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‘Grindhouse’ highlights movie nerd culture

The (film) geek shall inherit the earth. And that may include you, for geeks in the cineplex and behind the cameras are an increasing horde.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The (film) geek shall inherit the earth.

And that may include you, for geeks in the cineplex and behind the cameras are an increasing horde.

“Society in general has sort of been more permissive about being geekish anyway,” says Harry Knowles, the self-styled Head Geek of aintitcool.com. “People sit around wearing Steve Jobs buttons, you know, ’cause they worship at the almighty Apple.”

They also seek out the obscure and relish the one-upmanship of knowing more cinematic arcana than you. (Sure, you know of Roger Corman or Ed Wood Jr., but do you know who William “One Shot” Beaudine is? OK, you don’t? He directed “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.”)

“Ilsa, SheWolf of the SS,” “Death Race 2000,” “The Black Gestapo,” and “Cannibal Holocaust” never appeared on major magazine covers back in the day. But “Grindhouse,” the trash-film paean from directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, got big buzz (albeit small box office once it hit theaters last weekend).

Film critics and mainstream media inevitably focus on movies that have a distributor and a release date. “But because of the ’Net and the permissive editorial nature of it, we can champion films before they’ve ever been picked up for distribution and get people excited about them way in advance,” Knowles says.

The buzz is already moving onto “Hot Fuzz,” a British cop comedy due out in two weeks.

Geekdom keeps growingBut for now, a film geek like Chris Scaiano of New York was intent on “dragging” his wife to “Grindhouse.” He generally likes movies that smartly borrow from what he enjoyed watching as a kid.

“We saw really bad movies growing up, but that’s what we liked,” he says. “I just want to go to a movie that’s usually around 90 to 95 minutes long, and just want to be taken away — with no message involved.”

The geekdom extends from the rank-and-file fan to the ubergeeks like Knowles to Oscar-winning directors.

“To me, sort of the biggest film geeks are people like Martin Scorsese, who collects film prints ... espouses all the great stuff. And he’s sort of like the model for someone like Tarantino. And Scorsese is a HUUUUUGEE film geek,” Knowles notes admiringly. “I mean, that guy’s got one of the most amazing film collections in the world. People like Steven Spielberg are huge film geeks. They’re not only making films but they’re watching films and getting excited about other people’s movies.”

Geekery may be growing, Tarantino suggests, because the art-house crowd and the Comic-Con crowd are converging.

Call it the place where the elite and the egalitarian meet.

“Somewhere along the line, people who were film geeks and people who are comic-book geeks, that kind of aesthetic started all mixing up. I think 20 years ago, if you were talking about film geeks, you literally were talking about people into the French New Wave, into that kind of study. So am I, for that matter, but for people that are the Ain’t It Cool News people, it is about the entertainment cinema,” says the director who previously genuflected to genres with the “Kill Bill” movies.

“Maybe ‘Star Wars’ actually started all that, where all of a sudden, kids are, like, obsessing about motion pictures, and they want to see all the Lucas films and all the Spielberg films,” he adds. “I think that actually started the less intellectual side of film geekery.”

Eli Roth, who contributes a faux trailer titled “Thanksgiving” to “Grindhouse,” unveiled a clip of his upcoming “Hostel: Part II” at Comic-Con in New York this year “because it’s the same fan base.”

“The film geeks used to be film snobs,” he agrees, but in the last five to 10 years, especially because of DVDs, “the very films that these snobs reviled have become the films that the geeks worship.”

The movies that “Grindhouse” honors were anything but mainstream — splatterpix, blaxploitation, sexploitation, films about women in prison, bikers, zombies and cannibals.

In retrospect, though, what distinguished them was that they were done on the cheap — and by the time they appeared at urban movie palaces that had seen better days, scenes were missing, there were pops on the soundtrack and scratches on the celluloid.

“When I was in film school everyone else was waxing on and on about the importance of Jean Renoir and Godard, and while I respect those directors, I spent all my spare time watching Andy Sidaris and John Carpenter films,” Roth says. “I’d put on ‘Maniac’ or ‘Malibu Express’ over ‘Rules of the Game’ any day, and there are a lot more people out there who feel the way I do.”

The studios are producing B-movies as A-list films, Knowles says, noting: “Stuff like ‘Spider-Man’ used to be the domain of serials back in the ’40s.”

In the ’70s, the significance of “Jaws,” “The Exorcist” and “Star Wars” were that they were B-movies produced at an A-level.

“What was once the domain of people like Roger Corman, you’re suddenly looking at as the domain of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis and George Lucas,” Knowles says, adding that even mob movies were a B genre until Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.”

Still, film geeks are NOT COOL — at least that’s what Roth avers.

“I’m driving the same beat up ’98 Mustang that I bought used eight years ago,” says the 34-year-old filmmaker. “I wear the same horror T-shirts I’ve had for years. I’ve never been part of the ‘cool’ crowd, and it’s hilarious to me that now the geeky directors are somehow seen that way.

“We’re just doing what we love, and we never cared at all about doing what the ‘cool’ kids wanted to do. We were too busy thinking up ways to kill them.”