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.

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