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.