Sunday, July 28, 2013

Grindhouse Girls: Cinema’s Hardest Working Women

All right, friends, thanks to some more intrepid sleuthing, the introduction to Lianne's book has been uncovered. There are a few surprising things here but it's not surprising to find that several sentences have lifted from other sources. Much of this intro is a memoir. Fortunately, that seems to be original. Yet, there seems to be some question of the legitimacy of Lianne's memories. She talks about a dungeon-like rental shop "full of VHS and BETAs" though the Beta format would have been phased out well before Lianne's youth. There are a few specialty shops that dealt in Beta long after the heyday of the format (I'm thinking of Thomas Video in Clawson) so it is possible, albeit not probable. There are also a few odd phrasings and malapropisms that seem to be her own.

Sources are listed below.

As a writer, I’m very attached to Grindhouse Girls. It’s my first book, and it showcases an era in cinematic history that I’ve been dedicated to, and passionate about for several years now: the 1970s, and early 1980s. Growing up, I was the only sister to three brothers; horror films were a regular weekend routine – required and vital. My father would take us to the suburban rental store to visit the creepiest in-shop horror house any of us could ever imagine. It looked like a dungeon, a terrifying little room in the middle of the rental shop, full of VHS and BETAs like Chopping Mall and The Prowler ready and waiting for our living room television screen. To be honest with you, I can’t remember whether I really loved the films at first, or if I just watched them so that my older brothers would think I was cool. Reflecting back now as an adult, I know it’s the former.

As a student enrolled in the prestigious cinema studies program at the University of Toronto, most of my fellow students were writing essays about German expressionism, Italian neo-realism, and French new wave. Alternatively, I was writing about the break down of family values in Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Nixon’s Watergate scandal in relation to Damiano’s Deep Throat. I continued to write about exploitation cinema and more prominently, the theatres where these films were shown - the grindhouses, which were low grade movie houses named after the burlesque theaters located on 42nd street in New York City, where 'bump n' grind' dancing was the main attraction.

After starting my own website, and reviewing films for several horror websites, I started writing for Fangoria, FearNet, Famous Monsters of Filmland and Video Watchdog. My first feature in Fangoria (issue #299) was an interview with Sage Stallone of Grindhouse Releasing, the undisputed leader in exploitation distribution. I also interviewed one of my favorite exploitation actresses, Lynn Lowry, and that is how Grindhouse Girls started. Lowry is one of cinema’s hardest working leading ladies, and while there are several books on actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, there are very few on exploitation actresses, who are the backbone of the films they starred in. Without these women, exploitation and horror cinema would not be the same. Grindhouse Girls profiles, celebrates, and tells the story of these actresses; women that took great risks to get ahead in their career, who stripped naked, or had their hair matted with stage blood, who took chances on directors that didn’t have much money or means to create their visions. These women are outstanding, beautiful, and outrageously bold.

Extreme images of blood, sex, and violence (coined as “torture porn”) were extremely popular within horror films in the 2000s – movies that depicted nudity, torture, mutilation, and sadism. For example, Eli Roth’s Hostel, James Wan’s Saw, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek, etc. However, torture porn was not exactly a new idea. The exploitation actresses featured in this book have seen it all before, they were the catalysts of the original torture porn movement, which is essentially a subgenre of exploitation cinema. Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds) and Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City) helped to make exploitation popular again by releasing a double feature that included nostalgic movie trailers entitled Grindhouse. Additionally, grindhouse regulars I Spit On Your Grave (1978), and The Last House On The Left (1972) have seen relatively successful remakes in the last few years. If low art is becoming high art in today’s society and in our movie theatres, then there is no better time to acknowledge the actresses that gave us everything that most Hollywood actresses could not: sex, drugs, violence, shock, rock, and rebellion. This book aims to celebrate the work of seventeen different exploitation actresses as well as the films they starred in. I believe that these actresses and their work can be viewed as feminist or have empowering feminist qualities. That being said, I am not necessarily arguing that the films they starred in are feminist as well. An empowering character or actress in a film is a much different than an entire film being rendered as feminist. In exploitation filmmaking one cannot forget that these films are deemed exploitation for a reason. However, for contemporary female (and male) spectators, our understanding of exploitation actresses and the characters they played in 1970s-80s exploitation cinema can be read as positive and progressive, thus rendering them as feminist both symbols and icons. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I give you – the Grindhouse Girls: Cinema’s Hardest Working Women.

Chapter One: Women And Exploitation Cinema: The Goddesses Of The Grindhouse

Exploitation films are consistently one of the most popular and, at the same time, the most disreputable of Hollywood genres. For years, critics and film theorists branded exploitation as simple trash unworthy of critical appraise, and many were swept under the rug completely, without a second glance. Exploitation films are hard to define, but generally the films involve exploiting what is often considered lurid subject matter: violence, sex, drugs, nudity, gore, and anything out of the ordinary. The films are sensationalist, and they lurk amongst the boundaries of acceptability in terms of visual style, political and cultural opinions, and sophistication. Exploitation cinema also preys on our worst nightmares and gives our biggest fears a plot line: rape, violence, excessive bloodshed, Nazism, and cannibalism, to name a few. Most exploitation films are of low production quality, in every sense. The sound is often dubbed over, you occasionally catch an extra cameraman on-screen, and although the story leaves very little to the imagination, many exploitation films focus on shock-shots rather than cohesive narratives and continuity. Despite everything that is “wrong” with exploitation cinema, these films have always found audiences, and continue to have a large fan base. Exploitation cinema embraces and appeals to the darker side of our psyches; the films never hold back, and they never deny us any pleasure, no matter the form. …. Recent work in film scholarship has made exploitation and sleaze cinema worthy of academic investigation. Film fans and cinephiles often champion obscure and low budget filmmaking as being closer to the “true” cinema. Film theorist Pauline Kael (Trash, Art, and the Movies, 1968) states that “after all the years of stale, stupid, acted out stories, with less and less for me in them, I am desperate to know something, desperate for facts, for information, for faces of non-actors and for knowledge of how people live – for revelations, not for the little bits of show-business detail worked up for us by show-business minds who got them from the same movies we’re tired of… Trash has given us an appetite for art.”1 Exploitation cinema is now enjoying a resurrection, with a new, unique, youthful, and film-loving audience demographic. It is impossible to talk about the golden age of exploitation films, and the effect these films had on spectators without referencing the theatres the films were screened in: the grindhouses. Grindhouse is a term given to theatres in North America that screened mainly exploitation features. The theatres were named after the burlesque “bump-ngrind” shows that took place on 42nd street in New York City. When motion pictures became prominent and popular than the old vaudeville stage performances, many of these entertainment houses changed over to feature movie double bills, and trailers for future releases. Thus, in the late 1960s, the bump-n-grind houses became the exploitation movie theatres that were referred to as the grindhouses.

Grindhouse exhibition allowed spectators to undergo in the theatre what they were subjected to on screen, creating an entirely different experience from that at major theatre and multiplexes today. Located within the esteemed Broadway theatre area in Times Square was America’s most notorious red-light district. Its main section was known as “The Deuce”, a tiny strip of grimy lights and theatres that spanned 42nd street during exploitation’s golden age. The Deuce had wall-to-wall grindhouses with large auditoriums, balconies, big screens, velvet curtains, and old opera style seating2. The Deuce grindhouses were showcases for the wildest and most extreme films in cinematic history, many of which will be further discussed in this book. There were several reasons to venture out to the grindhouses - to score drugs, engage in foolish one night sexual behavior, to be a part of a diverse crowd, or to view a double bill of the wildest films imaginable. However, the grindhouses had an attraction even more powerful and mesmerizing that could not been seen anywhere else: onscreen actresses who kicked ass, stripped naked, were often covered in stage blood, and weren’t afraid to get down and dirty for the sake of their acting careers - without these ladies, the films would not exist. … But what is it that makes these exploitation films so appealing to modern audiences? And what is it about exploitation films that are extraordinarily appealing to females? In the 1970s, both men and women were lined up around the block in New York City on 42nd street, vying to get into the premiere of Ginger (Don Schain, 1971) and even more exploitive and pornographic, Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972). The theme that will run through Grindhouse Girls has to do with whose fantasy is satisfied by the gender “trouble” of exploitation films and more specifically, the prominent actresses that starred in them. There is something about these strong and beautiful women in exploitation films that is very appealing to women; it is easily understood why beautiful, occasionally naked and sexual women are alluring to men, but what is it exactly about these exploitation actresses that women find so attractive?

The chapters of this book will discuss, profile, and celebrate exploitation actresses that were working and starring in films during exploitation’s golden age. Each chapter is dedicated to an actress, and many include interviews and quotes that I conducted myself between 2010-2011. These actresses are artists, and in many ways, should be more respected for going against the grain in their careers, and for making it against the odds. Many of these women are still enjoying acting careers, while others have chosen different career paths, but are quite proud of the work they did in exploitation filmmaking. Grindhouse Girls gives these actresses and their work extra meaning and love, since they were able to get past the low budgets and lurid subject matter in order to create films that are truly extraordinary. This is what makes them cinema’s hardest working women. For the love of acting and film, they were willing to do whatever it took, and whatever it took – they often did.

1 Kael, Pauline. “Trash, Art, and the Movies” Going Steady: Film Writings, 1968-1969. New York: Marion Boyars, 1994. Pg. 128-129.

2 Stevenson, Jack. Land of a Thousand Balconies: Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archeologist. Headpress, 2003. Pg. 22.

Sources: (More will be listed as found)
Lianne: Exploitation films are consistently one of the most popular and, at the same time, the most disreputable of Hollywood genres.

Robin Wood: The horror film has consistently been one of the most popular and at the same times most disreputable of Hollywood genres. (The American Nightmare, p.13)

Lianne: The films are sensationalist, and they lurk amongst the boundaries of acceptability in terms of visual style, political and cultural opinions, and sophistication.

Jeffrey Sconce: As a necessarily imprecise and subjective concept, sleaze in the cinema has always lurked at the ambiguous boundaries of acceptability in terms of taste, style, and politics. (Sleaze Artists, pg 5)

Lianne: The Deuce grindhouses were showcases for the wildest and most extreme films in cinematic history

Bill Landis & Michelle Clifford: The main venues were grindhouses, down-at-the heels creations left over from the Minsky's Burlesque days-and showcases for the wildest and most extreme films in cinematic history. (Sleazoid Express)

Lianne: Exploitation films are consistently one of the most popular and, at the same time, the most disreputable of Hollywood genres

Robin Wood: The horror film has consistently been one of the most popular and,at the same time, the most disreputable of Hollywood genres (Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan--and Beyond, pg 69)

Lianne: The theatres were named after the burlesque “bump-ngrind” shows that took place on 42nd street in New York City.

Wikipedia: It is named after the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City, where 'bump n' grind' dancing and striptease were featured. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grindhouse)

Thank you to Udar55 of the Latarnia Forums for helping find the majority of these lifts.

No word yet from St. Martin's Press if Grindhouse Girls will be going to print or going to pulp.

By the way, if you want a good laugh, check out "Kloee Addams" on Twitter. She's a hoot!

3 comments:

Dr Blood said...

Nice work!

maskatron said...

Great find, and pretty amusing that the story got all sorts of interesting again just as it seemed to be running out of steam.

Steve Pattee said...

Lianne: Extreme images of blood, sex, and violence (coined as “torture porn”) were extremely popular within horror films in the 2000s – movies that depicted nudity, torture, mutilation, and sadism. For example, Eli Roth’s Hostel, James Wan’s Saw, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek, etc.

From the Splatter film wiki (http://www.thefullwiki.org/Splatter_film): In the 2000s, there has been a resurgence of films influenced by the splatter genre that depict nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism, sometimes labeled "torture porn" by critics and detractors.[11] The Eli Roth film, Hostel (2005), was the first to be called "torture porn" by critic David Edelstein in January 2006, but the classification has since been applied to Saw (2004) and its sequels (though its creators disagree with the classification),[12] The Devil's Rejects (2005), Wolf Creek (2005), and the earlier films Baise-moi (2000) and Ichi the Killer (2001).

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