The New Numbers

Two! Two! Two Disappointments in One!While the East Coast was socked in by snow and rain, some people still managed to get out to the movies, and “Disturbia” beat “Perfect Stranger” at the North American box-office over the weekend.

That’s nice. “Perfect Stranger” is pretty lame, and “Disturbia” is pretty good. I approve.

Something of which I do not approve is Harvey Weinstein’s attempt to cast the failure of “Grindhouse” to gross eleventy billion dollars as a failure on the part of moviegoers — saying he’s going to reissue the two movies separately, that audiences didn’t understand the marketing, yadda yadda yadda.

It’s been reported in certain quarters that people are walking out of the film after “Planet Terror” and not staying for “Death Proof” — though I suspect this bit is an attempt to massage the ego of a certain filmmaker. (“It’s not you, Q, it’s them.”)

This is, flatly, ridiculous. People are probably going to the bathroom, or back to the concession stand, or getting up to stretch their legs after sitting for an hour and a half. Yes, they risk missing those great fake trailers, but “Grindhouse” is three hours and eleven minutes long; expecting everyone who sees it to sit very, very still for its entire running time is pretty foolish.

Anyway, this has somehow morphed into the insinuation that people are too stupid to understand the construction of the picture — specifically, not knowing the movie was structured as a double feature. It’s nicely debunked here, and at any rate the argument leaves out one very simple thing: If you walk out halfway through the picture, it doesn’t affect the box-office: You’ve already bought your ticket.

“Grindhouse” didn’t make bucketloads of money for three very specific reasons. First, it opened over the Easter weekend, which tends to be dominated by family films; if you’re a younger guy, it’s a lot harder to convince your friends to go see the new zombie movie when they’re all being dragged around to family stuff.

Second, it’s three hours and eleven minutes long, which means theaters will be hard-pressed to screen it more than three times a day. (I guess you can have shows at 11:30 am, 3 pm, 6:30 pm and 10 pm, but then you’re open until 1:30 in the morning, and paying the ushers and popcorn girls way more than you’d planned.)

But even four shows a day can’t compete with the five shows of “Firehouse Dog”, or the six shows of “Blades of Glory”, “Are We Done Yet?” and “Meet the Robinsons”.

And the third reason? It’s a niche release. “Grindhouse” is not “Kill Bill”, with a storyline that can be sold in a single phrase and an appeal beyond Shaw Brothers DVD collectors; it’s not even “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, with red-hot stars and the promise of spectacular gunplay. It’s a goof on 1970s exploitation pictures produced for the narrowest audience imaginable.

“Grindhouse” is an inside joke that somehow escaped onto thousands of movie screens. And it has remained an inside joke, albeit a contentious one; I hated “Death Proof”, for instance, and I know a number of people who are just as dismissive of “Planet Terror”.

It was never going to be a smash. And all the post-facto attempts to rationalize its failure seem to me like people waking up from a fever dream of hype. Sure, reissuing the films separately — maybe with a couple of fake trailers apiece — will allow for more screenings per day, and a potentially larger gross. But surely everyone who’s wanted to see these films has already seen them.

Give it a month or so — say, until “Death Proof” is hailed as a misunderstood masterpiece by those cineastes at Cannes — and don’t be surprised to see Harvey put on his Serious Artist cloak, vowing to release the original theatrical version of “Grindhouse” on DVD to preserve the filmmakers’ intentions.

Except in Europe, where it’s long since been decided that the movies will be released separately. You make more money that way.

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