27 Jul

Striking similarities in cultural tone. Vast differences in cinematic theme. Guest starring Jason Zinoman!

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday July 27, 2011 | Guest Starring

Shock Value by Jason ZinomanIt’s been a long time since I’ve done a Guest Starring post and that has a lot to do with me being completely unable to sell people on the idea of writing an article for me. I’ve asked Zacherley, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, and bunches more and no one ever bites. You’ll notice that I occasionally add new writers to the shark tank here and they tend to scuttle off a couple of months later. Jason Zinoman made it easy for me, though. His publicist offered his services as guest blogger and asked me to hit him with a topic and I did. I love guest posts! Not only do I get to sit back and offer light commentary such as this but I get to read someone else’s thoughts on the topic of horror in the context of my own website without having to do much on my part. In the past I’ve had Remo D. – host of the ‘Manor of Mayhem’ horror movie show and Andrew W.K. – Rock’s ultimate party commander. Now I can add journalist and author, Jason Zinoman to the mix. Jason recently wrote the outstanding document on the re-emergence of horror, Shock Value, reviewed at this very site. I’m not sure Jason will be including this document on his resume any time soon since he guns for the New York Times and Slate, among other notable publications and websites but at least I can feel like my site’s status has been elevated slightly above the horror blog trailer park that I live in. Without further adieu, here’s Jason Zinoman’s question and his reply.

With the American social condition of the 60’s and 70’s influencing the direction of horror film then, why do we see a return of monsters and the supernatural in the horror of today, where social conditions aren’t all that much different?

Do good horror movies emerge out of bad times? It’s an appealing theory, since the classic Universal movies opened during the Depression and many of the movies I write about in Shock Value opened during the tumult of the sixties and Vietnam. There’s no question that all art is informed by the times in which it is made and that horror has traditionally expressed contemporary fears. The political atmosphere that Night of the Living Dead came out of had a huge impact on how it was seen. And Wes Craven will tell you that Vietnam played a role in Last House on the Left. But this way of understanding horror movies also has its limitations. There are many factors that go into the popularity of certain movies, and sometimes, defenders of the horror genre have overemphasized social or political ones.

I would say that the mechanics of the MPAA ratings board or the status of horror among Hollywood studios or movies trends have just as big of an impact. Why were werewolves out of fashion for most of the 1970s and then suddenly there was a spate of good ones in 1981 including Wolfen, American Werewolf in London and The Howling? I suspect that new developments in special effects, enabling better transformation scenes, had something to do with it, but there are probably many reasons. Vampires are often said to be going through resurgence right now, but they have popular for a long time. Even in the 1970s, when most of the famous horror movies involved serial killers and zombies, there were a huge number of vampire movies.

The horror genre was defined by the presence of the supernatural for most of the 20th century. It’s partly why some did not consider Psycho horror when it came out. Same goes for The Night of the Hunter, which would probably be called a horror film today. In the late sixties, the popular conception of what the horror genre started changing, expanding to include other kinds of monsters, including Romero’s zombies. Some people still saw horror as primarily supernatural, but that was changing. Since then, horror has grown and grown so much that defining the contours of it today is much harder. Is Twilight horror? Is A Serbian Film? These questions can start heated arguments among horror fans. But the reason we see more monsters today might have something to do with social conditions. Anyone who watches the news know out culture and politics is driven by fear.

But just as important is the dictates of the box office and the copycat nature of Hollywood. Twilight and True Blood inspire a flock of new vampires. And The Walking Dead should keep the zombies coming. But there have also been technological breakthroughs. You can simply show much more than you used to, and when done with care, like in the movies of Guillermo Del Toro, it’s quite thrilling to see these monsters come to life. Lastly, I think that mainstream filmmakers like Darren Aronovsky and JJ Abrams grew up with horror as a regular, accepted part of the cultural diet. And their movies reflect an appreciation of the genre without the sense that it’s less worthy than any other. Feature stories have long described cycles of horror, that it would go in and out of fashion. I suspect we passed that phase. Now horror is a permanent part of the landscape, and if you want to be informed about pop culture, you can’t afford to ignore it.

24 Jan

RePost: HAIRSPRAY’S REVOLTING HISTORY: The Invisible Star Of The Show Won No Tonys

Posted by Bryan White | Monday January 24, 2011 | Guest Starring

Hairspray by John WatersEditor’s note: I did not write this article. I found this while doing a little reading on the topic of John Waters’ movie Hairspray;6 a favorite of mine. I’m not afraid to admit it. Of the John Waters oeuvre, Hairspray is my favorite. Not Pink Flamingos. Not Female Trouble or Polyester. Hairspray. Coming in at a close second is Cry Baby. I’m a fan of his most commercial efforts. For all of the slick production values when put up against Waters’ early stuff, the stuff he built a reputation around, these are the most subversive. They’re reasonably wholesome movies that you could show to the cool kids in your life but they have that nasty, smirky ‘fuck you’ vibe that Waters injects into everything he does. I didn’t know much about the production of Hairspray, though, and while researching the topic I stumbled on to this article, originally posted at Polarity 1 by the editor of popCULTmedia, Polar Levine. I’ve made an attempt to get permission from Mr. Levine to post this article but he hasn’t gotten back to me about it so I’m going for it anyway. Polar, if you object to his being here, let me know and I’ll pull it down. It’s a story I feel must be told, though and I love it.

Buddy Dean died on July 16 2003. Probably not too many people besides Baltimore-bred baby boomers noticed. John Waters and Danny Schechter did.

Before The 60’s there was a sliver of time that never got a zingy name. America in The 50’s was marked by a mania for order and predictability following the prolonged chaos of WWII and the Depression. Post-war America had a psychic need to lacquer in place every hair on Uncle Sam’s beard. That era lived its final days as the aerodynamic JFK Jetsoned America into a dayglow future. But the future crash-landed onto the streets of Dallas late in 1963.

The Kennedy assassination left in vertigo an American society absolutely sure of God’s favor, yet deeply paranoid of possible agents of destruction within and without. Within a year of the assassination, the British had invaded the airwaves, further polluting our children’s rock & roll-infested DNA. These mutant offspring grew up to channel the dormant remains of the commie virus that spawned the dreaded New Deal. They would soon turn the known world upside down with the arrival of the Beatles/Dylan/hippie cultural trinity that certified the 1960’s as “THE 60’s.”

That short period has been a historical orphan child in America’s cultural imagination until the recent phenomenon of HAIRSPRAY — both John Waters’ cult film and the Broadway musical adaptation. HAIRSPRAY has fabricated the definitive image of the early 60’s with a vaudeville take on that transitional era. When the curtain falls, what sticks in our memory is the explosion of pastel colors, period hair sculptures and cross-gendered burlesque of suburban motherhood.

While white America was distracted by yellow waxy buildup, the grandchildren of slaves were setting off a storm that would forever end the official narcolepsy of The 50’s. The part of the HAIRSPRAY craze that has received less attention is the actual canvas for this ugly-duckling love story and period caricature: the segregated TV dance show actually existed, and its host city, Baltimore, was on the frontier of the segregated South as it was undergoing explosive change. And that’s where the recently deceased Buddy Dean becomes a player in this story. It was the Buddy Dean Show that John Waters used as a model for The Corny Collins Show.

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10 Feb

The Werewolf Rebuttal

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday February 10, 2009 | Guest Starring

Editor’s note: It’s been a while since I’ve featured other writer’s here but I’m warming up to the idea of it again.  I got some pretty good feedback on my vampire article for Geek Force Five and at a recent meeting of the minds for bloggers and whatnot, a rebuttal in favor of werewolves was proposed by GF5 contributor Shawn Lampron. These are his ideas.

werewolf rebuttal

I became obsessed with the idea of hirsute monsters around the age of ten or so.  I was fascinated as my usually tame local cable channels started to show me glimpses of werewolf movies made in the wake of An American Werewolf in London’s success.  With ready access to a local video store, I made my mother plunk down numerous rental charges over the course of a summer as I devoured cheap VHS copies of howling werewolves bounding through the woods, endlessly hunted by those annoying “regular” humans.

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10 Jun

The Perfect B-Movie! Guest starring Andrew W.K.!

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday June 10, 2008 | Guest Starring

Andrew WKThe Guest Starring series has been off to a slow start. I’ve approached a dozen people about submitting a quick 800 word essay on their opinion of the perfect b-movie and those people who didn’t ignore my proposals explained that they were too busy to chime in. So to those of you who were too busy, I want to confront you with this. Andrew W.K. is a successful musician, producer, public speaker and performance artist. He is easily the hardest working man in rock music today. He’ll do four speaking engagements in four states in two days and then shoot over to Tokyo for live performances only to come back to the States and produce an avant-garde album.

He had time to contribute. What’s your excuse? I am beyond excited to bring you, Andrew WK’s Perfect B-Movie.

The Perfect B-Movie
By Andrew WK

I was invited to write a column about B-movies, and what I consider an ideal example of a B-movie (thank you Cinema Suicide!), . I want to start by saying that in no way am I an authority on cinema, nor am I a particularly avid movie-watcher. However, I love movies as much as anyone, and I figured I could write something worthwhile. Then I realized I wasn’t sure what a “B-movie” was. I’d heard the term many times before, and some of my friends collected what they called “B-movies”, but I wasn’t certain what they were talking about. Is it a genre? A classification? An aesthetic? My first thought was that a B-movie is how people rate a slightly less than perfect film – like, “A-movies”, “B-movies”, “C-movies”, all the way down to “F-movies”. But I realized I haven’t heard people refer to F-movies, or even A-movies for that matter. Then I thought maybe B-movies refer to a film’s obscurity, but when I did some research, quite a few B-movies were actually famous and successful motion pictures. Further research told me that B-movies were sort of like “B-sides” in recorded music – a perfectly good and valid piece of artistic work, but maybe without the production, the purpose, or the presentation of an A-movie (or an A-side)

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20 May

The perfect B-Movie! Guest starring Remo D.

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday May 20, 2008 | Guest Starring

Hey, folks. A while back it struck me that maybe I wasn’t doing quite enough with this blog as I could have. For nearly a year, I posted news and reviews on my own and over the last couple of months we’ve added some new blood to the shark tank in the form of some new writers but if there’s one thing I really wanted to do, it’s get some opinion up in here. So in an effort to add a little variety and hopefully spur some discussions in the comments and forums, I have asked a few people to put together their thoughts on a topic that we can all relate to. I asked them to write up an opinion piece about what they consider to be the perfect b-movie. Mind you, not necessarily their favorite, but a movie that they feel really embodies and defines the term. The first person to answer the call is Remo D., genre fan, writer, reviewer and host of California’s ‘Manor of Mayhem’ cable TV creature-feature. So without further adieu, Remo D.’s thoughts on the ultimate b-movie.

by Remo D.

Of the thousands of bizarre and outlandish films I’ve taken in over my lifetime, could I even try to define the perfect “B” movie? Absolutely not–but I’ve got MY personal favorite lined up and ready to go! It’s a “B” movie in the purest sense of the term–it was created by a major studio as a second feature to give support to one of their major productions, but it ended up with a life of its own, providing plenty of unexpected entertainment and individual value.

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