Sunday, October 02, 2005

Yet another diatribe on experimental/exploitation cinema

I'm still debating with myself what differences and similarities exist between the experimental film making and exploitation film. If there are any, they exist in production. Earlier I was trying to say the similarities are very few and far away - then I remembered Curtis Harrington. Yesterday I remembered the so-called trash films of the likes of Ron Rice and the Kuchar brothers. They made 8mm and 16mm films with titles like Queen of Sheba meets the Atom Man that are very poor copies of the big budget genre films of the fifties and sixties. They don't even try to be at the same level, nor do they try to entertain the audience - you could say that they try to show the restrictions with which the average Hollywood movie has to deal with. You might also say that they are parodies of exploitation films, but I should say they are more parodies of Hollywood's low-budget or B films. They are not pure exploitation.

I should try to elaborate on this at one point, if I'm going to write about it. The exploitation cinema, as I see it at the moment, is not studio film-making. B pictures are pure studio stuff, but exploitation comes from outside the studio system, even though some producers tried to establish similar production circumstances.

Maybe we should separate two phases of exploitation cinema. The first one, the phase of classical exploitation cinema, is about years 1919-1959. The years are the same that Eric Schaefer discusses in his delightful book Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! The second phase comes after the breakdown of Hollywood's studio system and has people like Roger Corman come through (even though he started in the last years of the studio system, and AIP, American International Pictures, for which he did his first features was a studio). The second phase also sees the international exploitation come forward: the Italian spagettiwesterns and giallos, the Philippine horror movies, etc.

This might be still a rather rude model, but I'm working on it. But what I'm trying to say is that what we usually think as an exploitation movie represents almost always the second phase, the non-classical exploitation, done by individuals as projects, not as studio-based commodities.

And this is the most important similarity between the exploitation (the non-classical one) cinema and the experimental cinema. The films are projects and made individually by a changing set of people, while the studio film is made with Fordist and Taylorist methods by a bunch of people who normally do the same thing from one movie to another.

The experimental movie making changes all this, and to some extent the exploitation movies do, too. Jean-Luc Godard had a group called the Dziga Vertov Group in the late sixties and early seventies when he had his Maoist phase. In the group everyone did everything. You could direct one day and shoot on another and then switch to editing. This is what happens also in the exploitation business. Maybe you are your own producer and have come up with the money for your script. Well, who's going to direct it? You know one guy who used to edit films for an ad company. He directs. Who's going to edit it, then? It could be the same guy or he asks one of his buddies to do it. If he's good looking enough, he can also be the hero.

And so the production methods for the experimental and exploitation films were ahead of their day. This is how films are made today. Well, not everyone can shoot or edit, but the films are individual projects for which the money is raised individually and they are usually made by a changing set of people.

I should also mention, as a trivia note, that John Waters's early films are sometimes classified as experimental. They are parodies of pure exploitation, whereas the earlier examples of Rice and the Kuchars are not. And then we have Andy Warhol's seventies horror films that Paul Morrissey directed, Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula. They could be mistaken for true exploitation and came from the experimental film making of Warhol's Factory.

But enough now of this exploitation/experimental/blah-blah/ex-this-ex-that stuff. If I come up with an article about this, I'll let you know.

No comments: