Symposium: Exploitation Cinema in the 21st Century
at Canterbury Christ Church University
Date: June 9th 2017
Deadline for proposals: 3rd March 2017
Keynote Speaker: Dr Johnny Walker, Northumbria University
In relation to cinema, the term “exploitation” has been adopted by various individuals and institutions over time, from opportunistic film producers and marketers of the 1920s to contemporary online distributors releasing new films in the 21st century. There is a current wave of exciting and productive scholarship on the historical developments of exploitation cinema, and its famous, and not so famous, films and filmmakers. But much of this research focuses on exploitation before the year 2000, with a particular focus up to and including the VHS era of the 1980s. Less research exists on the inflections of exploitation in the 21st century, and the trends and developments that have taken place since the turn of the century. This one-day symposium seeks to shed new light on the embodiments of exploitation cinema since 2000, with particular emphasis on current waves and cycles, the way in which they are now consumed (such as online rather than in theatres), and which particular exploitation filmmakers stand out as being important in contemporary times.
Topics might include (but are not limited to);
- Analysis of single films
- Studies of current waves or cycles of exploitation
- Exploitation cinema from global national contexts (in particular from non-English speaking countries)
- The re-emergence of old cycles since 2000 (Rape-Revenge, the Biker movie, etc.)
- Individual filmmakers
- New genres, sub-genres, and hybrids
- High budget exploitation (such as that produced by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez)
- Patterns of exhibition and distribution
- Studies of industrial models or modes
- Exploitation studios (The Asylum etc.)
- Exploitation online
- Exploitation fandom and audiences
We invite proposals of up to 300 words for 20 minute papers, plus a short bio (up to 150 words) by March 3rd 2017.
We also welcome video essays to be submitted with a 300 word proposal/150 word bio, sent to us by March 3rd 2017. Final video submissions should be sent by June 2nd 2017 via Vimeo link. Video submissions should aim to be 10 minutes maximum running time.
All proposal (and any queries) should be sent to Dr James Newton at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opening weekend of July 2016 saw the deaths of two significant figures in the history of British genre cinema – director Robin Hardy, and producer Euan Lloyd.
Hardy became a hugely respected figure thanks to his 1973 masterpiece, The Wicker Man (1973). That film, the jewel of the minor sub-genre identified as ‘folk horror’, featured Christopher Lee in what was reportedly his favourite role. Millions of words have been used to eulogise The Wicker Man, and so I would like to shift attention onto its ignored (and occasionally maligned) follow up, The Wicker Tree (2011).
Hardy wrote the screenplay based on his novel entitled Cowboys for Christ. It is a thematic sequel to the earlier film, involving a Christian pop group attempting to convert pagans in Scotland.
It is understandable as to why the film was met with disappointment. Its production values occasionally reveal the (relatively) low budget (though there are also plenty of beautifully shot sequences), such as a shot against a green screen cameo by Christopher Lee. Also, the plot is convoluted in comparison with The Wicker Man.
But for those interested in cult and exploitation movies, and films that defy mainstream convention, there are many pleasures to be had when watching The Wicker Tree. Its central premise is extremely witty. Not only are the Christian evangelists seduced and ultimately destroyed by the heathen Scots, but there is also a subversive backstory, where the attractive blonde female singer has a past of which she is ashamed, of a time when she was a Britney Spears/Jessica Simpson-esque singer, famous for a track called ‘Trailer Trash Love’.
The film can best be described as a glorious mess, and its tone and style resembles the later Ken Russell movies, such as Lair of the White Worm (1988).
The day after Hardy’s passing, it was announced that Euan Lloyd had died at the age of 92. Lloyd produced several high profile but critically reviled actions films in the mid 1970s to the mid ‘80s. Paper Tiger (Ken Annakin, 1975), The Wild Geese (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1978), The Sea Wolves (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1980), Who Dares Wins (Ian Sharp, 1982), and Wild Geese II (Peter Hunt, 1985), represent British cinema of a different time – muscular, epic, and extremely macho, featuring mostly middle aged stars. They are too high budget to be thought of as pure exploitation movies, but they have the single minded focus of the best exploitation films; sharp action sequences, overt political commentary, and aimed at specific niche audiences (in this case heterosexual men, with little concession to any other demographic). Combined with Lloyd’s earlier trilogy of British co-produced westerns (Shalako [Edward Dmytryk, 1968], Catlow [Sam Wanamaker, 1971], and The Man Called Noon [Peter Collinson, 1973]), they form a vital body of British genre output.
The two best are The Wild Geese and Who Dares Wins, which were both critically snubbed for their political leanings, and attracted accusations of racism and other phobias. The Wild Geese is actually a far more nuanced piece of work than criticism of it suggests, and appeals to a more centrist political outlook. It is a sentimental film, which undoubtedly makes extremely simplistic appeals for racial tolerance. But the action is brutal in places, and technically extremely impressive – as one would expect given much of its crew were regulars on the 007 franchise. In my mind, it is more effective than The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare, two films it tries to emulate for scale and mood.
Who Dares Wins is inspired by the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980. Lewis Collins plays an SAS officer going undercover among a far left terrorist group who want to detonate an atomic bomb on a Scottish airbase to show the devastation the nuclear threat is capable of. It is a right wing, possibly fascist, masterpiece. Like Rambo: First Blood Part II (George P. Cosmatos, 1985), the film is a hard, gleaming, fascist spectacle, which extols physical strength and military violence. It climaxes with the SAS storming a building and dismissing the terrorists with little effort or resistance.
It is an easy film to dismiss because of its politics (if you are of any kind of liberal persuasion), but if you can allow yourself to go with the story, it can be enjoyed as a hard, truly adult (in that it expects the audience to be confronted with viewpoints it might not share), film experience.
The Wicker Man has had a profound influence on international horror, and resulted in a Hollywood remake. Lloyd’s films utilised faded big name American directors and ageing global star name actors. The Wild Geese in particular was a success in Europe, subsequently influencing a cycle of Italian war films (such as the Lewis Collins starring Codename: Wild Geese, [Antonio Margheriti, 1984]). But whereas Hardy’s The Wicker Man will stand the test of time, Lloyd’s output will be lucky to receive the same plaudits given how out of step they are with modern sensibilities. However, both filmmakers have produced important and significant moments in British cinema history, their films have transcended national boundaries and achieved a global impact.
I have just completed a new short film entitled The Mystifier. It was made after research into Pick Up Artists and, more broadly, Men’s Rights Activists. Therefore, it features difficult and emotive subject matter.
Initially, early drafts of our script centred on the private life of the central character (the self proclaimed ‘Mystifier’). But we quickly realised that the details would involve too much speculation. There was a danger that the events of the film would rely on a pop-psychology sketch of the kind of man a PUA would be. We were not prepared to do this because we believed it would make the film too one dimensional, rendering the character too black and white.
So we decided that the PUA’s own words should form the centre of the film, based on the findings of our research. This would be interspersed with mere hints of what is happening to him behind the scenes, when he is not on stage performing as The Mystifier (a private phone call, getting ready before the show, etc.).
This results in the film being formally and thematically challenging. It means that the audience is confronted in an aggressive way, faced with the rhetoric of the PUA. Formally, it makes the film a companion piece to a previous film we made – Irvin.
In Irvin, which we constructed out of research into sex offenders, the film is composed almost entirely out of a talking head. Irvin directs his talk at an audience just out of frame, mirroring the audience watching the film at home or in a screening space. The Mystifier is similarly shot and edited – but with more diversions away from the central character’s public performance, resulting in a much noisier, more boisterous film.
On 7th February 2015 I presented my paper The Anarchist Cinema, based on a chapter of my PhD thesis, at the inaugural conference of the Radical Film Network, entitled Political Cinema in the 21st Century. The conference took place at Birmingham City University.
Kelly Zarins of Leeds Trinity University wrote a conference report for the Alphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media. She reviewed and summarised my paper as part of the report. Here is what she wrote;
The “Conceptual and Political Approaches” panel was intended to provoke and share fresh thinking on practice-based techniques and their theoretical underpinnings. James Newton’s (University of Kent) paper “The Anarchist Cinema” argued that the corpus of scholarship on anarchist cinema is disparate, with key texts not having informed one another, resulting in a fracture in the trajectory of theorisation in this field. Hoping to bring these texts together in his thesis and to locate an “anarchism from within the audience”, Newton spoke of his findings from radical film screenings and festivals such as Exploding Cinema and the Bristol Radical Film Festival, where the mode of exhibition evokes a sense of anarchy, by facilitating audiences to view films in nontraditional contexts, such as pubs, community centres, radical bookshops and political squats.
From Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, Issue 9, Summer 2015
I have recently completed a new short film, The Empty. It works around a very simple idea, shot in long Steadicam takes by Ben Rowley. The Empty emerged out of work on a previous film I had made with Paul Richards called Deliver, which I had previously blogged about the making of and is ready to view on my YouTube channel. The Empty is aesthetically, narratively, and thematically very different. It has a very naturalistic style, with minimal use of close ups. The sound is naturalistic too, but this presented a problem in terms of deciding the appropriate sound levels. Too loud and it would sound affected, too quiet and it could rob the film of power. I wanted the natural and realistic style so I tried to keep things like the spot effects quite unobtrusive. It was very easy to pick up unwanted sound while recording it live, especially when moving a Steadicam through populated streets and in long takes through multiple locations. So the soundtrack was almost entirely constructed in post-production – with only minimal use of tracks we had recorded during the (one day) shoot.
The film is currently being shown at festivals, but if do want to see it send me an email (see Contact page) or tweet me @JamesEdNewton and I will reply with the link and password.
In the meantime, you can listen to a review in this podcast by filmmakers Dom Pillai and Chip Thompson – available here https://soundcloud.com/justaride-films/spectre-justaride-films-podcast-episode-24
Tenderness is a film we made last year. It was shot very quickly (over the course of two days – locked in a flat during a hot summer). It was written over the course of a week, although the script was very short and much of the action improvised. We wanted to make something fast as a reaction to a previous film that had taken a long time to write and produce, and hadn’t achieved the results we desired. That particular exercise had been a drain creatively and physically, and we were disappointed by what we had created. Tenderness was intended to be a more instinctive film, one which excited us because of the speed of the production process. It was about throwing in lots of ideas, to create a mood on set that would be invigorating for us as filmmakers.
Tenderness deals with themes of memory, trauma, physical and psychological abuse, and loss. It is about how these things can manifest themselves in the present, making one paranoid, obsessive, fixated on minor detail. It also deals with violence, which the central character directs towards himself as well as other people. Much of the violence takes place out of frame, and the most disturbing moments are of him interacting violently with inanimate objects, such as magazine cuttings and dolls. These sequences feel more violent I believe, because they hint at the physical effects of actual violence – we see the damage that is done, even if they are to objects, rather than people. There are scenes that I didn’t include in the final version of him defacing old personal photographs, left out for timing reasons.
I wanted the visuals to look ‘home made’. To achieve this I use several long takes and odd angles, shot without the use of a tripod. In some sequences I allowed the lack of lighting to create a noisy and grainy image. In other scenes, such as the one where he harms himself in the bath, I just placed the camera on the edge, as if the character had used his own camera to record his actions. The use of black and white also gives the image a ‘colder’ aesthetic, appropriate for both the character and the atmosphere I was trying to achieve.
At just over 17 minutes it is long for a short film. But the duration allows the viewer to meditate on the issues and situations. It is a character piece, rather than a thriller, though it is indebted to the traditions of the psycho thriller genre.
There is something inherently amusing about the story and the character. He is in a situation of his own making, and though the narrative touches on dark themes it also brings out the ridiculousness of a seemingly intelligent man driven insane by allowing his imagination to send him over the edge. Like many (all?) of our films, it is about someone struggling with the reality of their lives and how to move through the world. There is always something comic, as well as tragic, about that.
Our new film, Irvin, is available now on You Tube. It was made after a period of extensive research into sex offenders. The script is based on case studies, and was built from primary and secondary research.
Originally, the plan was to create a narrative based on the character, but we felt that the interview structure enabled us to address many of the issues in a more direct and thorough way. It reduced the need for us to ‘narrativise’ events. The acts and events described by Irvin are from multiple different sources. They are not presented in any linear order, which leads to contradictions and repetitions in Irvin’s account of his crimes. We felt that this accurately reflects not only the full realm of the material we researched, but also the contradictory nature of Irvin’s personality.
The character is repulsive and sympathetic. He is intelligent, and capable of both self-awareness and self-pity. This reflects the different dimensions of the character and the complexity of the wider subject of what it means to be an offender and the topic of institutional sexual abuse. Irvin is shot almost exclusively in close ups. This forces the viewer into an intimate relationship with the subject, despite the uncomfortable nature of his crimes. It offers them no easy way out of confronting the issues at hand, and allows the viewer very little relief. Irvin is available to view in its entirety here;
This is the first episode of my web series Keeper of the Tombs. In truth, I am merely experimenting with the format. The individual films were not intended to be made as a web series. Instead, it began as a stand-alone film. After shooting it, I decided it would be better constructed as an episodic narrative. Around this time I began to research the idea of making a web series. I decided to put the two together and use the footage as an experiment. So, Keeper of the Tombs is now a web series where I intend to experiment with the format, with a view to producing one from scratch sometime in the future.
It stars Paul Richards (who also co-directed), and was shot by Mark Castro and Max Philo.
Episode #2 is currently being edited and will be available soon.
Deliver is a short film that originated as test footage for a character we are working on. The process of testing the character through a lens, rather than working through ideas in a traditional writing session proved useful. It has led to us altering some fundamental elements of the character and the script we are working on, based on the results of this experiment.
We shot this on an old Kodak Zi6. It is a decent piece of kit that aids shooting very quickly, and I may consider trying to get hold of a Zi8 if I can find one for a decent price.
Here is the YouTube upload of the finished film. It was shot in a day, in and around Canterbury.