While my colleague Jette Kernion was out front meeting and greeting the celebrities, avoiding the local zombies, and taking a whole bunch of excellent pictures, I was ... standing in a massive line to get some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and two bottles of water. (Hey, it's a long movie!) The palatial Paramount was positively packed with all sorts of people: Austin bigwigs, local filmmakers, Grindhouse crew members, and lots and lots of mega-geeked movie nerds. (This premiere was half-swanky and half-normal, mainly because the Austin Film Society was smart enough to sell public tickets for the event -- although the lowest admission price was $25.) I was in attendance as a guest of South By Southwest producer Matt Dentler ... and we had a really great pair of seats.
I won't be getting into my own particular review of the film (our guest reviewer Nick Schager and Jette will have those honors next week), but instead I'll just offer a brief recap of the crowd reactions. (Suffice to say they were loud, frequent and very, very raucous. It was great.) Our seats were wedged between a handful of very enthusiastic actors, extras and various types of craftspeople. Grindhouse was, don't forget, mostly filmed in and around Austin, so this hometown crowd was whooping it up with every onscreen reference to the Alamo Drafthouse, Texas Chili Parlor and Shiner Bock Beer. (Specifically, Tarantino's half of the House is a certifiable love letter to the city of Austin.)
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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez took to the stage just before the mega-movie unspooled, and to say these fellas know how to work a crowd would be a serious understatement. Enthusiasm and unbridled cinematic nerdiness were the order of the evening, and the jam-packed movie palace reached a fever pitch as the lights went down and the movie went up. First up was the "fake" trailer for Machete, a pulpy action clip that, according to Mr. Rodriguez, might actually turn into a real movie somewhere down the road. Danny Trejo kicks all kind of butt in this trailer -- and the crowd just ate the thing up. And then we got ready for...
Planet Terror! It's a big, bulky B-movie stuffed with virulent zombies, crazy vehicles, mad doctors, and more colorful characters than one movie actually needs. But with every new piece of hardcore mayhem, the audience just dug in deeper and doled out the reactions. Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse is a true-blue crowd-pleaser (provided the crowd on hand happens to enjoy non-stop carnage, loads of tough-guy/gal dialogue, and a chick with a machine gun for a leg), and the energy level at the Paramount never seemed to drop below an 11. It was pretty darn invigorating, I don't mind saying.
After Planet Terror drew to a cacophonous close, we were treated to three different trailers to movies that'll never actually see the light of a projector: Rob Zombie's surprisingly obvious Werewolf Women of the S.S., Edgar Wright's brilliantly funny Don't, and Eli Roth's slyly disgusting Thanksgiving. Some folks actually left the theater to get popcorn during these trailers, which is not something I think you should do when you go see Grindhouse for yourself. And once these little treats were digested, we all settled in for...
Death Proof! Easily one of Quentin's ... strangest movies, Death Proof is about a former stuntman who now prowls that nation's watering holes and highways in search of people he can murder with his bad-ass automobile. Stuffed to bursting with sights, scenes and references that only an Austinite would appreciate, the movie goes from very chatty to extraordinarily chaotic at the drop of a cowboy hat -- but if the crowd surrounding me is to be believed, it seems pretty evident that old-school QT fans will have a ball with this freaky flick. The audience was absorbed by the filmmaker's roundabout scribe stylings, dazzled by some of the guy's very best action scenes ... and some people even leapt to their feet at the movie's final "stinger." (It even had me laughing incredulously.) And by the time Grindhouse drew to a close, I felt like I'd just survived a mega-marathon of movie-geek manna. (Yeah, let's just say I enjoyed the movie. Er, both of 'em. And the trailers.)
All in all a damn fine evening spent in Austin's biggest and oldest movie house. The screening felt like a festival premiere, a family reunion, and a night at summer camp all at once. The movie and the reactions to it reminded me why I left my home of 30+ years and transplanted myself to Austin in the first place. Hats off to Rodriguez, Tarantino, the Austin Film Society and the staff of the Paramount for putting together such a powerfully exciting evening. I don't know if the vibe will be the same when Grindhouse opens at your local multiplex, but surely you could do your part to make the evening extra weird. Hoot, holler, cheer and scream, but (of course) don't talk during the movie. As wacky as this crowd was for the movie (and boy were they), I didn't hear a whole lot of in-movie chatterboxing, and that's just another reason I love the Austinites so much: They really know how to watch a movie!
(Photos by Matt Dentler. Thanks again, Matt!)