March 2, 2010

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001)

Schlock! chronicles the decades-long business of exploitation cinema, which first appeared during America’s post-WWII boom of prosperity. Finding an outlet on TV with the dawn of Vampira’s “Movie Macabre” TV show of the 1950s, the exploitation film biz churned out countless B-movies every year, including titles from the ’50 and early ‘60s such as The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Saucer Men, War of the Colossal Beast, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, and Carnival of Souls. As years passed, these low-budget cheapies shifted their core themes from Atomic-Age fears and teenage adolescence to the sexploitation comedies of the ‘60s, followed by more graphic, gory exploitation films of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.


Schlock! features numerous interviews with pioneers of the exploitation movement, such as directors Roger Corman and David F. Friedman, actor Dick Miller, and producer Samuel Z. Arkoff. It’s interesting to hear these filmmakers give firsthand descriptions of how they approached their work, and how they kept it highly profitable while the big studios struggled to reach the same audiences.

But beyond the interviewees, Schlock! – while informative and impressive in its roundup of archival footage – lacks in execution. It comes off as a bit textbook or pedestrian for tackling such a salacious subject. (Writer/director Ray Greene’s mellow, subdued narration doesn’t help matters.)

However, what Greene may have accomplished with Schlock! is what any good documentary does: It drives you to explore more about the subject matter. And that’s exactly what Schlock! achieves: It whets your appetite just enough to make you want to seek out the movies that appear in Greene’s film. So in that aspect, congrats to him.

Side note: In my career in advertising, I’ve actually had the chance to meet exploitation filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis (director of Blood Feast and partner of Friedman). After he stopped making movies in the early ‘70s, Lewis became a guru in the world of direct marketing. If you saw Juno, you’ll remember Ellen Page and Jason Bateman discussing Lewis’ work versus legendary horror director Dario Argento. Bateman then has Page watch Lewis’ film The Wizard of Gore. (For the record, I agree with Bateman's character that Argento is merely “okay.”)


Is it appropriate for kids?
Despite the campiness and kitsch of the subject matter, Schlock! has some scenes of drug use (LSD and marijuana), plus copious amounts of nudity and graphic violence – as well as graphic close-ups of childbirth and venereal disease symptoms (thanks to scenes from the so-called “clap opera” social hygiene films of the ‘50s).

Will your FilmMother like it?
Eh. It might be more fun to sit down with her and rent some of the films that were covered in Schlock!, rather than watch the documentary itself.

Up next for the Supreme Court: The case of Water v. Wet.

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
* Director: Ray Greene
* Screenwriter: Ray Greene
* Stars: Roger Corman, David F. Friedman, Dick Miller, Vampira, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman
* MPAA Rating: N/A


Gemma said...

Great review. I totally agree w. your opinions under, "Will your FilmMother like it?

Luke said...

Sounds fun... you should check out Not Quite Hollywood, it's a similar deal.

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