After our session on Monster flicks, we further dive into the depths of Paracinema, this time focusing on exploitation, sexploitation and blaxploitation. We will see minority characters and experience taboo topics brought up by exploitation films that were produced on the fringe outside the studio system like “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965) by Russ Meyer. After that, we will see some clips of so-called Midnight Movies (artsy and/or crazy independent films that became Cult Movies) and add glimpses of Blaxploitation to our knowledge base!
After talking about the spectacular Historical Epics of Golden Hollywood, we will take a closer look into the dark world of Monster Movies. This horror movie subgenre has had at least four cycles (after King Kong in the 1930s, then atomic age monsters in the 1950s, giant sharks and sea creatures after Jaws in 1975, and space monsters since Alien in 1979, which successfully had merged the Monster Movie with the Science Fiction genre). Although only rarely the story centers around them, monstrous creatures can play an important part in fantasy films as well, like in the Lord of the Ring or Game of Thrones series.
A landmark atomic age monster movies is 1954’s “Them!”, directed by workhorse Gordon Douglas (famous for the minor classics “Yellowstone Kelly”, “Rio Conchos”, “Sylvia”, “Stagecoach”, “In Like Flint”, “Lady in Cement”, “Barquero”, “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”, “Necvada Smith” a. m. o.). It was released at the same time as the first Godzilla film in Japan (which was shown in the U.S. two years later in 1956), triggered by the same fears of nuclear weapons and the possible breakout of another world war. Preceded by the smash hit “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), world’s first nuclear monster movie (with special effects by stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen), “Them!” is the silver screen’s first “giant bugs” film, as well as a smart genre-mix of horror, SF, action, and detective film. It became surprisingly one of the highest grossing films of Warner Bros. Studio that year, and received an Oscar nomination for the Best Special Effects. Starring character actors James Whitmore, James Arness (later famous for the TV Western series “Gunsmoke”), Edmund Gwenn (“Miracle on 34th Street”) and singer Joan Weldon who states about this movie: “I didn’t think much of Them! when I read the script. I just knew that [my character] was a scientist, and I was hoping that somewhere along the line there would be some romance or love interest. But Gordon Douglas didn’t want to refer to any kind of romance whatsoever. It was totally devoid of any interplay with anybody. The ants were supposed to be the star.” [Quote from IMDb]
IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047573/
Watch on Vimeo: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3g4v34
Tim Burton pays homage to “world’s worst” fringe filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., featuring some reenactments of Wood’s most infamous moments in film: GLEN OR GLENDA (1953), BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). The film not only focuses on the artistic struggles of this director, but also sympathetically portrays his obsessions, his love life, and many of his unusual friends.
Despite being made in the 90’s, the films setting is the 50’s, and Burton choose to shoot it in B/W, probably aiming to look more “authentic”. It also will introduce you to a different type of film production away from the glamour of Golden Hollywood (despite those small production companies on “Poverty Row” being geographically relatively close to their big competitors).
Wood whose directorial efforts could be considered in the very best case as mixed pleasures, nowadays is admired by many for his strong independent spirit, being an “auteur” type of filmmaker, and having made with “Glen or Glenda” (1953) the world’s first “serious” film about transgender persons. Many of his films are also “So Bad It’s Good” type of movies being very enjoyable for an exclusive cult audience. The University of Southern California is holding a yearly “Ed Wood Film Festival” in which students are competing to produce short films in Wood’s style. Wood’s films also have been shown in the TV program “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, and there exists even a new baptist group of “Woodites” who celebrate Ed Wood as their savior 🙂
Martin Landau was awarded the Academy Award and the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the forgotten horror legend Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”, 1931). [The movie garnered its second Oscar for his make-up.] Wood is played by a very enthusiastic young Johnny Depp, and you can also enjoy Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vincent D’Onofrio and other great character actors in this film. Despite being critically acclaimed, this film is the first of Tim Burton’s legendary financial failures with only making back a third of its budget in the USA [the other ones are: “Corpse Bride”, “Dark Shadows”, “Frankenweenie”, “Big Fish” and worst of all “Mars Attacks!” which interestingly is another, different form of homage to Ed Wood!]. It also marks Burton’s first R-rated film.
Watch on YouTube in Spanish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WqNjBm_5Pk
You can help each other to prepare for the quiz by:
- Posting a question about a topic or concept that has been mentioned in class and you’re not quite sure you have a solid grip on
- Posting an answer to such a question above
- Posting about a topic or concept you understood really well and think you can explain in clearer ways than was given in class, or can give a really good example of it
A solid understanding of key terms will do you very well on any of my quizzes. Not to mention it could help with blogging points too!
Famous silent movie star Norma Desmond’s career has faded to oblivion. Eager to make a comeback she chooses young B-Movie screenwriter Joe Gillis to fix her script. But during the process, Norma starts to fancy him. Financially dependent on her, it becomes more and more difficult for Joe to refuse her.
This film noir was directed by Austrian immigrant Billy Wilder (1906-2002) who is considered to be one of the top directors and writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Among his credits are classics like “Double Idemnity” (1944), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959).
Although some Hollywood “insiders” – older movie stars and in particular MGM studio boss Louis B. Meyer – were not fond of this motion picture, Sunset Boulevard managed to garner 11 Academy Award nominations and 3 Academy Awards (Best Script, Best Art Direction, Best Score). The critical reception was tremendous, and also financially the film had a moderate success (it did well in the metropolitan areas, but poor in the countryside). In 1998, Sunset Boulevard was selected to be number 12 of AFI’s 100 best American movies.
Director Billy Wilder gathered a great crew – eight time Academy Award winner Edith Head for the costumes, composer Franz Waxman, art director Hans Dreier, make-up artist Wally Westmore – and cast: Gloria Swanson, herself a faded star from the silent era, as Norma Desmond, the up-and-coming William Holden as the young writer, and legendary silent filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s servant Max. In special appearances one can see other greats of the silent era: Comedian/actor Buster Keaton, director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Anna Q. Nielsen and British actor H.B. Warner.
The film’s story is said to be inspired by the life of actress Norma Talmadge – a superstar of the silent screen that did not succeed in making the transition to the talkies, had an affair with actor Gilbert Roland (who was 12 years younger than herself) and spent her later days in wealthy retirement. Another reference is to the mysterious murder case of film director William Desmond Taylor.
Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGqWCF_EDws
Just as an interesting coincidence, recently one of the famous mansions of the grand old Hollywood glory was offered to be sold. Director Billy Wilder is also being quoted in the article: http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/hot-property/la-fi-hotprop-gary-wilson-holmby-hills-79-million-20161004-snap-story.html