Thursday, March 26, 2009

Handy Dandy Junk Cinema Terms

For those of you taking your first faltering steps in the world of junk cinema, here are some essential terms to ease you on your way.

Poverty Row--Not an actual street or geographical area, but a slang term describing Hollywood's small time movie studios like Republic, Monogram, Mascot and Chesterfield. The term came about in the silent era and it referred not only to the low rent quality of the films they churned out, but also to their no-name casts and long work hours they demanded(20 hour days were common).

"B" Movie--"B" stands for budget. All the major Hollywood studios had "A" units (big budget movies with big name stars) and "B" units (low budget movies with no-name or second string stars). However, some movies that were conceived as "B" pictures went on to be classics: "Casablanca" (originally titled "Everybody Goes to Rick's" starring Ronald Reagan), "It happened One Night" (first called "Night Bus"), "Marty" (based on a TV movie), "Rosemary's Baby" and "Easy Rider".

Exploitation Films--Cheap, quickly made flicks meant to capitalize on sensational newspaper headlines or subjects. Classics of this genre include "Test Tube Babies" (about artificial insemination), "Child Bride" (under age marriage) and "Glen or Glenda?" (sex change operations).

"Filmed in..."--In order to get patrons into the theaters, many junk cinema entrepreneurs bragged that their films were shot in the latest technological advances such as "Hallucinogenic Hypnovision", "Emergo", "Psychorama", "Percepto" and best of all "Glorious Small-O-Vision!" (for the 1960's flick "The Scent of Mystery").

B Movie Star--If a movie features anyone of these folks in the cast, you can guarantee it's a junk jewel: John Agar, John Carradine, Kenne Duncan, Arch Hall, Jr., Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Sonny Tufts and Timothy Farrell for the gents and Dolores Fuller, Beverly Garland, Tura Santana, Allison hays and Yvonne deCarlo for the ladies.

Trash--According to the dictionary, trash is "any worthless, unnecessary or offensive matter". Films based on the works of Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann are excellent examples of trash.

Schlock--From Yiddish origins, schlock is "something cheap, shoddy or inferior". The films of Ed Wood, Coleman Francis and Arch Hall, Sr. fall into this category.

Potboiler--Any cut rate book, play, opera or film that was churned out quickly to pay for the author's living expenses. "Boil the pot" actually means to provide one's livelihood.

Grindhouse--A movie theater that showed mainly exploitation films, often in double or triple features.

"Blaxploitation Films"--Films made by and for African Americans. Their hey-day was in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Most of their plots revolved around "sticking it to The Man" through cunning and violence. Classics of this genre include "Shaft", "Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song", "Superfly", "Black Caesar" and "Blacula".

"Sexploitation Films"--The title pretty much says it all. These movies existpurely to show graphic sex and (mostly) female nudity. Russ Meyer is perhaps America's most famous sexploitation director.

"Mondo Films"--These films are also known as "shockumentaries". They specialized in sensational topics, exotics customs and gruesome death rituals. The best known examples of this genre are the "Mondo Cane" series and "Kwaheri", a weird documentary that claimed patrons would see, among other delights, "frantic virgins" dancing "in the fires of puberty" as well as "giant snakes swallow(ing) animals whole". The producers of this flick were so confident audiences would love this movie that they claimed it was "better than a $10,000 vacation".

PreCode Hollywood--A brief period (1930-34) in Hollywood history when the movies were awash in sex, drugs, sex, adultery, sex, vice, sex, violence and sex, sex, sex. Some of the best examples of this era are "Baby Face", "Red Dust" and "Murder at the Vanities", a musical/mystery which featured the production number "Sweet Marijuana".

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