next week. So everything could change.

Harry and Robert agree that Quentin Tarantino has seen a lot more grindhouse movies than the two of them -- and owns prints of many of them. They plug the QT Fests, held each year in Austin, with Hillbilly Night, Revenge Night, White Trash Night (all Burt Reynolds films), Sexploitation Night. Robert does a pretty good Quentin impression.

Harry credits Quentin and his fests for literally "changing the taste of cinema in Austin."

Robert says watching Quentin's scratched-up prints of old grindhouse movies was a totally different experience from seeing the plain, bland, cleaned-up DVDs of the same movies. He tried to emulate the authentic aesthetics with 'Grindhouse,' employing a red wash, for instance, when Quentin's character goes nuts. "Any time you can put something new in your tool box as a filmmaker...it gave me a whole new paintbrush." They used red washes, emulating an old red faded print, the red creeping across the screen. "In some sections, I turned it green. It looks like the print went bad, but it looks really great -- what a fantastic accident," Robert says.

"I used the digital to make it look like what I thought it should've looked like back in the day."

They also played around with dropping out the soundtrack, and then bringing it back in to accentuate a dramatic moment. Rodriguez talks about the "missing" pieces of his film's second act -- he never filmed that part, because it has always bored him. It's the "missing reel." Let the audience figure out what happened...

Rodriguez says he started writing 'Planet Terror' (his half of 'Grindhouse') 11 years ago, and showed it to Harry -- but the script never went anywhere. He always thought zombie movies would come back -- and of course, they did -- but he never got a chance to make his... until now.

They show some trailers from grindhouse movies, like 'Green Slime' and 'Crippled Masters'... and then an exerpt from the 'Planet Terror' half of 'Grindhouse,' which looks wonderfully aged -- and gory. Afterward, Rodriguez jokes that the gruesome demise of a dog might not make it past the MPAA, even for the R rating he expects to get.

"Grindhouse cinema to me now just means freedom," Rodriguez says. "That became the catchphrase on the set... at some point, you've got to shoot. Someone would say, 'The light's in the shot.' We'd say, 'It's a grindhouse movie, so what. We'd just keep shooting."

Sorry, but I have to duck out, just as they start showing the trailers that were submitted for the 'Grindhouse' trailer contest... but the first, 'Hobo with a Shotgun,' is hysterical.

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