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I am particularly interested in how the two communities approach issues of cinematic 'style' and 'excess'.

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I will argue that paracinema hinges on an aesthetic of excess, and that this paracinematic interest in excess represents an explicitly political challenge to reigning aesthete discourses in the academy. The cultural politics involved in this struggle, however, can be clarified by first examining similarities between aesthete and paracinematic discourses on cinema. Throughout the history of cinema studies as a discipline, the cultivation of various counter-cinemas, exclusive cinematic canons that do not easily admit the textual pleasures of more 'commonplace' audiences, has been a crucial strategy in maintaining a sense of cultural distinction for film scholars.

Frequently, the promotion of such counter-cinemas has been organized around what has become a dominant theme in academic film culture: namely, the sense of loss over the medium's unrealized artistic and political potential. From this perspective, the cinema once held the promise of a revolutionary popular art form when, as Annette Michelson writes, 'a certain euphoria enveloped. Hollywood production and representation remains a central project of film aesthetes and academics.

This critical programme proceeds both artistically, by valorizing a body of 'art' films over the mainstream, commercial cinema, and politically, by celebrating those filmmakers who seem to disrupt the conventional narrative machinery of Hollywood. United with the film elite in their dislike of Hollywood banality and yet frequently excluded from the circles of academic film culture, the paracinematic community nonetheless often adopts the conventions of 'legitimate' cinematic discourse in discussing its own cinema.

As Fiske notes, fan groups are often 'aware that their object of fandom [is] devalued by the criteria of official culture and [go] to great pains to argue against this misevaluation. They frequently [use] official cultural criteria such as 'complexity' or 'subtlety' to argue that their preferred texts [are] as 'good' as the canonized ones and constantly [evoke] legitimate culture.

A fanzine review of the obscure film, The Dungeons of Harrow, is typical. The fanzine describes the film as 'a twisted surreal marvel, a triumph of spirit and vision over technical incompetence and abysmal production values. The film can be seen as a form of art brut - crude, naive, pathetic - but lacking the poetry and humor often associated with this style.

Perhaps art brutarian would better serve to describe this almost indescribable work. Furthermore, the narrative form produced by this institution is seen as somehow 'manipulative' and 'repressive', and linked to dominant interests as a form of cultural coercion. In their introduction to Incredibly Strange Films, V. Vale and Andrea Juno, two of the most visible cultural brokers in the realm of paracinema, describe why low-budget films helmed by idiosyncratic visionaries are so often superior to mainstream, Hollywood cinema.

Taste, excess, and an emerging politics of cinematic style

The value of low-budget films is: they can be transcendent expressions of a single person's individual vision and quirky originality. Meetings with lawyers, accountants, and corporate boards are what films in Hollywood are all about. Vale, Andrea Juno and Jim individuals freely expressing their imaginations, who throughout the filmmaking process improvise creative solutions to problems posed by either circumstance or budget - mostly the latter. Secondly, they often present unpopular - even radical - views addressing social, political, racial or sexual inequities, hypocrisy in religion or government; or, in other ways they assault taboos related to the presentation of sexuality, violence, and other mores.

Such rhetoric could just as easily be at home in an elite discussion of the French New Wave or the American New Cinema. Zontar, for example, devotes almost all of its attention to the work of Larry Buchanan, who is celebrated as 'the greatest director of all time' and as a maker of films that must be regarded as 'absolute and unquestionable holy writ'. In its contemporary and most sophisticated form, paracinema is an aggressive, esoteric and often painfully ascetic counter-aesthetic, one that produces, in its most extreme manifestations, an ironic form of reverse elitism.

Badness appreciation is the most acquired taste, the most refined. Paracinematic vitriol also often ignores the fact that low-budget exploitation films have increasingly become legitimized as a field of study within the academy. Juno and Morton edsl, This is a functional guide to territory largely neglected by the film-criticism establishment Most of the films discussed test the limits of contemporary middle-class cultural acceptability, mainly because in varying ways they don't meet certain 'standards' utilized in evaluating direction, acting, dialogue, sets, continuity, technical cinematography, etc.

Many of the films are overtly 'lower-class' or 'low-brow' in content and art direction.

Vale and Juno go on to celebrate this cinema for its vitality and then identify what is at stake in this battle over the status of these films within the critical community. In a passage reminiscent of Bangs and Bourdieu, they state, 'At issue is the notion of 'good taste', which functions as a filter to block out entire areas of experience judged and damned - as unworthy of investigation'. Graduate students entering the academy with an interest in trash cinema often wish to question why these 'areas of experience' have been 'judged and damned' by earlier scholars.

But though they may attempt to disguise or renounce their cultural pedigree by aggrandizing such scandalous cultural artefacts, their heritage in a 'higher' taste public necessarily informs their textual and critical-engagement of even the most abject 'low culture' forms. Gripsrud argues that 'egalitarian' attempts on the part of the culturally privileged to collapse differences between 'high' and 'low' culture, as noble as they might be, often ignore issues of 'access' to these two cultural realms.

As Gripsrud writes, 'Some people have access to both high and low culture, but the majority has only access to the low one'. As Gripsrud observes, 'The double access to the codes and practices of both high and low culture is a class privilege'. For example, when Vale and Juno write that these films address 'unpopular - even radical views' and 'assault taboos related to the presentation of sexuality [and] violence', this does not mean that paracinema is a uniformly 'progressive' body of cinema. In fact, in subgenres ranging from the often rabidly xenophobic travelogues of the 'mondo' documentaries to the library of s sex-loop star Betty Page, many paracinematic texts would run foul of academic film culture's political orthodoxy.

It is difficult to imagine, for example, that an audience of any historical moment or cinematic habitus ever watched Russ Meyer's odes to castration anxiety and breast fetishism with a 'straight' face. Double access, then, foregrounds one of the central riddles of postmodern textuality: is the 'ironic' reading of a 'reactionary' text necessarily a 'progressive' act? Of course, the ability to attend critically to a concept such as style, whether it manifests itself in Eisenstein or a Godzilla movie, is a class privilege, requiring a certain textual sophistication in issues of technique, form and structure.

Though paracinematic viewers may explicitly reject the pretensions of high-brow cinema, their often sophisticated rhetoric on the issue of style can transform low-brow cinema into an object every bit as obtuse and inaccessible to the mainstream viewer as some of the most demanding works of the conventional avant garde. Both within the academy and the paracinematic community, viewers address the complex relationship between cinematic 'form' and 'content', often addressing style for style's sake. This is not to say, however, that the paracinematic community simply approaches trash cinema in the same terms that aesthetes and academics engage art cinema.

There is, I would argue, a major political distinction between aesthete and paracinematic discourses on cinematic style, a distinction that is crucial to the paracinematic project of championing a counter-cinema of trash over that of the academy. In other words, though the paracinematic community may share with academic aesthetes an interest in counter-cinema as technical execution, their respective agendas and approaches in attending to questions of style and technique vary tremendously. For example, film aesthetes, both in the academy and in the popular press, frequently discuss counter-cinematic style as a strategic intervention.

In this scenario, the film artist self-consciously employs stylistic innovations to differentiate his or her usually his films from the cultural mainstream.

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Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style and Politics

James Monaco's discussion of the French New Wave is typical in this regard. Such films are rare and are typically produced by figures associated with 'art cinema' Bordwell identifies Ozu, Bresson and Godard as among those having produced parametric films. The emphasis here is on applied manipulation of style as a form of systematic artistic experimentation and technical virtuosity. Juno and Morton eds. Incredibly Strange Films, p. Mikels, and She Devils on Wheels Herschell Gordon Lewis, rarely exhibit such pronounced stylistic virtuosity as the result of a 'conscious' artistic agenda.

But this is not to say that issues of style and authorship are unimportant to the paracinematic community. However, rather than explore the systematic application of style as the elite techniques of a cinematic artist, paracinematic culture celebrates the systematic 'failure' or 'distortion' of conventional cinematic style by 'autuers' who are valued more as 'eccentrics' than as artists, who work within the impoverished and clandestine production conditions typical of exploitation cinema.

These films deviate from Hollywood classicism not necessarily by artistic intentionality, but by the effects of material poverty and technical ineptitude. As director Frank Henenlotter of the Basket Case series comments, 'Often, through bad direction, misdirection, inept direction, a film starts assuming surrealistic overtones, taking a dreadfully cliched story into new frontiers - you're sitting there shaking your head, totally excited, totally unable to guess where this is going to head next, or what the next loony line out of somebody's mouth is going to be.

Just as long as it isn't stuff you regularly see. For this audience, paracinema thus constitutes a true counter-cinema in as much as 'it isn't stuff you regularly see', both in terms of form and content. Henenlotter continues, 'I'll never be satisfied until I see every sleazy film ever made - as long as it's different, as long as it's breaking a taboo whether deliberately or by misdirection. There's a thousand reasons to like these films.

For this audience, the 'bad' is as aesthetically defamiliarizing and politically invigorating as the 'brilliant'.


  1. 'Trashing' the academy: taste, excess, and an emerging politics of cinematic style!
  2. Front matter.
  3. Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914!
  4. Newsmakers 2006.
  5. Animal Stories : Narrating across Species Lines.
  6. Four Sisters of Hofei: A History!

A manifesto on acting from Zontar further illustrates the aesthetic appeal of such stylistic deviation among this audience: Transparent play-acting; mumbling incompetence; passionate scenery-chewing; frigid woodenness; barely disguised drunkenness or contempt for the script; - these are the secrets of Zontarian acting at its best. The concept of cinematic excess', in Rosen led.


  • Current students!
  • Paracinema.
  • judgmental observer.
  • Narrative, Apparatus. Ideology, p. These are not so much performances as revelations of Human truth. We are not 'entertained,' we rather sympathize with our suffering soul-mates on screen. Thus, rather than witness the Surrealists' vision of the exquisite chance meetings of umbrellas and sewing machines on a dissecting table, the paracinematic viewer thrills instead to such equally fantastic fabrications as women forced to duel in a syringe fight in the basement of a schizophrenic vaudevillian who has only moments earlier eaten his cat's left eyeball Maniac!

    Mikels, ] , a down and out Bela Lugosi training a mutant bat to attack people wearing a certain type of shaving lotion The Devil Bat [Jean Yarborough, ] , and leaping, pulsating brains that use their prehensile spinal cords to strangle unwary soldiers and citizens on a Canadian rocket base Fiend Without a Face [Arthur Crabtree, ]. Paracinematic taste involves a reading strategy that renders the bad into the sublime, the deviant into the defamiliarized, and in so doing, calls attention to the aesthetic aberrance and stylistic variety evident but routinely dismissed in the many subgenres of trash cinema.

    By concentrating on a film's formal bizarreness and stylistic eccentricity, the paracinematic audience, much like the viewer attuned to the innovations of Godard or capable of attending to the patterns of parametric narration described by Bordwell, foregrounds structures of cinematic discourse and artifice so that the material identity of the film ceases to be a structure made invisible in service of the diegesis, but becomes instead the primary focus of textual attention.

    It is in this respect that the paracinematic aesthetic is closely linked to the concept of 'excess'.

    Kristin Thompson describes excess as a value that exists beyond a cinematic signifier's 'motivated' use, or, as 'those aspects of the work which are not contained by its unifying forces'. Excess does not equal style, but the two are closely linked because they both involve the material aspects of the film. Like their counterparts in the academy, trash cinema fans, as active cinephiles practising an aesthetic founded on the recognition and subsequent rejection of Hollywood style, are extremely conscious of the cinema's characteristic narrative forms and stylistic strategies.

    But, importantly, while cinematic aesthetes attend to style and excess as moments of artistic bravado in relation to the creation of an overall diegesis, paracinematic viewers instead use excess as a gateway to exploring profilmic and extratextual aspects of the filmic object itself.

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    In other words, by concentrating so intently on 'non-diegetic' elements in these films, be they unconvincing special effects, blatant anachronisms, or histrionic acting, the paracinematic reading attempts to activate the 'whole 'film' existing. One could say that while academic attention to excess often foregrounds aesthetic strategies within the text as a closed formal system, paracinematic attention to excess, an excess that often manifests itself in a film's failure to conform to historically delimited codes of verisimilitude, calls attention to the text as a cultural and sociological document and thus dissolves the boundaries of the diegesis into profilmic and extratextual realms.

    It is here that the paracinematic audience most dramatically parts company with the aesthetes of academia. Whereas aesthete interest in style and excess always returns the viewer to the frame, paracinematic attention to excess seeks to push the viewer beyond the formal boundaries of the text.

    Wood was an independent filmmaker in Hollywood during the s, known primarily for his work with Bela Lugosi. His films are remarkably incompetent from a conventional perspective. Wood's dialogue was often awful, his actors alternately wooden and histrionic, and his sets pathetic and threadbare. Throughout his long career as a filmmaker, Wood was unable or unwilling to master the basics of continuity, screen direction or the construction of cinematic space.

    Though Wood's films were initially read as camp, the critical discourse within paracinematic literature surrounding Wood has since shifted from bemused derision to active celebration.