Cinema Babylon

The un-genred Genre-Film (Introduction)

Posted in Uncategorized by joerubin on August 20, 2009

The following is the introduction to an essay I wrote (but never finished) about outside genre-film conventions in American hardcore films made between 1969 and 1987. I’m gonna post each section as a separate entry, over the next week or so.

The concept of the “genre-film,” at least in American cinema, can be traced back as early as the teens, when silent comedies were first made available for national viewing and, due to their creators frequent Vaudevillian roots. To make them palatable to as wide of an audience as possible, many genre conventions from the Vaudeville stage were made a crucial part of these film’s structuring.

In fact, a reasonable argument could be made that most, if not all American cinema of the first half of the twentieth century are genre-films of sorts. The western, noir, screwball comedy, crime drama, romance, horror, science fiction film, etc all relied on a set of tried and true conventions to fit into a certain marketable category. It was really not until the late 1950s and early 60s, with the emergence of filmmakers such as John Cassavettes and others that commercial cinema completely broke free of genre convention.

As you’re reading my undoubtedly fascinating thoughts on the genre film, you may be asking what the hell this has to do with X rated cinema of the 70s and early 80s? Well, the connection is very simple: sexually explicit films are perhaps the greatest and most complex of the all genre-film types, for beyond their inevitable sexual content, they are unbound to any other genre convention. As a result, I refer to these films as the “ungenred genre-film.”

Another brief connection I would like to make between sexually explicit cinema of the 70s and early 80s and Hollywood cinema made pre-1950, are the similarities between their production schedules and marketing. Like Hollywood films of that era, X rated films of the 70s and 80s were typically shot very quickly, on as few sets/locations as possible, with frequently the same cast members appearing in a set of films, made for a single producer, and often shot back to back. Their running times, like many lower budget Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s, were typically under 90 minutes (usually due both to budgetary limitations and to the fact that, like these Hollywood productions, many X rated films were rented to theaters with the knowledge that they would be played on double or triple bills, and thus needed to be short).

American X rated films of the 1970s and early 80s feature more genre embedding than any other “genre” of cinema in the history of film, simply due to their being no other prerequisite for an X rated film being an X rated film, besides the presence of explicit sex (note #1). As a result, many filmmakers chose to create their pictures within the constraints of a “mainstream” genre, bringing in explicit sex only when needed. Whether it was a western (examples: A Dirty Western (1975) Sweet Savage (1978)), a screwball comedy (examples: Misbehavin’ (1978), Take Off (1978)), a horror film (examples: The Devil’s Ecstasy (1974), The Psychiatrist (1978)), science-fiction (examples: Invasion of the Love Drones (1977), Ultra Flesh (1980)), or avant-garde and “art-film” inspired works (examples: The Last Bath (1973), Overnight Sensation (1976)), this second genre became the basis of the film’s narrative and often pushed the sexual content into a secondary category.

Therefore, the X rated (outer) genre and the second, though often more important (inner) genre often found themselves at odds with each other, in a battle for marketability, so that neither would be out-shined by the other, and although the average runtime percentage breakdown for sexually-explicit content versus non sexually-explicit content is 40/60, the sex often still dominates the inner genre and disrupts its coherency, usually through the placement of illogical or unrealistic sexual couplings. This, however, was often a problematic venture for despite the fact that the films themselves often valued their inner-genre (like western, comedy, horror) over their X rated outer-genre, they were never critically divorced from their outer-genre, that of an X rated film.

As a result, the inner genre is qualified by the outer genre making Sweet Savage, for example, not a “western with hardcore sex,” but a “hardcore western.” This difference is not only crucial to understanding both how filmmakers created their genre-embedded works, but also how they were publicly received. In essence, an X rated film could work very well as an example of a western genre-film, but fail as an X rated film, for it would be deemed to scant in its sexual content or not “erotic” enough, which could result in a filmmaking not being able to find funding for future projects. Thus, many filmmakers opted to, at least in part, sacrifice their inner-genre conventions for the sake of commercial viability.

However, with the abundance of X rated films taking on inner genres, there are a great many successful couplings, which make up the majority of the films I will explore in subsequent installments in this series. The inner genres I will be examining are: Westerns, Comedies, Horror films, and Avant-Garde/Art House films.

Note 1: The popular argument that is made when the question of “why do X rated films from the 70s bother having stories” is raised, is that the presence of some sort of narrative was a legal requirement under the “redeeming social value clause,” which stated that in order for a film to not be considered obscene, it needed to have some sort of scientific, cultural, or artistic value. And although it is true that many low budget hardcore films of this era have only the most basic narrative pretenses put in place only to avoid obscenity charges (this type of film is known as a one-day-wonder or “grinder”), the vast majority of the bigger budget, full length feature films made at this time have fully developed narratives which act as more than a catalyst to bring the film from one sex scene to the next simply because the filmmakers themselves were more interested in the cinematic value of their works than the sexual one.

Copyright (c) Joe Rubin, 2009. You may reprint any section of this piece, with my written permission.

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One Response

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  1. MrXray said, on December 13, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Hi

    I would like to put a link to this essay on my blog, if it is ok with you. I check your blog periodically, hoping that you have published again.

    Thanks – MrXray


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