Saturday, April 07, 2007

Trash and trashiness

A couple of side notes for Trashy Movie Celebration Blog-a-thon weekend.

CineBeats has posted My Grindhouse Double Feature, which not only has a couple of nice links here, but also a interesting and entertaining expansion of her choice for The Horror Blog's Horror Roundtable - Week Forty-One, which asks various people for their grindhouse double features.

In the entry How Sexy Am I Now?, Culture Snob brings up a larger question that I left open in describing the rules of this blog-a-thon, such as they were, "This blog-a-thon is a ridiculous exercise in which one must first justify calling something 'trash,' and then make an argument for it — without reservation or caveat — as important, relevant, worthwhile, or artistic. A comparison: 'You are a whore. But you’re such a good whore that you’re not really a whore at all, but a professional sex artist.'"

I began answering the distinction, as I see it, between "trash" and "trashy" in comments there, but I thought I'd expand upon those thoughts.

I think the key, as best I can say, is that "trashy" is not necessarily analogous to a whore per se, but, to continue the metaphor, to "trashy women". The women I've heard referred to as "trashy" are seldom literally prostitutes, and are almost always simply women who dress in ways that highlight or expose specific areas, self-consciously appealing to the baser instincts of the person looking at them.

Our society has a variety of reasons to judge these women harshly. Not the least of which is an underlying fear of those baser instincts themselves. There are also enough women (and men are certainly guilty of varying forms of this, but I'm continuing the metaphor and frankly it is much easier to explain this way) who dress in such a manner specifically to draw attention away from their deficits in other areas - whether it be intelligence, sense of humor or simply basic human decency - that it's difficult to dismiss the idea of their essential baseness from the public consciousness.

Probably this Stranger Suggests item by David Schmader has made this metaphor more appealing to me. Labeling, as he does, talented women like Charo and Dolly Parton as "stealth bimbos", their exterior appearance of light-hearted, easy-goingness along with bosom flaunting, tight clothing camouflages their real talents. I'm unsure, in either case, what extent the masquerade is a marketing decision and what extent it's aesthetic. Ultimately, I don't care. I personally enjoy that balance.

In those terms, I'm looking for your cinematic stealth bimbos.

Obviously, trashy movies have their own versions deep plunging cleavage, giggly voices, sparkly clothes and tight silk pants to draw your attention. Some of those, as shown in the selections so far, are sex/nudity, implausible science fiction/fantasy plots, extreme violence and camp. Enough of these movies use these elements to draw attention away from their deficits in other areas that it's difficult to dismiss the idea of their essential baseness from the public consciousness.

Enough of them are more, however. The bimbo clothes may be there for marketing or aesthetic reasons, depending, but the substance is there and that's the reason for this blog-a-thon. To celebrate the things we see when we look past - or under - those slutty clothes.


Culture Snob said...


Continuing this conversation in as many venues as possible ... .

Doesn't surface trashiness hiding depth and artistry negate the point of this blog-a-thon? Your prompt implied -- through the prohibition on directors with "a substantial base of critical and popular support" -- that you weren't interested in intended subtext and "stealth bimbos." (Or perhaps that's just what I inferred?) Cronenberg's early movies, for instance, would seem to be cinematic epitomes of stealth bimbos, yet you would have frowned on them, no?

George A. Romero and Dario Argento are certainly trashy, but would their reputations make their work ineligible for the blog-a-thon? Are they not stealth bimbos?

Your distinction is valid, but I think it contradicts what you asked your contributors to give you.

I'm just makin' trouble now.

Neil said...

I appreciate trouble makin', so that's fine. And, it happens, I'm not without an explanation on this.

I still like my rather stream-of-consciousness carnival barker announcement of this blog-a-thon, but I suppose clarifying the rules and their intentions at some point might have been helpful.

I absolutely agree that about Cronenberg, Romero and Argento. I could add a whole list of people, whose movies have trashy origins or were perceived as trash or trashy upon their original release, but have since gotten much stronger reputation, up to, if no one else, Leone, who seems pretty comfortably canonized at this point. Cronenberg, Romero and Argento seem to be holding steady at a step or two below that, but with a substantial base of critical support.

Why didn't I want those? Are they not trashy? Are they no stealth bimbos? Certainly they are, at least as much as Charo and Parton, who I used as examples, both of whom have strong bases of popular and critical recognition of their greater talent, and there is where my metaphor fails, I acknowledge. It was just such a lovely companion to your "whore" metaphor and was right there in the front of my brain.

My reason for setting the rule in regard to movies and moviemakers with substantial critical bases was mostly just my own amusement. I've already read dozens of critical appreciations of Cronenberg, Romero, Argento, Corman, Meyers, etc. I didn't - and don't - feel there's a lot of mileage to be had in standing up and saying they're great. Even the people who rely only on their own first-hand experiences of loving those movies are still largely going to stumble over well-travelled paths of critical thought.

I thought of this as an opportunity for a few people to open up new lines of thought on movies and moviemakers that hadn't necessarily gotten that chance. To be the voice that causes you to go ahead and rent that movie you've picked up a couple of times and thought, "Eh. This'll probably be crappy", and put back, or to reconsider a movie you'd given a knee-jerk dismissal before.

I think there are lots of good forums for movies and moviemakers that are approaching being canonized after lingering in the shadows and even those with continuing critical controversy. I've participated in many and will certainly continue to. In fact, a discussion of the controversies through which many movies and moviemakers have gone through before being canonized would in itself be quite interesting, since I think many forget how many of the movies and moviemakers - or artists in all media, for that matter - whose reputations are now rather unassailable were once considered mediocre, middle-of-the-road, of dubious merit or even trash.

That was my thinking. I just wanted to keep the number of movies I'd not read taken seriously from a critical stand-point up and the number that I'd seen praised in serious and/or genuine terms on a regular basis down. Whether that should have been better explained in the beginning, I don't know. Whether that's an important distiction, I don't care.

I certainly got what I was hoping for as a reading experience out of this blog-a-thon. Including your post, which makes some very interesting points about a moviemaker who failing at his stated goal, and possibly his intended goal, but still achieving something artistically valid, whether a secret intended goal or an unconscious realization. This is one of the hallmarks of great trashy movies, in my opinion.

Culture Snob said...


A thorough and compelling defense.

I'm certainly happy you got what you wanted from the blog-a-thon, and that your admonition spurred people to search dark corners for movies up to your challenge.

Many blog-a-thons are too broad for my tastes, and you did an excellent job of focusing your contributors' efforts. Mine excluded, of course.

Neil said...

Thank you very much.

I'm glad you enjoyed the blog-a-thon.

I'm also glad you challenged my ideas. I always enjoy a good discussion.

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