Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing

By Caetlin Benson-Allott | Go to book overview

4 Going, Going, Grindhouse
Simulacral Cinematicity and Postcinematic
Spectatorship

When VHS cassettes went out of production in 2006, they left behind two other motion picture apparatuses—DVD and celluloid—whose symbiotic dependency raises important questions about how home video produces a postcinematic experience of spectatorship.1 In April 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released a cinematic double feature called Grindhouse that ostensibly recreates the content and experience of going to see exploitation films in a run-down 1970s movie theater. The movie invokes one motion picture apparatus—the cinema—although it relies on another—the DVD—to provide context for its exploitation of exploitation cinema. Grindhouse looks like a film, yet it relies on genre connoisseurship cultivated through video distribution. Thus, it invites its spectator to consider how her experience of a motion picture now depends on a multiplatform movie culture. Grindhouse foregrounds the spectatorial experience, but it does not nostalgically seek to reproduce a prior viewing practice. Rodriguez and Tarantino’s movie does not directly duplicate grind houses’ historically contingent screening conditions (which also varied over time and region).2 Instead, it invents its own cinematic utopia, an idealized theatrical nonplace that never was for the projection of celluloid. To create its ephemeral, down-and-dirty paradise, Grindhouse revels in digital video’s capacity to familiarize viewers with neglected genre histories, to previsualize action sequences and create visual effects, and to maximize profits through multiple video editions. Thus Grindhouse’s digital-era utopia is neither a celebration of the new nor a panegyric for a bygone exhibition experience. By juxtaposing its features’ divergent approaches to specialeffects production, Grindhouse encourages its spectator to appreciate the significance of cinema as simulacrum in the twenty-first century, when box-office returns have been outmoded by home-video returns and

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