clintonstreettheater1.jpgMaybe Grindhouse strayed too far from its base. (See below for UPDATE.) I received some very interesting info this weekend from the owner & programmer of the Clinton Street Theater, detailing how he tried in vain to convince The Weinstein Co. to allow his venue to play the pic. The Clinton is a unique single-screen indie art house considered a true Grindhouse in Portland, Oregon. (It just ran a film series that included original 35MM prints of Switchblade Sisters, Crazies, and Spook Who Sat By The Door.) Looking at the email exchange, I can see that TWC’s branch sales manager Keir Gotcher kept giving The Clinton the run-around. “I wanted to give you some insight into Grindhouse being a flop,” Seth Sonstein (photo right) emails me. “We begged The Weinstein Company for a print of this film. In the end they would not give us a print. Also, Dan Halsted runs the Grindhouse Film Festival out of The Hollywood Theater in Portland, and Weinstein would also not release a print to him. (Dan knows more about Grindhouse films then anyone in the country.) So I attest that the distribution was botched on this film. When your local Grindhouse isn’t allowed to screen the Grindhouse, then you KNOW that there is trouble.”

screen75.jpgSonstein said his theater and its audience were psyched when they first heard about Grindhouse and followed its progress from Day One. “Tarantino has been quoted many times as saying that everything he knows about film he learned in the Grindhouses of his youth. When the release dates were announced, we started calling The Weinstein Company every week trying to secure the film. At first they seemed interested, but soon after they stopped returning emails and calls and eventually [gave it to] Regal Cinemas,  the largest corporate movie theater chain in the country, and the CineMagic, which is known for Sub Run and Bollywood films. The Grindhouses across America are the exact opposite. While people may need Regal so they can go see films like Wild Hogs and Norbit, they will never catch a double feature of Foxy Brown and Black Samurai at the local Regal Cineplex. Grindhouse, a film that is a throwback to the great Grindhouse films of yesterday, will not be playing in a Grindhouse.”

grindhouse.jpgI agree with Sonstein. To not just ignore a movie’s base, but actually rebuff it, makes no sense. Nor can this be blamed on MGM. Distribution for Grindhouse was taken over by TWC and the pic itself went out under the labels of both Dimension and TWC, the first time since the company’s inception in 2005. (In fact, Bob Weinstein lamented to the trades that “It’s too bad it’s not Miramax.”) Not only is Portland home to some of this country’s great independent movie houses, but The Clinton has great street cred. Built in 1914, it’s said to be the oldest continually operating movie house west of the Mississippi. For crissakes, Gus Van Sant is a regular. “There is a passion at The Clinton to make sure the right films get their due,” says Sonstein, who once threw a pie in the face of a local film critic. “Maybe we will have a Pam Grier double feature to make us feel better.”

Later, Dan Halsted, organizer of the Grindhouse Film Festival, emailed me about his fruitless attempts to book an advance screening of Grindhouse. “I had a two day event lined up of 35mm prints and trailers of some of the greatest Grindhouse movies. The plan was to screen Grindhouse as the highlight and focus of the weekend. I was paying for the entire event, so it would have been free promotion for the movie. I bugged the TWC about it for months, but they passed on it. I ended up just running a double feature on March 24th of some Grindhouse classics, and TWC said they still wanted to promote at the event. They ended up just sending a couple of small posters, some passes to give away for an advance screening at a multiplex, and a trailer for the movie on DVD (not even on 35mm). I went to the Grindhouse premiere at the multiplex a week later. The auditorium was quiet, and people seemed bored and uninterested. After the screening, I listened to the film critics talk of how boring it was, and I sat there knowing they would have had a completely opposite reaction if they had seen the movie at the screening I had originally planned. This is a movie that is meant to be seen with an excited audience at a Grindhouse theater!”