What’s Three Reasons? A lazy version of Five Reasons of course. But then isn’t it an exact ripoff of the Criterion Collection YouTube videos? Yes, but I prefer the word homage. Anyways, enough chitchat let’s get down to business. This is a short article about Emir Kusturica’s Underground (original title: Podzemlje). This film won the Serbian auteur the top prize, the Palm d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Continue reading
This weekend Robert Rogriguez’ Machete Kills (the sequel Machete) was released in the States. Normally I sequels don’t interest me, but ‘Machete’ was planned as a trilogy. At the end of the first film it is hinted that “Machete [the character] will return in Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again“. At first I thought it was a joke, but then, much like the faux trailer part of the Grindhouse double bill (which comprised Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror) the film became a reality. At least the first sequel, seeing the poor box office performance now it’s fair to speculate if the Mexican iteration of James Bond will return in Machete Kills Again. Long story short: This week we’re talking all things exploitation.
What is exploitation? What does that mean? I’ve tried hard to explain the concept to my brother, but of course I make more sense on paper (or screen) than in real life. I’ll try my best to keep things simple. Exploitation cinema or exploitation film are usually low-budget films that are also poorly produced (artistically) and usually appeal to an “adult” public. Due to the lack of big bankable stars, professional special effects and other general budget restrictions exploitation films by definition try to “exploit” a current trend or genre niche. These films are known to the general public as b movies and sometimes manage to attract cult followings, rarely are they appreciated by critics, although some older ones are considered classics today, they were mostly viewed negatively by the critics of the time, because of their “excesses”.
What are some examples of exploitation sub-genres? Well, there’s all kinds, but here are the most notable. There’s the biker films (films that revolve around the biker subculture), blaxploitation (cast with all or mostly black actors, dealing with social issues), cannibal films (usually about white men going to the jungle and rarely coming back in one piece), carsploitation (like the biker films, only with cars), chambara films (Asian folks wielding big swords and stuff), giallo films (usually Italian mystery/slasher/detective stories), mondo films (quasi-documentaries set out to shock you, also see shocksploitation), nazisploitation (films about the depravities of World War II), nudist films (naturalist lifestyle pieces), rape & revenge films (women castrating men for their evil doings), sexploitation (soft core pornography), slasher films (probably the most famous exploitation sub-genre usually involving serial killers slashing up naughty teenagers), spaghetti westerns (Italian westerns, not actually about food), splatter films (movies with a lot of gore and blood) and women in prison films.
What do all these films have in common? Mostly: A lot of violence, sex, nudity, language. They are more about getting a visceral reaction in the viewer rather than subtlety and genuine drama. Most of the time there is a point or message, but it gets lost in all the depravity and degeneration depicted on-screen. The beauty of these films is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, don’t judge their characters and posses a firm sense of morals. Many times these films get wrongfully discarded as immoral, cruel and disgusting. However underneath a surface of apparent vulgarity hides a strong moral center and a clear sense of right and wrong.
Many exploitation films were depicting and anticipating social issues that only years later entered the popular consciousness. Thanks to their low-budget they were allowed to freely address civil rights, female empowerment and other social issues, long before those were even brought up in mainstream cinema. Casting African-Americans, Hispanics and women in the lead roles these films were innovative and way ahead of any “politically correct” bullshit. Paradoxically by being more offensive, they were more respectful of human diversity and portrayed different ethnicities more sensibly, genuinely and free of hypocrisy. It is the very nature of exploitative cinema that allows it to be more auto-critical of our Western culture and values, but without coming off as pedantic and still managing to entertain.
Exploitation cinema was at its height in the 70s, but the first exploitation films date back to as early as cinema was invented. Lately, with Tarantino and the so-called “Splat Pack” (a group of directors comprising Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie among others) this kind of cinema has experience a resurgence to some kind of degree. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (chambara films), Death Proof (carsploitation) and Inglourious Basterds (nazisploitation) are probably favorites, but since I mention those fairly regularly I wanted to mention seminal works, films that were very influential for contemporary filmmakers. I also tried to pick five different sub-genres. So in honor of Machete Kills: Here are five of my favorite exploitation films!
5. Freaks (1932, Tod Browning)
Freaks is often referred to as the first exploitation film. The film is about a group of “circus freaks”, the type of people “normals” look at with disgust, fear or just morbid curiosity. Tod Browning however treats his characters with respect portraying them as humans. Yes, they’re flawed, petty, selfish and sometimes even evil, but aren’t we all? By not giving them a special treatment, but portraying their humanity, suffering and passions just as our own he manages to show that the only difference between us and them is a physical one. Social “classes” and hierarchies exist just as much in their world as they do in our and people go through the same life experiences, feelings and emotions. The film is not easy to watch, the characters are very empathic, relatable and real which makes the viewing experience all the more compelling. This film inspired Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small and it’s one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen, though I don’t necessarily feel ready to re-watch it because of its strong and powerful resonance, which is definitely overwhelming.
4. Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)
When I heard that Tarantino was making a film in the world of Django I immediately had to watch Sergio Corbucci’s film. The Western genre is one of those genres that never really interested or attracted me, so I don’t feel qualified enough to talk about it, but I’ll still give it a try and my proverbial two cents. What I liked about Django is that compared to most exploitation films it “holds back” a little and actually restrains a bit of violence and doesn’t show a lot of the racy stuff that would have probably been shown in similar genre fare. Django is the story of a lone bounty hunter that goes from town to town in search of bad men to kill. He always drags his coffin around with him and of course that’s because he keeps the heavy artillery inside there and nobody would dream of open it. The film was also very influential for Robert Rodriguez who unabashedly loves unusual weaponry and gadgets (just look at the those Spy Kids films).
3. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato)
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most famous cannibal films and considered one of the most shocking films of all time. It’s about a group of filmmakers that go to the jungle to make a film about the local tribes and their rituals and way of living. Unfortunately most of these guys are more disrespectful and savage than the local cannibals (as weird as that may sound). So instead of just doing their work they decide that raping the women and killing the indigenous population is totally okay. Naturally because of the sins of a bunch of douchebags the whole crew will have to pay. The film is extremely well-made, but very violent and crude. There is real animal torture, which is terrible, but adds to making this film incredibly depressing and sad. However if you can get past that it’s also one of the best explorations of human nature I’ve ever seen. As much as I don’t support animal cruelty it does help making a point and for what it’s worth they actually ate the animals that were killed (namely the big turtle, poor turtle).
2. Tenebrae (1982, Dario Argento)
Tenebre (original title) is one of my favorite giallos. It’s one of the few brightly lit horror films, which is ironic, because “tenebre” means “darkness” in Italian. The film looks great and has a kind of supernatural, almost surreal atmosphere going on and for me it’s more about the score and how this film feels, rather than the plot. Like most giallos, the story is a bit convoluted and full of twists and turns, but at the end of the day Tenebrae still makes a little bit of sense and that’s why I can embrace it and recommend it. I remember liking the acting, the cinematography and Dario Argento’s trademarks most of all. It also helps that the film is set in Rome, I’m always a fan of that. Critics consider it to be one of Argento’s best, but I’d say that I prefer Suspiria and Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso) is definitely up there: He has just made so many great films and I think that people need to be reminded of that, especially nowadays.
1. Showgirls (1995, Paul Verhoeven)
Now then: A sexploitation cult classic. Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is an over-the-top, almost caricatural portrayal of a young woman trying her luck in Las Vegas as an exotic dancer. After a series of ups and downs she finally manages to arrive at the top of Vegas nightlife entertainment, but at what cost? The film is not meant to be taken very seriously, it’s full of auto-ironic and self-aware humor and yet many people accuse it of not being realistic. The joke is on them however, because clearly they don’t understand the film and the director’s intention. Just like you would expect from a sexploitation film there is a lot of sex and nudity, but while some might say that its depiction is gratuitous and vulgar. In the context of Las Vegas entertainment it would be ridiculous not to show any tits and asses, just like it would make no sense for a low-life New York gangster character to talk like a Harvard English professor (unless of course that’s he used to be a professor, but what are the odds?). Anyway, I like this film because of how it deals with complex and fascinating themes such as friendship, work ethic and gender roles.
Thanks for Sharing is coming out in limited release this weekend. The film tackles the highly timely topic of sex addiction, that not many movies have discussed so far. So instead of having five favorite movies about sex addiction I would like to take this opportunity to discuss addictions in movies in general. Sex is not the only addiction a person can have, there are lots of others, like gambling, alcohol, rage and so on and so forth. I selected five films that deal with five different addictions. There are a lot of movies dealing with the idea of being addicted or obsessed with something and of course five movies will hardly cover any ground, but it’s a starting point to inspire you to notice how many films deal with the same concept that can take on endless forms.
As we’ll see none of these addictions are a good thing, not even the ones that sound fun. Some addictions are out and out bad, like say a vampire being addicted to human blood and killing. Some addiction may even come off as noble like “your job”, but too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Professor Humbert Humbert’s love for Lolita eventually became an obsession, though it’s fair to question if the pedophile relationship wasn’t doomed from the start, but I digress. Let’s explore some of these addictions and see how they ruin people and how they almost always end badly. No happy endings, because that’s life and how else can life end if not in death? Sorry, I’m being a bit over-dramatic here, never mind. Carry on!
5. Greed (1924, Erich von Stroheim)
Money. The root of all evil? Of course not. It’s the human soul that’s corrupted to its core. I exaggerate of course, but maybe not (then again I’m fairly misanthropic). Eric von Stroheim’s masterpiece. One of my favorite, if not my favorite silent films of all time. This picture shows how greed can bring a person to do horrible things and horrible things will happen to them of course, because karma is a bitch! I don’t remember exactly all that happens in this film (it’s been a while), but I remember the climax being very powerful and telling of the human soul. It’s a film that boarders cheesy, nevertheless at over three hours there’s not a dull moment in it.
4. Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder)
Easily one of my favorite films of all time. Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. shows how fame wanting to be the center of attention can become an addiction. Norma Desmond is an actress from the silent era that would kill for a comeback. She is addicted to the limelight and that’s ultimately her demise. This is a beautiful film noir, one of Wilder’s best, romantic and witty as always. It’s about Hollywood and success and art and life and love and so many other things I couldn’t possibly sum it up in a couple sentences.
3. Drugstore Cowboy (1989, Gus Van Sant)
Drugs are possibly the most used addiction in movies. It’s easy to show and many people can relate to it. Also many artists have problems with substance abuse and so art often reflects life. I put Drugstore Cowboy on this list, because I feel it’s an overlooked film by a great, sensitive director, Gus Van Sant, who deals with the issue in a thoughtful way. While some movies seem to glorify drug use (especially weed), this film shows how it can ruin a person’s life and even when they want to get out, it’s the hardest thing to do.
2. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino)
This might seem like an odd pick, but if you think about it stuntman Mike McCain is an adrenaline junkie. He clearly gets off (sexually) by crashing his death proof vehicle into other people’s not-so-safe cars. Generally considered Tarantino’s worst film (even by himself), it is one of my favorite of his and I feel it’s often unjustly maligned. Why? Probably because people have short attention spans and are bored easily unless shit is exploding on the screen. Anyways, what I like about this film is the dialogues and the great exploitation ending, which totally kicks ass.
1. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
As I’ve mentioned your job can also become an addiction. Today many people face burnouts because they’ve become workaholics. In Black Swan Nina (Natalie Portman) is obsessed with perfection and getting the lead in the Swan Lake ballet. She eventually goes nuts, but she does so in a poetic and awe-inspiring way so it’s totally cool. In real life however people can get depressions and such, but as we’ve come to know depression is about the least sexy thing you can depict in a movie (unless you want it to bomb). According to Darren Aronofsky Black Swan is a companion film to The Wrestler, and as a matter of fact both protagonists seem to share a similar “work ethic”.
That’s it for this week’s recommendations. If I may add something of a personal advice: Try to kick your bad habits or addictions (if you have any). Don’t become a slave to them, because as these stories show it never ends well. Okay, I’m done being corny and now go and watch some movies or tell me about your favorite films about addictions!
Oh man! Gotta love the internet. People write stuff without checking their facts and before any information is actually confirmed. Today, several websites and blogs reported that Gremlins director Joe Dante was going to make a Biopic about legendary horror b-movie producer Roger Corman, and that Quentin Tarantino himself was cast as the lead. Truth is: Joe Dante is directing a film called The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eye, however his buddy Quentin won’t be in it. Dante set the record straight by simply updating his Facebook status.