Category Archives: Digressions: CULT

Totally Rad(ley)

Reading David Andrews’s Theorizing Art Cinema — with its frequent references to his previous scholarly work in Softcore studies — put me in the mood to check out some Radley Metzger films, to re-familiarize myself with his “aspirational” art-core porn.  I’d started his 1970 Lickerish Quartet (available on Fandor) mostly to check out the library scene (I’m planning on swiping the decor, if not the wardrobe, for my new office, sometime during the summer), but started watching an earlier, inferior movie (Carmen Baby, 1967) more attentively.  I’m not sure why.  It’s a fairly standard narrative-number formula, mostly boring but spiked by one or two noteworthy scenes.  You might not look at long-necked bottles of Vino the same way again, thanks to one “erotic” dance sequence; there’s another protracted “love-making” scene in which the horizontally grinding couple is shot through multi-color cocktail glasses and brandy snifters (you can tell Metzger thought his tracking shot was pretty cool — he repeats the whole thing a second time for good measure).

I can’t really argue that it’s very good, but it has the virtue of being available on-call (like the film’s titular good-time girl) — and easily watched for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.  The price is right!  But don’t be too snooty if you don’t like it; you can read all about highbrow disdain for Metzger’s artsy-fartsy aspirations here, in Andrews’s Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Contexts, and feel bad about yourself if you are.  On the other hand, if you like to see pouty Italians roll their eyes as they rub up on one another, thrashing around in tight (shoulders-up) close-up reaction shots during acts of simulated oral sex — this one’s for you!

Carmen, Baby trailer — hope you like wine glasses!

Lickerish Quartet trailerwith excellent acclaim pull-quotes from Denby and Warhol (among others)!

  • Update!  You can buy Anna Biller’s Viva directly from her website! [Life of a Star]
  • I think I’m going to spend some time reading through Biller’s blog, too.  Pretty interesting, self-reflective stuff [Anna Biller’s Blog]
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Everyone’s a critic

According to David Andrews, “Personal taste isn’t the province of the film scholar.  It is the province of the mainstream film critic” (Theorizing Art Cinema, 33).  In other words, instead of constructing elaborate theories of or rationales about why the movies we love are the best ones and the most worthy of watching — that is, the movies that we think should be the most canonical — scholars should ward off the temptation to “articulate or defend that very personal form of connoisseurship” in favor of being “more detached, telling us what is going on and how that relates to what has gone on in the past” (33).


Well, sure.  But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.


My (academic) career traveled an old-school (ahem) route from the English Department to Film Studies to Media Studies, and many of my (aged) colleagues followed a similar route (kids today, they seem to jump right into “media studies” or something comparable).  The chief reason for people to spend a decade in grad school studying literature, as I recall, was that these folks loved to read the stuff; further, they (that is, the PhDs I left behind when I jumped into the Media Industry proper) specialized in the books they liked to read most.  Nobody suggested that the Dryden scholar, for instance, should be more “detached” and shouldn’t like and advocate the (unreadable, imo) works of the Restoration; in fact, text-based “taste hierarchies” were sort of expected of ’em (and part of how profs would compete and attract grad student followers).  For film/tv acads that trickled into the electronic disciplines from literature, then, the whole point of being in film and tv is to study (and champion and pontificate about) things they love most (full confession: in my own case, I preferred watching Hitchcock to reading William Dean Howells).  Yes, Andrews is right: it is “better” to step aside from the tangentially related discipline of “film (and tv) criticism” to be more critically removed — well, better if you’ve got an agenda grounded in Cultural Studies, Marxism, Political Economy or some other discipline that treats creative works as means to an end, texts to prove larger socio-political-cultural points (and Andrews’s unspoken assumption is that one should).  But didn’t “aca-fandom” make the (ivory tower) world safe for personal taste?


Interestingly enough, the “detached” perspective Andrews advocates seems to be more descriptive of my former colleagues in television: it is the hallmark of a good tv programmer, as an example, that his or her personal preferences do NOT get reflected in the acquisition or scheduling of anything on a network (and the reverse — that revealing one’s taste on-air via scheduling or acquisition is a sign of amateurishness — is also true).  And for the record: I think Andrews might be a lot more believable on this “detached” score if he didn’t keep advocating the (crappy, at best) films of softcore “art-cult” filmmaker Tony Marsiglia — but to each his own, right?


Chantal (Marsiglia 2007)

Maybe you’ll love it?  Even more than Showgirls?


And I hope my (middlebrow? nobrow?) roots aren’t showing, but my favorite film in this sorta genre is Coyote Ugly:



  • I’m a Radley Metzger fan — where can I find me a copy of Anna Biller’s homage to his work, Viva?  Andrews makes it sound like fun! [YouTube]
  • Andrews’s book about soft-core sounds pretty fantastic too.  I’ll be checking it out post-comps! [Amazon]
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Gabba Gabba, Tod Browning!

Mikita Brottman’s first case study in her excellent discussion of what she calls Offensive Films is Tod Browning’s classic/cult-classic Freaks.  Browning’s horror/exploitation/melodrama doesn’t begin the book only because it was the first released (1932), but because it also sets the template for the remainder of the book and its central thesis: “offensive films” are vital films that “open the body” to inspection, arousing viewers’ bodily viscera (and not just their eyes) by a graphic display of the body’s detritus, its “waste,” “effusions,” and “debris” (11).  Fans of Freaks know that the film freely exhibits (and exploits?) its cast members physical abnormalities, differences, and defects, both summarizing cultural forms that preceded film (the freak show, carnivals, dime museums) and updating them for a new medium and century, making it a great launching pad for Brottman’s analysis of latter films (like Blood Feast, Snuff, and Cannibal Holocaust).

According to Brottman, offensive films represent an “authentic counter-culture” (178) that exposes the “inside-out of civilization, culture, and the body”; they’re the unconscious nightmare of mainstream cinema (13).  Brottman insightfully notes how the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s embraced Freaks (via the midnight movie circuit), an audience “for whom the term ‘freak’ suggested a radically democratic embracing of self-designated individuality and diversity” (21) — and Zappa fans who loved the album Freak Out! (1966) or heads who dug the underground comix of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (circa late ’60s/early ’70s) know exactly what she’s talking about.

Brottman could have connected more dots to a later counter-culture, though, if she wanted to: Punk.  Specifically, The Ramones provide the link between Freaks and the freaks that scared principals and moms in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  Brottman quotes a key scene in Freaks during which the beautiful (and treacherous) Cleopatra is mock-marrying the little person she’s intent on swindling and cuckholding, Hans.  The freaks, “welcoming” her to their family, “work themselves into a frenzy” and begin a “lurid chant”: “‘We accept you, one of us … gooble gobble, gooble gobble, one of us, one of us'” (17).  Ramones adherents recognize (and have memorized, and have luridly chanted themselves) these words as the signature element of the song “Pinhead,” a number which both expresses anxiety and anger about being “different” (“I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more”) and a resignation to the fate of being one of the family of misfits (“one of us!”).  We don’t wanna be pinheads; we know we’re pinheads.  And as those who pogoed during Ramones’s sets (and who turned “GABBA GABBA HEY!” into their battle cry/interpellation greeting) know well: it’s really better to be a pinhead than to be a normal anyway.

I’ll be writing about the pathology/pathologizing of cult films and cult audiences as I move closer to my dissertation (to like a movie like Freaks, you have to be kind of a freak yourself, I’m thinking), but for the meantime it’s good to know that I can count on Offensive Films as a key resource.  As Freaks notes in its opening textual warning: “we present the most startling horror story of the ABNORMAL and the UNWANTED” (16).  Man, I wish I’d had a t-shirt printed with ABNORMAL and UNWANTED t-shirt in 1977!

Ramones, “Pinhead”

(Video cobbled together from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

  • Just between us: you can watch all of Freaks here! []
  • Every toddler needs to feel accepted (one of us!) []
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Currying Anger

Maybe it’s because I just flew through Hoberman and Rosenbaum’s Midnight Movies, but I couldn’t help thinking about Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos when I stumbled upon Tim Curry’s disturbingly 1979ish “Paradise Garage.”  Why shouldn’t the NYC underground of the ’60s have collapsed into the Rocky Horrorified new wave of the ’90s?  I think I remember seeing the video for “Paradise Garage” paired with Curry’s similarly fantastic “I Do the Rock” at the Uniondale Mini-Cinema the first time I saw RHPS, but that was a very long time ago, and I might have dreamed the whole thing (by “whole thing,” of course, I mean 1979).

“Paradise Garage”

Kustom Kar Kommandos (Anger, 1965)


“I Do the Rock”


  • I wish I could have attended this RHPS event at the Mini-Cinema, but I was busy wasting my time as a freshman in college [Rocky Music]
  • Get Institutionalized! (Or cut out this button and tape it to your computer, like I’m doing) [Cinema Treasures]
  • SIX classic Anger films — watch Puce Moment (1949) right now! [Ubu]
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