Sunday, June 2, 2013

John Landis: Part One of Many

Will I watch any documentary featuring John Landis? So far the answer is yes. He was the best part of the otherwise meh The Man Off Screen, a doc about Edgar G. Ulmer, I saw a while back.

Every time I see Landis talk about film, I think how I would love to either take a film class with him or just have him as a neighbor so we could watch movies together all the time. Of course, he's not the only film scholar-director out there. Peter Bogdanovich comes to mind immediately. But Landis has such a boyish, uncynical passion for film, all the while remaining utterly unimpressed with Hollywood hackery. He has the kind of giddy gravitas which makes me swoon.

Anyway, Landis appears as a talking head in American Grindhouse, a new-ish doc about the history of American 'exploitation' film, itself a term that is somewhat contentious- film scholars themselves don't agree on what exactly makes a film exploitation.

American Grindhouse takes us all the way from the pre-code era, when sex, violence and drugs were commonplace in American film, to the time of Deep Throat, when hard core porn stole the turf out from under 'exploitation' films as a commercially viable genre. Once you could show it all, there wasn't as much need for the sublimations and work arounds (ie: extreme violence and sadism performed on women as a substitute for intercourse) which were the standard tropes of exploitation films.

In between the pre-code days and Deep Throat lie some pretty interesting, and frankly, repulsive, corners of American popular culture. What makes these exploitation films all the more interesting is that because much of the genre was disposable and ephemeral, it's mostly disappeared from the cultural radar. In the digital era of Netflix and Hulu+ Criterion, we fool ourselves into thinking we've got everything at our fingertips. And though I'm not crying over the inaccessibility of so much sadistic crap. American Grindhouse was an interesting reminder of how much of American cinema history is now inaccessible so much so as to be lost. 

Did I Tell You About The Movie I Saw Last Night?

I spend a lot of time watching movies, mostly at home via Netflix or Hulu Plus. To be sure, I'd rather be at Film Forum or Lincoln Center, smugly finding myself the youngest in the audience by a fair sight, while merely supplementing my movie consumption with the occasional at-home viewing. Alas, I'm not a lady of leisure with the time (or means) to be at the actual cinema more than once or twice a month... not yet, anyway. So, my couch and big screen TV furnish my movie palace and it's definitely one of my favorite places to be.

I'd go so far as to say that cinema is my favorite art form, above literature and dance and maybe on par with music. But I'm a lot better at writing (and thinking) about movies than I am at writing about music. (Not coincidentally, I've had a lot more formal education in film theory and practice than in music, something I'd like to change some day.)

And yet, for a cine-snob, I watch a lot of what people with less (more?) refined sensibilities might call crap, drek, or garbage. Of course not everything I watch is crap, but enough that I don't often share a lot of common ground with others pretending to cine-snobbery. I've never seen The Godfather (any part), I don't like westerns or violent movies or holocaust movies or anything with a lot of hype around it. For me a movie need not be good to be of interest, indeed, often it's the not-good ones which hold the most interest to me. And that's where this blog comes in. After hearing me go on about the genius of John Landis one too many times, my friends have insisted I have an outlet for my movie madness.

What do I hope to cover? Pretty much anything that comes across my screen. I do watch some TV on DVD (like True Blood and Deadwood) but I doubt I'd ever write about that. More likely I'll be writing about the syllabus for my fantasy feminist film theory class. And yes, there will be A LOT of John Landis (I just watched Spies Like Us and loved its sly jabs at our then make-believer-in-chief, Ronald Reagan.) Also, horror films, with an emphasis on classic Hammer and 1950s B movies. And whatever else strikes my fancy.

I'd like to have a mix of brief impressions and some more in-depth pieces. Not every piece of drek really deserves that much attention.

So.... dem's my goals. Now, turn off your cellphones and wait for the credits to roll...