...And Picking It Up with Jacques Boyreau
"Long past its pioneering years, glory years, and weird years, Hollywood Product favors inbreeding and multiple anti-climax, becoming a feedback loop of let-downs. Grand survivor, regardless of who's boss, Hollywood knows where to pillage. It goes to Xploitation Cinema for goods." - Jacques Boyreau, Trash
One man's trash is another's treasure trove and in the case of Jacques Boyreau, erstwhile hipster-curator of San Francisco's Werepad multimedia facility (home to the Cosmic Hex Archive of Xploitation film prints and posters and Massacre at Central Hi production company, as well serving as as a one-time movie theater, beatnik space lounge and performance space), it amounts to a post-modern aesthetic. Semiotician Roland Barthes found primal meaning in the literary and artistic "signs" of Western popular culture; Boyreau finds them in movie posters and lobby cards. But whereas Barthes' eye focused on the high-brow, Boyreau's gaze is locked on the lowest of the low: "Xploitation" movies.
Boyreau is the author of several "books" - Taschen-styled visual collections of movie posters and pop cultural detritus peppered with sparse but superbly spot-on descriptive text - starting with Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters (2002, Chronicle), the book that became "a prophecy of the lasting influence of grind-house and a model describing the shared evolution between art and trash." What Danny Peary called "Cult Movies" and Michael Weldon called "Psychotronic Video," Boyreau sweeps into the collective dustbin he calls Trash. I was elated to discover that my local library actually owned this low-brow
Though his comments tend to be scattered sporadically throughout his profusely illustrated books, when he does speak, Boyreau's words flow with the spirit and over-caffeinated energy of a Beatnik poet or speed freak. Here, Boyreau states his case and defines "trash" in his introduction:
"At the level of pure pleasure, our premise is simple: Look! Trash's graphic zeal shows, in comparison to the 'headshot' poster design of today: how a great commercial art form has palsied. Buried in art-by-committee gulags of market research and corporate niggling, the spirit of the sell and the integrity of schlock are hurting. Creative tag-lines, psychedelia, op-art, punk cut-and-paste, jazzy segmentation, cartoon intervention, color riots, and brazen minamalism have all been dumped. Movie poster ballsiness is, like, snuffed.
But let us penetrate a few years into the past, into the dark-sun realm of Xploitation. there are those of us, filmmaker and citizen alike, who have no forgotten. They tried to nail us with their dupe-guns, but they missed. Relax, buddy. Help is on the way.
Shared voyeurism, after all, is the current between aesthetics and audiences. Our trawling trash-eye seeks Sex-and-Violence (which is like one word to me). Avoiding the Hollywood bootlick, Trash presents Smut and Convulsion...Glamour and Horror...Action and Madness.
So ponder Trash. Ponder obscure film companies like Rio Pinto, Fanfare, Aurora, Magna Pictures, Brigadier, Gienie. Begin the mammoth count of big-studio excursions into Xploitation. Study the silk-screen beauty of posters like Pretty Poison, the spirographs of Twisted Nerve, the ropy mess of Squirm. Delve into the warped minutiae of the lobby card for De Sade. Realize our indebtedness to the last run of proactive studio Xploitation: Avco-Embassy's early-'80s output (Escape from New York, Dead & Buried, The Howling, Vice Squad, Night Games, Scanners). And once you sign on, dig our favorites: Strother Martin in The Brotherhood of Satan and Sssssss; Susan Cabot in Sorority Girl; Maury Dexter; Thalmus Rasulala; William Grefe's The Hooked Generation; and the tag-line for Black Cobra: 'How Much Snake Can One Woman Take?'...
...Through Xploitation's pipeline flows veritably everything. The one commonality is an outsider tradition. From Golden Age carny shysters to Drive-In teen specialists to Porno terrorists to Straight-to-Video bums, Johnny Outsider stalks the industry and, to my taste, keeps it filthy clean...
...If I could stress one conceptual point, it would be the 'pre-irony' characteristic of these films. These days irony eats its young; hence the surfeit of cutesy-wutesy, post-modern Clever and Soulless pictures. Xploitation offers a naivete and dependability I find fascinating. Seek its silly charms and cheap passageways, its many jugs of innocence, and the way it pops your guts. Ah yes, but did I mention this line from Psyched by the 4-D Witch: 'How AWFUL and DISGUSTING and NOW WHAT!?'"
Boyreau goes on to divide his visual tome into a half-dozen subcategories:
- Sex Trash: "Sex Trash wants to monumentalize female presence as all 'one big something or other' - the Syndicate of Bitch-Goddessness, the Ice Teat, the Voluptuosaur, the Tuff Chik, the Bubbly Daddy's Girl, the Occult Groupie. In other words, the get-go of a girl on a poster can foster fantasies from the alpha to the omega of desire...Cinema-wise, this chapter covers spoiled American fatales and Euro-loving zombies, yoga-stepping into a realm of sophisticated pedophilia, pottymouth savagery, and raw independence. A realm of becoming: The girl becomes cool, the slave becomes sexy, orgasm becomes entertainment, Sharon Tate becomes Dorothy Stratten, weird becomes love.
- Action Trash: "There is an undeniable poetry in skillfully drawn macho delirium. The speed of destruction, the price for 'setting things right.' It's all here in Action Trash. Hippie-schooled odes against the Establishment (No Blade of Grass, Damnation Alley, Escape From New York); existentialist collision fantasies (Vanishing Point, The Gauntlet); numbskull exercises in conflation (Sweet Revenge, Killer Force) - the roots of Action Trash feed on survival and anti-themness, the vehement dislike for organizations larger than self or family....What the genre posits is...an Ultimate Warrior with the android cool of Yul Brynner, or an eye-patched Kurt Russell. Action Trash has an undilated view of mortality. It waves off society, choosing instead to pursue its deathwish of happiness. Whether crime, sci-fi, espionage, kung-fu, or apocalyptics, Action Trash gets the job done. Shit likes to die in this genre."
- Horror Trash: "...Horror Trash denotes Catharsis. Every which way, from the veiny organ-donor font of Suspiria to the cobra tonsils of Sssssss, from the cat scratch of The Howling to the silhouette of The Beast Within, THE motif in Horror Trash is a mouth furnished with a scream. Even the lethal vector of Williard...vibrates with a rodent yowl.
Whether one is particularly excited by eyeballs, worms, frogs, victim scenarios, butchery, Dracula's dog, or Paul Williams as little lord Lucifer - the best moments in Horror Trash confidently expropriate Beauty from pretty girls and sun-garbed things...Horror Trash is a force fantastic. It pours over our body politic and through the dams of our subconscious, continually tapping who knows what except that it must scream or snort moistly."
Suspiria's "organ donor" font Sssssss: "Say ah!"
- Groovy Trash: By far my favorite section of Trash is the '60s-centric chapter Groovy Trash. "Groovy Trash is a a sound: it begins growling, then funnels into an 'ooh' of admiration, then ascends into a brassy, culminating slice of insight. Groovy is the onamatopeia of '60s-'70s. That said, we can optimize 'groovy' for today's consumption: 1) all drugs are groovy. Right now, all drugs, somewhere in various corners of the Xploitation canon, are in the process of seeming groovy. 2) Kris Kristofferson, clean-shaven in Cisco Pike, is groovy. 3) Pretentious counterculture exposes like WUSA are groovy, and truly pretentious counterculture exposes from England like Privilege are even groovier. 4) Matt Helm and Diabolik are groovy (which makes James Bond definitely ungroovy). An honorary groovy is hereby bestowed upon The Creation of the Humanoids, Andy Warhol's favorite film.
- In fact, we'd be remiss if we didn't poke the copious underbelly of Groovy Trash for it secretes a vital slime factor - a nasty, energizing grumble of unholier-than-thou posturing.Best exemplified by the Outlaw Biker genre, this alliance of alternative and scum chic is simply, for better or worse, groovy. Bizarrely, the Biker genre shows up in every chapter of Trash....if we were to theorize Groovy Trash, some coordinates to chart would be a post-Noir evolution of beatnik sabatoge, psychedelic drug salvation, generation-gap politics, tainted love, and cult sleaze. So if you don;t totally understand what I'm talking about in this chapter, then you are completely ungroovy.
- Race Trash: "Seventies Blaxploitation's mythic types - with their comic book heroism, saturated folly, healthy fury, and the all-important costume of urban realism - partook in an outbreak of outrage that, in turn, revealed sibling Whitesploitation. In haiku paraphrase, Blaxploitation is a fantasy of gaining control. Whitesploitation is a fantasy of losing control.
In Borgesian terms, "every man is two men," and conversely two men may become one. The universal joint in their mutual power train is evoked in this chapter a paradoxical powwow of racial doubles - I mean, look at The Thing With Two Heads.
Let's preview some of the more surreal links: The Master Gunfighter's explicit promotion of a Billy Jack/Superfly rivalry toys with the magnitude of Godzilla vs. King Kong; the coupling of The Omega Man and Black Like Me suggests a bond between being a "last man" and a "racial imposter"; the redneck gumption of Jan-Michael Vincent and Burt "Gator" Reynolds holds a bag similar to the head of steam that pumps Fred "Boss Nigger" Williamson and Jim Brown. Then there's the diptych of Six Pack Annie and Cleopatra Jones, together ruling a sort of cartoon-poontang Xanadu.
The truly weird prize of Race Trash, however, goes to the Planet of the Apes sequels and Skullduggery. These hallucinatory films play off a hirsute counterculture of long-haired hippies and militant panthers and offer the most totemic embodiments of where society's fear about "dark" malcontents crisscrosses our two 'sploitations."
Boyreau ponders what new forms will emerge to "cocoon whitey's fascination with the abyss" and "what new editions of black power will dis."
- Docu Trash: "Docu Trash traffics in art and embezzles reality. When convenient, Docu Trash plays dumb, swearing that its trespasses are just fictional fun. But if opportunity knocks, it will inform us that it has carried the very truths of existence back from the recesses of dungeons, jungles and alien cerebra. It dares us to accept a worldview. It entertains by making us suddenly blurt, "What is this?...We also got yer' Mondo-exposes, those globetrotting jambalayas of eccentricity and savage desire. The Mondo rubric extends to unearthly realms, applying its fractured investigative style to Witchcraft 70 and finally taking on the cosmos of the We-Are-Not-Alone Alien Unknown (Chariots of the Gods, The Late Great Planet Earth)...'Fictional' works like Tidal Wave play the Docu Trash game by selling disaster-reality, an anxiety that has been refurbished by the fluidity and glibness of digital FX. And here too squats the Biker genre in the form of The Losers - which was inspired by a very real telegram from the Oakland Hell's Angels to Lyndon Johnson, volunteering to resolve the conflict in Vietnam.
In SuperTrash, the "mutagenic" sequel to Trash, Boyreau gazes at the "gonzo archives" of 20th-century design in pursuit of what he calls "more bionic art-agony and trash-ecstasy." Serving up a mixture of both traditional movie signage and transgressive shout-outs, "SuperTrash collages a trail of freakish delights and intellectual spin-kicks that track the co-dependencies of art and trash through sly, uncompromising essays about new wave hookers, bad gods, hermaphro chic, and, of course, Lee Marvin. Part psychedelic psychotronic, part poster poster book, part album cover book, part paperback pulp book: interdisciplinary, quantal, and polyglottal, SuperTrash is surrealism for the 21st century."
More on SuperTrash next time!