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!

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