Friday, May 22, 2009

Pig – Nico B. (1999)

23-minute-long, 16 mm, b&w underground film by the Dutch filmmaker Nico B. This is also the latest project of Rozz Williams, the late frontman of Christian Death and several other bands, and a source of inspiration for the likes of Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. Written by Williams, Pig depicts the relationship between a killer (Williams himself) and his victim (James Hollan). It does not contain any dialogues. Just bizarre imagery, coming right out of the killer’s mind... We see him reading from a book called Why God Permits Evil, full of swastikas all over, and applying several different torture techniques on his victim, including sewing his penis and nipples together. The uncanny soundtrack, also by Williams, adds up to the irritating atmosphere of the film. It says “Rozz Williams spoke of the film as a form of exorcism and transition of his personal demons” at the back of the DVD. What an exorcism... definitely not for the squeamish.

From Sonic Splendour # 4

Sunday, May 17, 2009

B for Bad Cinema Conference Diary, Entry #3

7 in the morning on Friday April 17, I woke up with a hangover the size of Yarra River. Nothing a quick shower and a couple of painkillers couldn’t cure, as it turned out. This was the day I was presenting my paper. In some cases, I’ve found hangovers help me with my performance in presentations and the like. Fortunately, this was one of those cases.

I was a bit late to the morning plenary session, where Ernest Mathijs argued bad cinema presents a different experience of time in his paper “Discontinuity and Lack of Progress: Time in Bad Cinema”. He asserted that bad cinema either refuses to or is unable to represent a logical progression of time, and therefore challenges the way we are used to perceive time in modern society.

After the morning tea, there were four parallel sessions, which were called “Dirt(y) TV”, “Films no-one likes”, “More Horror”, and “Eroto-cinema”. I was presenting at the “More Horror” panel, and thinking about how the organizers made our panel sound more boring than it actually is: “Yeah, more horror, nothing special there” – which definitely wasn’t the case, and not because I thought my paper was interesting, either. I think creativity for panel titles was the one thing lacking in this conference, in general. First in our panel was Jason Bainbridge with his paper “When Big Budgets Go Bad: Fraternizing with Flash Gordon and Going down The Black Hole or Why Don’t More People write papers on Inseminoid (1981) anyway?” Bainbridge, accompanied by a Flash Gordon action figure, looked at the cases of The Black Hole (1979) and Flash Gordon (1980) to talk about films that aim to be blockbusters but fail, and compared the bad blockbusters and the cultural value that is attached to them with that of the low budget bad film, embodied by The Inseminoid. Next up, Dominic Lennard, whose paper’s title was quoted in an article published in The Age on April 16, did something that’s rarely done in horror film studies, and took the male body and its horrors in focus in his paper “‘Somehow the indentities, they get all Mixed Up’: Fatherhood, Science and Semen in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974)”. He analysed the patriarchal discourses in the film, which poses reproduction “as a male technological process”, as the male character’s sperm is identified as the cause of a mutant baby’s birth. My paper, being the only one that does not mention sperm anywhere throughout – and therefore probably not as much fun – was titled “Exorcising Hollywood?: Turkish Islamic Horror Cinema”. I focused on five recent Turkish horror films with Islamic themes or overtones, in the light of Yuri Lotman’s model of cultural transfer. My final argument was that these films represent more the return of the bad film than the horror film. I received quite a few questions, some of which were about whether it was possible to get these films with English subtitles. It made me feel good to see a few people, who weren’t at our panel, come up to me and say “Are you Can Y.? I heard about your paper. That sounds really interesting. Could you send it to me?”. Ego-boosting, to say the least!

The afternoon session with the panels “Stars”, “Australia II”, “Bad Boys”, and “Value” was when most of my conference buddies were presenting their papers. I started with the “Value” panel, where Phil Betts was presenting his paper “The Gentrification of Bad Cinema”. Phil, who in numerous occasions confessed to be “not a horror film person”, was more than able to blend in with us zombie crowd by his industry analysis of Fox Searchlight distributed 28 Days Later, where he questioned the lines that blur between the independent and the commercial, bad cinema, and the mainstream. After Phil’s presentation, I moved on to the “Bad Boys” panel to listen to Karen Mauri talking about the New Zealand animated series Bro’ Town in her “B For Bro’ town: ‘Im goin 2 da pub I may be some time”. Karen looked at the way in which this “minority” TV series employ strategies of self-mockery and stereotyping, along with more “commercial” elements to address a broader audience. The last paper of the session was Mario Rodriguez’s “Horror-Ritual: Horror Movie Villains as Re-Presentational Sacrifice”. He argued that villains in horror movies are ritual construct and the reason for their existence is to transgress boundaries. He gave examples from films like There Will be Blood, No Country for Old Men as well as Saw and Hostel, to show the function of villains as receptors of re-presentational punishment.

The last plenary session of the conference was Jamie Sexton’s “Cult Film: From Bad to Good and Back to ‘Bad’ Again?”. Sexton’s paper was an archaeological investigation of the term ‘cult’ and outlined the changes the term has undergone since the early twentieth century, when it had a negative meaning. Identifying ‘cult’ as a generic term, he differentiated it from other generic terms, as its connotations are mostly reception-based. After Sexton’s talk, Con Verevis made the closing remarks in “Close: A Bad Ending”, and implied a possible sequel to “B for Bad Cinema”.

We went to Lygon Street for some nice Italian Pizza and then to Brunswick Street for a couple of celebratory beers. The conference was over, but Melbourne still had some attractions to offer: the Queen Victoria Markets, a meeting with a fellow Melancholy scholar, the Comedy Festival, hanging out with people who gave us A Dark Day’s Knight, Setting the Scene exhibition at ACMI, and “world’s freakiest bookstore”, Polyester Books!

Monday, May 11, 2009

B for Bad Cinema Conference Diary, Entry #2

We were told the day before that one of the plenary speakers, Jeffrey Sconce – writer of the legendary article “Trashing the Academy” – had notified the organizers, 48 hours before the conference, that he would not be able to make it, which gave us an extra hour of sleep at the expense of getting the chance to see a celebrity academic.

The first parallel session of Thursday April 16 had “Pedagogy”, “Australian”, “Perversion”, “Eighties” and “Politics” to choose from. I decided to follow my friends to the 80s session, but I still think the Perversion one might have been more suitable to my taste, much as the 80s session was good fun. It started with Tim Groves’ paper “Bad Affects, A/sociality and St Elmo’s Fire”. He looked at Joel Schumacher’s 1985 film St Elmo’s Fire using group psychology theory, particularly using writing that deconstructs Freud’s work on sociality, such as Mikkel Borch-Jocobsen’s. Next, Matt Sini gave us a taste of best of Arnie’s one-liners in “‘I Eat Green Berets For Breakfast’: Schwarzenegger, Cheesy Lines & 80s Action Film”. Instead of measuring the size of the governator’s legendary biceps, he focused on his Austrian accent and “poor acting ability” (his acting talents weren’t poor, he was a visionary deconstructing the notion of the serious action film star!) and how these made it possible for his fans to enjoy his films through recognizing their artificiality. Here’s one of the clips Matt showed. Third, Suzanne Woodward talked about the 2007 Hairspray remake in her “‘Moral Turpentine’ – The Recuperation of Hairspray”, comparing it to the original version by John Waters. She maintained there’s a move to the mainstream, but there is still counterculture, bad taste, and ickiness and it still satirises the shallowness of the American Dream.

The next parallel session of the day brought us such panels as “Russian”, “Horror”. “Revisions”, “Hyper-bad Theory” and “Bursting the Frame”. My ‘panel crawl’ started with the first paper of the Hyper-bad Theory, with John Scannel’s “Why ‘Bad’ Cinema is Often Rather ‘Good’”. John used Deleuze’s theory from his Cinema books and said the power of bad cinema comes from its repetition of difference, which is unlike good cinema’s repetitions of preconceived clichés, and ever ready to extend into chaos. I sneaked out of the panel to go to my supervisor Catherine Simpson’s talk on Aussie Eco-Horror. In “Ozploitation and Gaia’s Revenge”, she talked about such great Ozploitation films as Long Weekend, Razorback, Howling III: the Marsupials and Rogue, which all feature animals wreaking havoc on people who do not respect nature. As the panel ended with Catherine’s paper, I went back to the Hyper-bad Theory panel to listen to Alan Cholodenko’s “B for Baudrillard (Hyper)cinema”, which blurred the lines between a conference paper and rap poetry as Choldenko recited lines as “the logic of paracinema as hypercinema is: at once bad more and less good than good and at the same time good more and less bad than bad” with the speed of a machine gun.

Following the afternoon tea, we all went to Angela Ndalianis plenary session titled “Corpse Contagion and Aesthetics of Disgust”, which was an homage to zombies. Ndalianis showed examples of the zombie subgenre across a variety of media – cinema, comics, computer games, and literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Encompassed by scenes of consumption of human flesh, zombie cultural products evoke a sensation of disgust, which pushes audiences into a dilemma of whether to look or not to look. This is probably best exemplified in the “splinter-in-the-eye” scene of Zombi 2.

The last parallel session offered “Music”, “Japanese”, “Women”, “Visionary Bad” and “Exploitation”. I first went to the Japanese panel to listen to Brady Hammond’s “Haunted Girls, Bad Girls, and Mothra: Charting Feminism in Post-War Japanese B Movies”. Brady (who is thinking of making a film about werewolves on the moon), questioned the presence of feminism in Japanese cinema and culture, in films and subgenres such as Mothra, which presents the first female monster to destroy Japan; Pink films, which objectified women, and J-Horror, with its avenging female spirits. I then moved to the Exploitation panel and listened to Scott Knight and Alison Taylor’s account Seduction Cinema and Retro-Seduction production and distribution companies in “ Sexploitation Paracinema & DVD: The Case of Retro-Seduction Cinema”. Mostly known by their softcore parody films such as Lord of the G-Strings and their house star Misty Mundae, Seduction – a branch of the company Pop Cinema – has a sister company called Retro-Seduction, which distributes sexploitation classics from the 60s and 70s, along with their remakes. The last paper of the day was Beth Toren’s “Jager Shots: Quentin Tarantino Exploits B-Movies in Death Proof”, which summarises what the paper was about. Toren, gave examples from films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to show how Tarantino borrows extensively from old B-Movies, also focusing on the shifting roles of the female characters in B horror cinema, as well as in Death Proof.

We went to have some Thai food in the city with my conference buddies before the Conference party at The Order of Melbourne started. The place was quite suitable to the theme of the conference, with stuffed animals here and there, and old 45s of B films playing in the background. Considering I had a paper to present the following day, I had way more drinks than I should.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

B for Bad Cinema Conference Diary, Entry #1

After immersing myself into the delights of A Night of Horror a few weeks ago, it was now time to go to Melbourne for a Conference devoted to splatter, zombie, Euro-trash, Ozploitation, exploitation, and erotic cinema among other things!

The incredibly cool titled conference B for Bad Cinema started on April 15th. I missed the opening night, which was on the 14th, as I arrived in Melbourne around the time it finished and got to my hotel around 9 pm. But I was able to find my way to Monash University, Menzies Building on Wednesday, just in time to get registered and attend the first plenary session.

The organizers did a really nice job of putting together an awesomely designed folder, containing the Conference programme, abstracts, and two badges along with the name tag. I kind of wish they did souvenir conference t-shirts and bags, too, but oh well…

The first plenary speaker was Murray Pomerance from Ryerson University and his paper was titled “The Villain We Love: Notes on the Dramaturgy of Screen Evil”. Pomerance first talked about how “the elimination of embodiments of evil has been a spectacle and a source of intense pleasure for audiences for hundreds of years”. Then he moved on to the representations of evil on the screen, saying no dramatic film will seem successful if it shows the demise of the villain too early. He looked at the case of Brian Singer’s Valkyrie, asked what would happen when the evil represented on the screen is based on a historical figure like Hitler, and showed how Hitler was divorced from historical facts for the sake of filmic narrative and catharsis.

After the plenary session I decided to go to the Splatter session (the other parallel sessions were “B-Auteurs”, “Boredom”, “Video”, and “Gender”). The first speaker was Phoebe Fletcher from the University of Auckland. Her paper “‘Fucking Americans’: Postmodern Nationalisms in the Contemporary Splatter Film” focused on dystopian representations of capitalism in recent films such as Hostel and Turistas, and emphasized the orientalist tendencies in these films as the image of the east is distorted. She also analysed this trend as a result of global anti-Americanism after the invasion of Iraq. Next, Craig Frost talked about remakes of old horror films in his “When Bad Cinema Goes Bad”. He particularly looked at the Michael Bay produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and underlined how bad this version was compared to the original, stripped of any cultural context, and just striving to be commercially viable. The last talk of the session was Naomi Merritt’s “‘A Vile Little Piece of Sick Crap’: Battaillean Transgressions and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and analysed Tobe Hooper’s classic film within Battaille’s concepts of Taboo and transgression, drawing on the idea of extreme seductiveness of horror.

The afternoon session had such titles as “Ozploitation”, “Television”, “Reception”, “Imaging” and “Capitalism” and I chose to go to the last one. The first speaker, Manish Priyadarshi didn’t show up, which gave the second speaker, Brendan Murphy from Central Queensland University plenty of time to show us a lot of sweded films on youtube in preparation for his paper “B Grade 2.0: Gondry, ‘Sweding’ and B Movie Tropes in Emerging Social Media Culture”, and looked at how newly emerging media technologies reshaping media production, with a case study of Be Kind Rewind fuelled sweded films. Next, Mark Steven, a self-confessed nerd, presented his paper on The Revenge of the Nerds titled “Their Time Has Come: Bad Cinema Nerds as Late-Capitalist Paradigm”. His argument was that the nerds versus jocks paradigm could be read as the 21st century vs 20th century capitalism, where nerds stood for the late capitalist paradigm.

The second plenary session was conducted by Adrian Martin, who delivered a paper titled “My Bad (Part 1) – The Risible, or; On With the Adventure!”. His paper started with an account of how, as a child, he enjoyed watching films without any judgment, which turned even the worst films into a thrilling adventure. He stated how he rebelled against the standards set by rationalized and intellectual frames of mind for ‘good cinema’, which prevents audiences to enjoy not only B-grade films but also more avant-garde and experimental works. A big chunk of the paper dealt with films of the French director Jean Claude Brisseau, with accompanying clips, which seemed to blur the boundaries between arthouse cinema and exploitation films, and presented a revolutionary worldview, not unlike Jean Luc Godard’s in The Week End. Instead of despising or loving these films for the same reasons: because they are ridiculous and silly, we should return to that fundamental pleasure of watching them we experienced as children, Martin suggested.

The last parallel session of the day presented such panels as “Zombies”, “Realism”, “Indonesian”, “Euro-Trash”, and “Hollywood”. I was really torn between Indonesian, Euro-Trash and Zombies, but then I couldn’t resist the charm of the living dead, those rock stars of horror cinema. The first speaker was Allan Cameron, who talked about the sense of contingency in zombie films and horror cinephilia, drawing examples from Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 - a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters(especially the notorious shark vs zombie scene) and Romero’s Diary of the Dead, in his paper “Zombie Media: Resolution, Reproduction and the Digital Dead”. Next, John Edmond did a presentation on zombie fandom. His paper “Zombie Fans, Zombie Walks, and Everyday Life” focused on cultural productions of zombie fans, which, due to the speechless nature of zombies, is usually visual and performance based, showing photos from Brisbane Zombie Walk 2008. Lastly, Lindsay Hallam looked at Lucio Fulci’s zombie films in the light of texts of Marquis de Sade and the concept of transgression, and underlined Fulci’s fascination with the limitations and possibilities of the body, and how they can be destroyed. This session was also one of the best in terms of discussion, as it was where different opinions on the speed of zombies (John Edmond said he would feel cheated if he saw fast zombies, in the same way as he would feel cheated if he saw a UFO in a Western) and when the best time to watch a Fulci is (one audience member suggested it should be the morning after a big night out) were articulated.

My conference buddies and I finished the night at an Indian place called Gaylord, where I feasted on a plate of Gaylord special! Awesome ending to an awesome first day at the conference.