Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Heath Holland On...Exploitation Nation Part I: The Heart & Soul
The decision to make what was once the boring ol’ first month of summer and transform it into JUNESPLOITATION(!) has made me a very happy man. I LOVE exploitation films, and I’d been puzzling over how to write more about the genre for a while but wasn’t sure how to do it. The birth of JUNESPLOITATION might as well have been Christmas for me, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to introduce Exploitation Nation. You’ll see Exploitation Nation each week during the month of June, and after that it will come back every now and then, just when we need it the most. Like King Arthur.
For this first, inaugural edition of Exploitation Nation (if you’re a comic book fan you can bag it, board it, and stick it in a box), I want to talk about my overall thoughts on the exploitation genre. In the primer for JUNESPLOITATION, the very handsome and equally intelligent Patrick "The Brick" Bromley laid out how exploitation movies can really be any movie that has a hook or a gimmick to draw you in.
You guys, Legendary Exploitation Director Jack Hill is right! This whole rash of superhero movies we’re in the middle of? That’s exploitation! F8st and Furious? Totally exploitation. In fact, most of the movies playing right now would fall under the umbrella of exploitation. There’s even a case to be made that the genre has had such a mainstream resurgence that it’s more popular and prevalent than it’s ever been. EVERYTHING seems to be exploiting something these days.
But for me, exploitation is not just about the subject matter. It’s also about existing outside the big studio system with a smaller budget. I mean…I completely agree with Legendary Exploitation Director Jack Hill about the current reliance on Hollywood to exploit a particular thing. From superheroes to torture, cars to teen angst, this stuff is everywhere.
But I have much more admiration for the movies that are made, often independently, with a fraction of the budget of the big movies. For me, true exploitation film will always be the cheaper, more ambitious stuff. While exploitation is not necessarily synonymous with low budget, the movies that I tend to enjoy the most within the exploitation genre ARE the lower budget ones.
My heart is in old paperback books, comics, dusty crates of vinyl records, and these movies. Don’t get me wrong -- I love cinema. I love the art of it. I love how a well-crafted movie can invoke every emotion in the book and cover any span of time in two hours. A good movie is a piece of art that can and should last forever, and we should preserve them as the important documents that they are. Film/Cinema is a wonderful thing, and I love ALL types of movies. But the movies I love the most are the ones that I can touch and feel and which reflect real, less-than-perfect people trying to achieve something.
Wait, don’t go! I’m not saying that it doesn’t take passion to make a mainstream movie, but with exploitation movies, you can see the filmmaker’s (often bloody and dirty) fingerprints all over project. There are fewer cooks in the kitchen. There’s significantly less money available, prompting ingenuity, and sometimes breaking all the rules to get the shot you need. I’m talking about guerilla filmmaking, shooting without permits and stealing shots. If you know you’re going to need to get a shot in the middle of Town Square and you can’t get permission to film there, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to get it. That translates to the screen, and I love it. That’s REAL. And more often than not, that director hunched over a table with a razor blade and tape as he cut his film together himself.
Today’s movies cost more than ever, and it seems like less and less actual heart and passion is being put on the screen. For all their big budgets, they seem to be getting more and more disposable and generic. In a few years, I’m not sure I will be able to tell you the difference between After Earth, Elysium, Oblivion or Ender’s Game. Even now, the trailers have all melded into one big science fiction collage in my brain. That’s not a typical problem with most exploitation films, because there’s usually a plethora of ideas and originality. More often than not, exploitation movies start from the initial hook of an idea and expand from there. The lack of financing fixes more problems than it creates.
Spaghetti westerns sometimes have less to say, but they’re often so stylistically done that they more than justify their existence. I love them for the particular brand of music that doesn’t seem to exist outside this type of movie. I also love that so much time seems to be put into composing shots. You don’t even really need much of a plot: just take two-dozen guys out into the Spanish hills and shoot them riding their horses and sundown and you’ve got a movie. It’s one of the few instances of me being totally ok with style over substance, because the style is SO compelling that it’s enough. When someone like Leone or Corbucci can marry that style with a compelling story, I’m convinced that there is nothing better.
As we know, and as we’ve seen from the JUNESPLOTATION calendar, there are so many different categories that seem to fall under the umbrella of exploitation that you could spend the rest of your life watching them and you’d never finish. These films are the life-blood of the movie industry. In a time where so much of a movie’s budget feels wasteful and unnecessary, it’s refreshing to see a movie shot on a shoestring using all the resources available in the most creative ways possible. Effects are often practical. Actors work for next to nothing. Action is balls-out-crazy, and you’ll see things beyond your wildest imagination. It’s like going into Willy Wonka’s factory.
We’re only a month into the summer movie season, and I’ve already had enough of it. What better way to combat that than to dig into the lowest of the low budget, the counter culture, and the subversive?
JUNESPLOITATION is here, and it’s just in time. See you at the grindhouse!