Categories EntertainmentPosted on

Cheap Thrills at The Barbican: All in the Best Possible Taste

SEEN was intrigued by the new film festival recently announced by the Barbican in support of their exhibition The Vulgar; Fashion Redefined, entitled Cheap Thrills: Trash, Movies and the Art of Transgression; not least because, for once, there is something delightfully liberating about viewing ‘bad taste’ films in the spirit of cultural appreciation, even if it does hark back to the slightly dubious origins of film. Now that film is a perfectly valid cultural artefact in its own right, generating academic critique, are we still running from good taste when we watch a film?

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SEEN was intrigued by the new film festival recently announced by the Barbican in support of their exhibition The Vulgar; Fashion Redefined, entitled Cheap Thrills: Trash, Movies and the Art of Transgression; not least because, for once, there is something delightfully liberating about viewing ‘bad taste’ films in the spirit of cultural appreciation, even if it does hark back to the slightly dubious origins of film. Now that film is a perfectly valid cultural artefact in its own right, generating academic critique, are we still running from good taste when we watch a film? Pauline Kael, the august film critic, certainly thought so.

CHEAP_THRILLS_E1_OP1 (1)

It’s easier to define a period in celluloid history after the fact, so it is with relish AND intellectual rigour that we can bring our own perspectives to ‘trash’ movies with busty women prisoners, kickass heroes, kung-fu kicking prostitutes and of course, loads of blood. Feminist and psychoanalytic sub-texts will be explored from a 21st century viewpoint, even as we contextualise the films in their own decade.

The festival kicked off with a debate on Friday 28th October entitled ‘Cheap Thrills: Whatever Happened to Bad Taste?’ This live discussion questioned definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste and exactly who are the gatekeepers of these concepts and their public consumption, amongst other issues. A cornucopia of films follows from 28th October to the 6th November. These include:

Fuego (15), directed by Armando Bo in 1969, promises an Argentine Russ Meyer in sexploitation terms. Imagine Duel in the Sun by way of a Latin American telenovela. As John Waters put it, this is truly ‘a hetero film for gay people to marvel at.’

There will be a talk by Virginie Selavy on the Women of Exploitation, focusing on the queen of the genre, Doris Wishman This one-hour lecture examines these unique women directors from the golden age of exploitation cinema, their struggles and successes, and the singular works they created.

Controversial director Catherine Breillat engages in a ScreenTalk on her provocative film Fat Girl (18) made in 2001. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a hard-hitting film about weight, sexuality and dating, boasting some cruelly honest insights into what it is to be a teenage girl.

To contextualise the work of Doris Wishman, Stephanie Rothman’s Terminal Island (18) will be screened. A ‘women-in-prison’ flick made in 1973, the film has inmates dumped on an island. Men subjugate the women until a female inmate arrives who leads a revolt. Not hard to see a subversive feminist fantasy here.

seen london fugo

Stella Dallas (PG) will be accompanied by live music and an introduction by journalist Pamela Hutchinson. Directed by Henry King in 1925, this melodrama addresses themes of broken families, sacrifice and the mother-daughter bond.

The same night sees the screening of Southland Tales (15) directed by Richard Key in 2006, this has achieved is ‘so bad it’s good’ cult status. Set in the aftermath of nuclear attack, it follows the intertwining storylines of an action film actor, a porn star, and a pair of twin brothers.

The festival will feature one of Fassbinder’s finest films, Fox and his Friends (15) made in 1975. Fox, a working-class carnival worker, wins the lottery and is taken up by sophisticated people who never fail to let him know how hopelessly vulgar he is.

The Boxer’s Omen (18) directed by Kuei Chih-Hung in 1983, tells the story of a man who travels to Thailand to hunt down the boxer who crippled his brother. Black magic aplenty here, amongst escalating special effects.

Isaac Julien presents Dolemite (18) directed by D’Urville Martin in 1974. This has become a famously cultish ‘Citizen Kane of kung-fu pimping movies’, that boasts a performance by the famously sweary Rudy Ray Robinson, the most sampled rap artist in history.

STELLA DALLAS [US 1925] ALICE JOYCE as Helen Morrison
STELLA DALLAS [US 1925]
ALICE JOYCE as Helen Morrison
The Night Porter (18) has divided opinion down the decades: Kinky Nazi sexploitation or an analysis on the personal consequences of fascism? Directed by Liliana Cavani in 1974, the film explores the sado-masochistic relationship between a former concentration camp inmate and the Nazi who tortured her there.

Todd Solondz’s Happiness (18) has also divided opinion. His darkly comedic treatment of paedophilia and family dysfunction was simultaneously derided as morally objectionable yet awarded the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes in 1998.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (18) by Werner Herzog was made in 1970. This remarkable film has a penal colony of dwarves experiencing the collapse of authority. Herzog’s sympathies lie with his diminutive characters, though whether it’s a commentary on sixties activism or deliberately provocative tastelessness remains open to debate.

IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974] aka THE NIGHT PORTER
IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974]
aka THE NIGHT PORTER
IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974] aka THE NIGHT PORTER CHARLOTTE RAMPLING
IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974]
aka THE NIGHT PORTER
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING
IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974] aka THE NIGHT PORTER DIRK BOGARDE, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING
IL PORTIERE DI NOTTE [IT 1974]
aka THE NIGHT PORTER
DIRK BOGARDE, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING
Erotikon (12A), directed in Czechoslovakia in 1929 by Gustav Machatý will be screened with live musical accompaniment. This silent film explores the passionate relationship between a Prague playboy and a stationmaster’s daughter.

Erotikon (JK-retušováno pro zakázku ÈCLondýn 20.5.2000)
Erotikon
(JK-retušováno pro zakázku ÈCLondýn 20.5.2000)
Erotikon (JK-retuöov·no pro zak·zku »CLond˝n 20.5.2000)
Erotikon
(JK-retuöov·no pro zak·zku »CLond˝n 20.5.2000)

X, Y, and Zee (15) was dubbed a ‘Lizsploitation’ movie because of Elizabeth Taylor’s unrestrained performance and outlandish wigs. This sounds a film to be relished, even if it is a soap opera.

No festival of trash film would be complete without the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters. His film Female Trouble (18) boasts Divine as a teen destined for single-motherhood, stripping and cat-burgling. This is surely a classic of the genre from 1974.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, RICHARD BURTON
ELIZABETH TAYLOR, RICHARD BURTON

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XY&ZEE-SPTI-05.tif

XY&ZEE-SPTI-08.tif

Magnificent Obsession (U) was directed by Douglas Sirk, now hailed as an auteur for his colour-drenched melodramas. He described this film, released in 1954, as his craziest: A playboy widows and blinds the local doctor’s wife, then becomes a surgeon in order to cure her.

MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954] ROCK HUDSON, JANE WYMAN
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954]
ROCK HUDSON, JANE WYMAN
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954] AGNES MOOREHEAD, GREGG PALMER, JANE WYMAN, ROCK HUDSON, BARBARA RUSH
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954]
AGNES MOOREHEAD, GREGG PALMER, JANE WYMAN, ROCK HUDSON, BARBARA RUSH
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954] ROCK HUDSON, JANE WYMAN
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION [US 1954]
ROCK HUDSON, JANE WYMAN
Boogie Nights (18) directed by Paul Thomas Anderson in 1997, frames seventies porn in a knowingly seventies bad taste way, exploring the compromises forced upon those who seek to make porn as art.

BN-556

BN-705

BOOGIE NIGHTS [US 1997] JULIANNE MOORE, MARK WAHLBERG
BOOGIE NIGHTS [US 1997]
JULIANNE MOORE, MARK WAHLBERG
BOOGIE NIGHTS [US 1997] BURT REYNOLDS, MARK WAHLBERG
BOOGIE NIGHTS [US 1997]
BURT REYNOLDS, MARK WAHLBERG
There isn’t a film here that SEEN doesn’t want to see. The festival certainly lives up to the Barbican’s world-renowned reputation for pushing the boundaries of major art forms.

For more information and bookings, check: www.barbican.org.uk

Barbican Centre
Silk Street
London
EC2Y 8DS
Box Office: 0845 120 7527

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