Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rampant Sex and Drug Use -- Why the Movies Aren't Like They Used to Be

If there's one thing I love more than exploitation movies, it's books about them.  Sleazoid Express is one of those that is about those movies as much as it is about the experience of watching them in New York City's Times Square ... before it got all gussied up for the dance.  Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford have penned a love letter to a bygone era, a time where going to the movies meant taking your life in your hands.  Rampant sex with other movie goers and prostitutes, robberies, drug use, criminals fleeing the police.  I wish the movies were that fun now.  (And let's face it, if you are dumb enough to see something like Transformers you need to get robbed again.)

Fans of exploitation films may be a bit upset over the actual film coverage.  Divided into sections, the book only gives an overview of some the examples from each genre.  One or two movies in each is delved into in detail, and there is much hate doled out for some of the shining examples of exploitation (such as Cannibal Holocaust).  What is left, however, are some fascinating tales of the theatres and the people who made them and starred in them.  Other books may have covered the latter, but few have actually covered the theatres, delving into urine-soaked bathrooms where people can be found shooting up; or even going into the mazes that sometimes connected one theatre to another, the hallways of which became predator playgrounds with woe being visited upon anyone stupid enough to make their way through them too slowly.

If anything, Sleazoid Express is a historical look at a place and era that cannot be replicated in any kind of meaningful scale.  Some may try, but the Times Square of that time period was shaped by the people around it, who were shaped by the events they lived through.  The films were just as dangerous, products of addled minds and the belief that doors to cinema were wide open.  It was a time where anything could happen in film ... and did.  We have lost that.  Brilliantly psychotic filmmakers are now relegated to DVDs, which can be viewed in the safety of one's home.  Hardcore porn no longer plays en masse in the "bad" section of town.  Double features are as rare as original ideas.  Reading the book doesn't fill me with nostalgia.  It fills me with sadness.  That environment will never exist again, and I can't help but think that not only is current cinema all the worst for it, but so is the future of film. 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I paid for this book, and if you click on the link to order it I may earn a commission.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Unleashing the Beast

Nothing Men is selling.  Not gangbusters.  Not quit my job and buy a mansion.  But selling enough to get me a royalty check that I can be proud of cashing.  It's taken promotion and some word of mouth, and now that Halloween is over it will take more of that, but I'm fine doing it.  I've heard from a few readers either on my blogs or through an e-mail.  One friend who bought it, however, had a complaint:  It is too violent.

I'm used to complaints about this book.  The first publisher whom I sent it to dismissed it because the ending was "too depressing."  My test reading group was generally positive, but there were a few who couldn't finish it because they either "knew bad things were going to happen," or it was "just too tense."  Regardless, I didn't change anything based on those comments.  It's a horror story of a certain nature.  Certain things had to happen.  If I thought the complaints had been valid, I would've made changes.  However, when one of the test reading group said it read like "one of those movies [exploitation] from the '70s or '80s where you knew everyone was going to die," I knew I had hit the nail on the head.  Home run.  Perfect game.  That was exactly what I was going for.  This is my exploitation novel.

My friend, the one who thought it was too violent, said, "I know you can think of some pretty crazy things, but the stuff in your book bothered me.  I don't think I'll be reading anything other horror stories you write.  I don't like when you unleash your beast."  Out of morbid curiosity I asked what he thought of the novel's ending.

"I didn't make it that far.  I stopped at that part with the boy in the woods.  I was done."

Incidentally, that is where two members of the test reading group stopped as well.  It was something about that scene that really got under their skin.  It's a scene I really enjoyed writing.  It is nasty.  There are threats of sexual violence.  Two nasty men.  One teen boy.  A ball gag.  A meat hook on a chain.  A survival knife.  Urine.  The combination of things and the situation (and dialog, I learned) upset at least three readers I knew about, and I wondered about that.  Two of them I knew for a fact read horror. Why was mine different?  I asked my friend, who was hesitant to talk about it.

He told me, with much hesitation, that the scene bothered him so much because it felt gleefully sadistic (wait until he finds out about the manuscript I'm working on now), and the fact that he knew me made it even worse.  "I can't believe I know someone who would come up with something like that."

That may be what bothered the others, too.  People who know me know I come up with some pretty horrific things, but I guess putting those things into a story makes them more "real."  Oddly enough, that scene in the novel is where I think the tone changed, where it hit its stride and where I first really "unleashed the beast."  It is gleefully sadistic, and it should be.  Those people who stopped reading there didn't upset me.  In fact, it made me feel like I was doing my job right.  I wanted them to finish the story. What writer doesn't?  But the fact that I wrote something disturbing that it caused them to stop reading and made them promise a cold, hard refusal to ever finish it is something I take pride in.  I've never stopped reading a horror story because it was too scary, but I've loved those moments where I've felt hesitant to go on, where I've felt nothing but dread.  And now I've created that moment for others.

I wish those readers who stopped reading would've finished the story.  Again, what writer doesn't want that?  But I know they were right to stop.  If that scene bothered them, the rest of the story would thoroughly ruin their day.  It doesn't get nicer.  The sadism the friend pointed out doesn't lessen.  The violence only gets worse.  They were right in putting it aside to never revisit again.  But damn if it wouldn't have been nice to send them home in tears ...

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Yes, clicking on a link will possibly cause me to earn a commission and royalties.  So what?

Friday, November 4, 2011

End Times -- The Death of the Fourth Estate

I woke up this morning at exactly 4:12.  My stomach was threatening to expel its contents in the most unpleasant of ways.  It was the same queasy, nauseous feeling I got when I read End Times -- The Death of the Fourth Estate.

The team-up of AK Press and CounterPunch always produces great results.  This 2007 book, which I got as part of the Friends of AK Press plan, is no different.  Within its several hundred pages it lays out an argument that the Fourth Estate (the news media) is dying and it is doing so primarily at its own hands.  Everything from the Israel lobby (and its lack of coverage) to the media's role in war to journalists being killed by the U.S. military and the media's blind eye to this is covered in fascinating detail.  For a media junkie such as myself, this is gold.

Yes, people like Rupert Murdoch are hung out to try, but lest you think this is merely some liberal whining about the conservative media, The New York Times and Hunter S. Thompson are also raked through the coals.  CNN is damned in the particularly disturbing essay titled "The Military & CNN."  Once you read this book, your view of media will either be given credence or tainted forever.

I would write more.  Believe me, I could.  But, like the media covered in this book, I feel like I'm dying.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I paid for this book through the Friends of AK Press program.  If the FTC doesn't know what the hell that is, its employees can look it up.  I'm sure they are familiar with AK Press at least.  As for the links, click on them and I may earn a commission.