State University of New York Press has a very excellent addition to film criticism with their new book, B Is For Bad Cinema, edited by Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis. Rather than focusing as so many books about “b-movies” do, using the standard definition of the form — cult, grindhouse, trash, et al — it steps outside the expected. In some cases, we’re talking major releases as much as we are low-budget features.
Now, granted, in some cases there’s a crossroad where bad meets big, and you end up with something like William Friedkin’s Cruising, which — while trashy (and it certainly is) — also features what essay author R. Burton Palmer describes in “Redeeming Cruising” as “significant” imagery: namely, “the kind of sexual display previously seen only in gay stag films was suddenly at the representational center of a major Hollywood release.”
Essentially, B Is For Bad Cinema takes the likes of what defines “bad” movies, such as lurid displays or budgetary necessities, and frames them in such a way as to make them worth reconsidering. “Being In Two Places At the Same Time” reconsiders rear projection as a way of looking at films in a whole new way. Rather than considering a rear-projected backdrop as simply a budgetary aspect that makes it cheaper and easier than shooting a moving vehicle on location, it serves to further illustrate the artificiality of the situation, and re-contextualizes the depiction being presented.
The fact that the essayists reconsider “bad cinema” from all angles allows for deeper focus on how we view a film can be changed. Production isn’t the only aspect which is considered. In the chapter “B Grade Subtitles,” author Tessa Dwyer provides deep focus on how a film can be changed purely through translation, making the very valid point that what you read might not be what the director or actor intended you to hear.
However, the later chapters begin to fail as an overview of bad cinema as a whole. It’s a complaint I’ve made in the past — while it’s a wonderful way to really dig deeply into a particular movie, the specificity of the subject matter makes for an essay that’s so focused in its academic thrust that it’s not as easily fit into the compilation as a whole. When particular films are used as a jumping-off point, as does “The EviL Dead DVD Commentaries,” they work better than when specific movies are the focus of a given essay. If the reader isn’t familiar with a particular film, then the point is lost in the specificity of the reference.
You can read the first chapter of B Is For Bad Cinema here.