Category Archives: film studies

A Whole Bunch of Exploitation/Grindhouse Film Documentaries

Below is a list of documentaries about exploitation/grindhouse/b-movies and, where possible, links to where you can find them on-line. Consider it a public service. So feel free to skip this intro and scroll down to the links instead…

Lately, and by lately I mean my entire life, I’ve been watching a lot of cheap, cheerful exploitation movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love cinema full-stop. I’m happy to watch a respectable, Oscar winner or an art-house film. For me, as for so many others (you know who you are), film is a drug. All of my movie-watching has always been about dragging myself through the celluloid streets for one more angry fix; an attempt to recapture that first high of watching a King Kong/The Day the Earth Stood Still double-bill when I was three or four. Exact details are obscured by time. Only traces remain. I was in the spare room, not my bedroom. Put there for a nap maybe? There was a small TV in there, old enough (this would have been 1981/82) that it had a dial for changing the channels. Certain images are seared into my brain. Kong pushing the trees aside, light emanating from Gort’s visor. These visions changed me as fully as any later, more clearly remembered, more ‘real’, life experience.

Film as drug: If a classy, prestige Hollywood picture is an expensive bottle of wine, exploitation and B-movies are cheap amphetamine. A quick sleazy, scuzzy buzz compared to the mellow high of the prestige picture.  Not that it is simply a question of budget. Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce was one of the most expensive movies of it’s day, but has B-Movie spirit coursing through every frame. Indeed, we might argue that post-Star Wars (or even post-Jaws) the vast majority of Hollywood’s output has actually just been big budget B-movies. For the true film junkie, however, there is no real distinction. Example: Scorsese’s love of 1953’s cheap, sci-fi quickie Invaders from Mars (particularly it’s set design and use of colour) is made manifest by in the opening scene of his own, far more “respectable” Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

At this point I should point out that I am aware that there are proper distinctions between the terms ‘exploitation movie‘, ‘grindhouse‘ and ‘B-Movie‘, but this is a blog post people, not a Film Studies journal article so let’s just agree to use them in an interchangeable, somewhat colloquial sense. It’s true that no actual B-movie has existed for decades, while most of the grindhouse theaters and drive-ins that showed exploitation movies have long since closed down and been replaced by the vanilla spectacle of the multiplex. So let’s treat it like the definition of obscenity: we’re not sure what it is but we know it when we see it. No-one has ever mistaken Maniac Cop for Driving Miss Daisy, dig?

Driving Miss Daisy

Maniac Cop

 

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Transcendental style in film Part Two: The Ecstatic Aesthetic

Part one introduced the concept of ‘transcendental style’ in cinema. It showed how various critics- most prominently a pre-filmmaking Paul Schrader- described a formal style in the works of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer designed to put the viewer into a contemplative state. In short: films that are really slow and no-one explains anything and so that makes you think about the spiritual meaning of the film instead of how shitty the CGI is and whatnot The key stylistic choices of this mode of transcendental style are slowness, stillness and precision.

I am going to argue that a second mode of transcendental style in film exists. Why am i going to argue that? A) because I think it might be interesting and B) because I don’t get out much anymore. But anyway, much as in religious practices there are many roads to transcendence, so in cinematic style. The films of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer might perhaps be likened to the spiritual practices of the monk or nun. An “ascetic aesthetic“. a slow life, based on contemplation, quietness, simplicity. In the history of spiritual practices this ascetic trend was countered (complimented isn’t quite accurate) by those schools which emphasized states of ecstasy as the road to enlightenment. In cinema this ‘ecstatic aesthetic‘  repeatedly manifests itself in psychedelic vistas of the cosmos. A Dionysian alternative to the Apollonian order of the first style. If Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer want to open your mind, the film makers who use the second mode want to blow it. It’s probably worth noting that this is not a clean break from the other style. Jonathan Rosenbaum cites a few letters and interviews in which Dreyer, responding to criticisms that the miracle that ends Ordet was simply a retreat into archiac religiosity, mentioned,  “recent psychic research, represented by pioneers like Rhine, Ouspensky, Dunne, Aldous Huxley, and so forth,”  and elsewhere stated that

The new science that followed Einstein’s theory of relativity had supplied that outside the three-dimensional world which we can grasp with our senses, there is a fourth dimension—–the dimension of time—–as well as a fifth dimension—–the dimension of the psychic that proves that it is possible to live events that have not yet happened. New perspectives are opened up that make one realize an intimate connection between exact science and intuitive religion. The new science brings us toward a more intimate understanding of the divine power and is even beginning to give us a natural explanation to things of the supernatural.

This melange of science, psychical research, higher dimensions, Ouspensky, Huxley and so on points towards the counterculture of the 1960s and the  emergence of new age spiritualities which sought to reconcile science and religion. Also, they did a shit load of psychedelics. As such, the ecstatic aesthetic, our second mode of transcendental style, works by trying to immerse the audience in the transcendental experience itself. Continue reading