Name: Kimberley Thomson
Twitter handle: @2bottleThomson
City I call home: Melbourne
Area of cinema I am most passionate about: Documentaries and dumb horror.
A film that changed me/my mind: Ever since the guy behind the counter of my local video store let the teenage me borrow his personal copy of Pink Flamingos, I've had an inkling that there is nothing more absurd, hilarious and disgusting than cinema. A change for the better or the worse, this remains to be seen.
MIFF film I’m most looking forward to: So many. In particular, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, plus a big swathe of documentaries.
I’m looking forward to Critics Campus because: Gorging on movies for a week straight sounds like a pretty delicious prospect. It should be a challenging, but overwhelmingly useful experience.
Cinema excites me because: The immersive nature of cinema is pretty exciting, and quite unique as an art form; sitting in a dark theatre surrounded by total strangers is something that shouldn't be undervalued in a world that is increasingly atomised.
A publication I’d one day like to write for: The Age, The Monthly, Slate, NYT ...
Favourite critic and why: Although not a spectacularly original choice, reading Roger Ebert shred a film limb from limb is one of the finer pleasures in life. Slate's Dana Stevens is also normally worth reading. And of course, where would we be as a nation without the verve and pomposity of our own critical darlings Margaret and David.
Read Kimberley's MIFF coverage on The Age
Feature: Death of a Cannon But Trash Lives On
Kimberley Thomson gets down and boogaloo with the trash cinema cannon.
Menahem Golan has been in the news quite a lot of late. He caused a stir at Cannes this year when he yelled from the stage: “In the 1980s, they didn’t call this the Cannes Film Festival. It was the Cannon Film Festival!” He is the subject of Mark Hartley’s documentary Electric Boogaloo: the Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films; and, sadly, he passed away on 8 August, just days after the film’s world premiere at MIFF 2014.
The co-owner of the Cannon film company emigrated from Israel to America in the late 1970s alongside his cousin, Yoram Globus. Their aim: building a cinematic empire that could rival Hollywood. At its feverish height, Cannon released almost one movie a week. Inevitably, quality often took a beating. Despite their best efforts, the names Golan and Globus became linked with excess and bad taste: the very foundation of trashy cinema.
“To me, the Cannon logo was the 80s,” says Mark Hartley, who adds that he has fond memories of watching Cannon titles as a teenager. “Look at a film like Life Force. It’sthe biggest budgeted, zombie, sci-fi, nudie space film that you will ever see in your life. But it is done so incredibly straight – there is so much money thrown at the screen – you know that no one else in their right mind would have invested so much money, time and effort into a film that had such a ridiculous story line,” he says.
“You’ve just gotta be thankful that films like that got made and no one in the world would have made it apart from Cannon,” he adds, “because they thought it was going to be the next Star Wars.”
Electric Boogaloo caps Hartley’s trilogy of documentaries celebrating the cinema that dwells on the far-flung fringes of good taste. Not Quite Hollywood (2008) spotlighted the golden age of Australia’s 1970s Ozploitation genre, while Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) discussed the spate of American B-movies shot on the cheap in the Philippine jungle throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hartley says all three films are about “outsiders trying to break in to become insiders”. Electric Boogaloo is about two “Israelis trying to become a major Hollywood force, the next major studio in Hollywood, but not really having the proper sensibility to be able to do so.”
Hartley says he is wary of slapping the ‘trash’ label on the Cannon output at large. “There are no films in Electric Boogaloo that are really unprofessional, that are badly made. There are films that are badly scripted and badly directed, but they all got theatrical releases.”
Thanks in no small part to the cheerleading of Quentin Tarantino, the desire for trash and genre cinema is now stronger than ever. The 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival offered an impressive genre program. Alongside the world premiere of Hartley’s documentary, it presented a remake of ‘70s Ozploitation wonder Turkey Shoot and a doc on The Philippines’ midget James Bond export, Weng Weng, in Andrew Leavold’s The Search For Weng Weng. One of the most exciting horror titles was New Zealand’s Housebound; although too well-crafted to comfortably fit the trash bracket, it still aptly demonstrated the prize value of including an exploding head.
“Exploding heads are important to the world,” says film historian and writer for Fangoria magazine, Michael Helms.
Throughout the 80s Helms edited Melbourne-based fanzine Fatal Visions, which discussed films strewn across the spectrum between “art-house to out-house”.
“When I use the word trash, I use it lovingly,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there that know and understand trash. You either get it, or you don’t.”
Helms says one of the key appeals of trash cinema is that beneath the blood and breasts and head explosions there is fertile ground for provocative subtext. “Every good exploitation film, horror film or trash film, is going to have subtext. Turkey Shoot is loaded with it. Even if you’re not looking for it, you’re going to see it. It’s got an immediate duality to it.”
“There are cheap thrills galore in this one,” says the Fatal Visions entry on the original Turkey Shoot (1982). Writer and Radio National presenter Phillip Adams walked out on it, proclaiming it “without doubt, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen”.
He would probably not be any kinder to its reincarnation, either. Husband and wife director–screenwriter team Jon Hewitt and Belinda McClory have created a film juiced with action and excess that will test the durability of your stomach lining.
Dominic Purcell plays a disgraced Navy Seal who must compete on a murderous reality TV show to win back his freedom. It’s a suitably absurd plotline, but also a clear take-down of the exploitative nature of reality TV and a critique of military institutions.
The remake has deliberately foregone the campiness of the original, presenting straight action in its place. Yet the overall tone becomes confused; a parody that has gone too far and become the thing it was making fun of in the first place. For many the charm of trash cinema lies in campiness and absurd black humour; something that is missing here.
“This stuff’s gotta be supported,” says Helms of Australian genre films. “How is a film industry meant to survive if you don’t have things people can point to and say, ‘That’s rubbish!’”. Especially in a time when “Hollywood has co-opted everything about exploitation”.
Getting funding and an audience for genre still proves difficult in this country. Between documentary projects, Mark Hartley directed an updated version of another Ozploitation gem, Patrick, which world premiered at MIFF 2013. Financial backing was a struggle and the film flagged theatrically. “Patrick was received well,” says Hartley, “but no one saw it.”
Upon its 1982 release, producer of the original Turkey Shoot, Anthony I. Ginnane (who resumed this role for the remake), pronounced with Cannon-esque vivacity: “We’re after the international box office!” And the film did do well overseas. With a release date yet to be confirmed, time will tell how the remake fares.
No matter your assessment of Turkey Shoot, or trash in general, you’ve got to hand it to contemporary genre practitioners: far removed from the floodlights of Hollywood, if they have a vision – no matter how absurd or financially unviable – they run with it. Surely that would have made Menahem Golan proud.