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Review-a-Day
Powells.com
Saturday, January 18th, 2003


 

Sleazoid Express: A Mind-twisted Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square

by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford

A review by Gerry Donaghy

Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that you could measure a society by how it treats its prisoners. If we were looking to update that sentiment, I propose that we measure a society by the movies it watches. Film scholars can trace cinematic movements and break them off into different schools: French New Wave, Italian Neo-Realism, and German Expressionism. In ten or twenty years, I wonder what scholars will be calling our current period of franchise-driven, star-bloated and homogenized-to-the-point-of-banality cinema. Living in this era of thumbs-up/thumbs-down movie criticism, and moviegoers rattling off box office receipts like batting averages ("This movie grossed $200 million last weekend, it must be good"), it makes a true movie fan scratch their head and wonder, to quote David Sedaris, "Is it them, or am I missing something?"

For moviegoers willing to stalk the urban jungles in search of cinematic thrills, Times Square in New York City used to be their Mecca. Long before it was remade into a tourist-friendly shrine to Disney, Times Square was a cesspool (after all, less than two centuries ago, the area that Times Square was built on was a swamp). Think of all the wonderful portrayals of New York City before the metamorphosis: Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, The Panic in Needle Park and The Warriors. Going for a night on the town was taking your life in your hands and the people who lived there were proud of that. Two survivors of those primitive days are Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford the authors of Sleazoid Express, which takes its title from their magazine and web site.

There are a lot of books out there that review so-called shocking movies. The Psychotronic Video Guide to Film and Slimetime: A Guide to Sleazy, Mindless Movies are both standouts in this field. What sets Sleazoid Express apart from these is that its authors literally take you to the seedy movie theaters in Times Square and introduce you to the degenerates that inhabited them. And even though these places were dangerous, foul and provided entertainment of the most lurid nature, Landis and Clifford fondly remember them and lovingly detail every aspect. The authors lived and worked in these theaters, giving readers a first hand account of life in these cinematic DMZ’s. Today’s moviegoers who are used to the sterile surroundings of the suburban multiplex would cringe at the mere thought of some of these places. Imagine catching a flick at the Anco Theater as described by the authors: "[I]ts floors were sticky from spilled soda, smuggled in malt liquors and bodily fluids of all varieties". Makes that person sitting next to you at Lord of the Rings talking on his cell phone seem kind of trite, doesn’t it?

The films shown in these grindhouse theaters are also described, allowing the reader to imagine a night in some of the nastiest cinemas in the country without leaving their homes. Thanks to synopses that provide insight, yet don’t give away key points, the intrepid movie buff can decide if they want to search the video shop for movies such as Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, The Streetfighter, and White Slaves of Chinatown. These are movies that no studio or theater chain would touch with a twenty-foot pole in today’s PC environment. And thanks to advances in home entertainment, many of these films can be rented or purchased cheaply online. Perhaps readers will be inspired by Sleazoid Express to bill their own double or triple features at home for their like-minded friends.


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