Thursday, April 26, 2007

184. The Friday Club 6: Madcap

When I am writing about a movie that makes its own world with reckless unconcern, wobbling on an axis so far out of true it's a miracle the whole wet mess doesn't splatter like cosmic creamed spinach--oh, boy, someone needs an editor--I am too often tempted to use the word "delirious." In all fairness, though--at least to me--it's a good word for a certain kind of cinema that springs from a region close to the unconscious, spanked into hungry life and making all kinds of racket.

The people behind these movies often didn't know what they were doing--no, wait: They did. It's just that what they did was different than what happened. Hmm. Let's try again: In documentary filmmaking there was a dream called "direct cinema," in which the camera would gaze dispassionately and allow the viewer to do the same, unimpeded by directorial intention or the intrusions of "technique." Good luck, pally; anyone who tried to make such a documentary had already spoiled the broth by "intending" to supplant "intention" with "truth." It was the cinematic equivalent of telling someone, "Don't think of a horse." Oops; too late.

But something close to that dream does occur in some movies. I'm thinking, in part, of so-called "unreflective cinema," low-budget sell-out-and-cash-ins that are about nothing but themselves, garish product whose shelf-life is as long as the movie's own flicker: gone with the last frame. Well, then. I suppose we could call it a day, having figured it out, with perhaps a slight neo-Marxist-revisionist disdainful curl of our lip at "popular entertainments" cobbled together by alienated labor rough-ground in one of the more dilapidated mills of capitalism.

But that's still not right. The movies in this week's Club are no mere McDonaldized massburgers piled high with over-lit cutie-pies and hyped-up creepazoids in disposable romantic comedies and slicers-n-dicers. Nor are they "homages" to the cinema of delirium (keep it in your trousers, Tarantino), "recreating" the "fun" of "B-movies." Sorry for all the quotation marks, but as Roger Corman has said, over and over, he never made B-movies.

But what the heck did he make? Well, before he allowed himself the luxury of a two-week production schedule--and occasionally after, through the '70s and the exploit-o-rama of New World Pictures--Corman and filmmakers like him--especially ones with even less money and what we might call "talent," just to get it out of the way--churned out movies in three to seven days, seeing themselves purely as entrepreneurs, carny-style. Just like MGM and Warner Bros., for the zero-budget boys n girls it was a business--but no Graumann's Chinese for them; no, they barnstormed from drive-ins to 42nd St. grindhouses--real ones, children, real ones--from lonely little Main Street Bijous to any empty space, indoor or out, where a screen could be thrown up and the pictures could roll.

And so. What are we really talking about here? Well, look below at this week's Club offerings. These are pictures so unreflective they're barely there, stolid lumps, canned and wheeled around like some disconsolate capybara in a near-empty county fair sideshow, billed with desperate enthusiasm as "World's Largest Rat!" Their makers were just filling gritty little niches in the movie market, where everyone's tired, including their clothes and shoes, and this better be good. Unfortunately, it often wasn't.

But--one more time--what was "it"? I'm almost there: the lowest common denominator, but transfigured by the sheer act of viewing. Pauline Kael, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, tells us (famous quote coming): "The words 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this." Pretty words all in a row, but not quite right. Just take out the need for "more than this," and you're left with the following movies, simply there and waiting for us to hitch them onto our shoulders like a Salvo overcoat, scratchy and threadbare, but suddenly ours, and alive like a kiss and a bang, like the Pleasure Principle sneaking around because Doris Wishman made a nudie-cutie in three days, working so fast she didn't notice the Id slipped out and now lies like creases on the film, twenty-four delirious dreams per second, more than the picture ever wanted to be, but--here we are at last: finally direct--as direct as a bullet, as basic as the first thought: "I wannit." So look on these works, ye mighty, but don't despair.

And no descriptions. These titles should simply appear, like jack-knife impulses.

Blood Feast (1963)

She-Devils on Wheels (1968)

The Sinister Urge (1961)

Spider Baby (1964)

The Sadist (1963)

The Unearthly1957)

The Wasp Woman (1960)

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