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Film Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 1)

NOTE: Given the complexities and interconnectedness of the Snob universe, cross-references between entries are common and are spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS for easy identification.

AIP. Commonly used shorthand for American International Pictures, a crank-’em-out production company, founded in 1954, that was among the first institutions to be exalted as a font of Important Kitsch; as far back as 1979, AIP was the subject of an adoring retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Unabashedly chasing the whims of fickle teens, AIP’s mandate switched from Westerns (ROGER CORMAN’s Apache Woman) to “teen horror” (I Was a Teenage Werewolf) to Vincent Price’s “Poe” movies (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) to the Annette-and-Frankie “Beach Party” movies—though, in later years, AIP’s output skewed ever more exploitatively toward Grindhouse fare (e.g., PAM GRIER in Black Mama, White Mama). Kutcher exudes the bland hunkiness of a juvenile lead in an old AIP feature.

Aldrich, Robert. Tough-guy director (1918-83) who, despite his machismo-infused CV (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard), enjoys unlikely godhead status among Camp Snobs for his two hyper-macabre Bette Davis horror-melodramas, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965), which begat a whole movement of using aging female studio-system refugees as clown-makeup grotesques. Love that lunatic pirouette dance that Bette does with the ice-cream cone at the end of Baby Jane—pure, demented Aldrich.

Anime. Catchall term for Japanese or Japanese-style animation, an understanding of which is said by Snobs to be crucial to understanding the future of cinema (yea, of our very culture!), since it, like CHOP-SOCKY, will inform all filmmaking visionaries worth a damn—even though it reliably focuses on species-nonspecific furry animals and childlike humanoids with enormous, saucery eyes. A societal subculture as much as it is a genre, anime takes many forms, including merchandise-shifting product (Pokémon), lyrical children’s fare (the films of Hayao Miyazaki), and explicit pornography (the subgenre known as hentai, in which the childlike humanoids have enormous, R. Crumb–inspired bosoms to go with their enormous, saucery eyes). Anime has established an American beachhead with the Chicago-based Manga Entertainment (manga is the Japanese word for “comics”), the distributor behind the cult hits Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire.

Anti-hero. Film-crit term, borrowed from comp-lit studies, that achieved hypercurrency in the late 1960s and seventies when the EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS generation took wing, its auteurs constructing their films around morally compromised, usually runty, usually ethnic protagonists—such as Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Al Pacino’s titular character in Serpico, and Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. Vincent Gallo hustles and skitters like a real-life embodiment of a Scorsese anti-hero.

Apparatus. Comically obtuse blather-term used in semiotics-driven film studies to denote both the camera and the “cinematic system of meaning”; stubbornly used by semioticians as if in fear that they’ll be reamed with a cattle prod if the words “camera” or “narrative” pass through their lips. In its relentless voyeurism and implied violence, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom makes deft use of the apparatus to signify the male gaze.

Aspect ratio. The ratio between the width and height of the film frame; 1.85: 1 is the American widescreen standard. Though once known only within the filmmaking industry and among those who used to be called “AV nerds” in high-school projectionist clubs, the term has become commonplace on DVD sleeves, a reassurance to potential buyers that their “Director’s Cut” version of Donnie Darko hasn’t been trimmed to fit TV screens. Don’t get that Assault on Precinct 13 DVD—they didn’t preserve the original aspect ratio!

Wallace Beery Beery, Wallace. Thickset, doberman-faced character actor (1885-1949) who found unlikely success as a leading man in late-period silent features and early-period talkies, most notably in Min and Bill (1930), a salty harborside slice-of-life tale co-starring the equally linebackerish Marie Dressler, and The Champ (1931), in which he played the faded-boxer dad of towhead Jackie Cooper (winning an Oscar for his efforts). Cherished by Snobs as the embodiment of the sort of “real” mug that old Hollywood embraced before shallow youth culture and Kabbalah took hold, he was paid tribute by the Coen brothers in Barton Fink (1991), in which it was the titular character’s accursed fate to script a “Wallace Beery wrestling picture.”

Bollywood. Broad term for India’s Bombay-based film industry, which, though it has produced visionaries like Raj Kapoor, more routinely pumps out soapy, mass-market movies that, when projected in theaters in American university towns, somehow morph into art films.

Brakhage, Stan. Prolific, Kansas City–born maker of labor-intensive films known only to difficult art-world people; the proto–Matthew Barney. Starting in the 1950s, Brakhage made more than 300 films using various methodologies—sometimes hand-painting the celluloid frame by frame, sometimes filming actual scenes of childbirth, autopsy, and intercourse in a Warholian deadpan. Was accorded the honor of being anthologized by the CRITERION COLLECTION not long before his 2003 death. Titles include Thigh Line Lyre Triangular, Christ Mass Sex Dance, and The Cat of the Worm’s Green Realm.

Cahiers du Cinéma The single greatest force in inviting ridicule of French intellectuals as absurdist twits. Founded in 1951, the still-extant Paris-based monthly first attracted significant American attention when, in 1954, it published contributor François Truffaut’s “Auteur Theory.” Subsequent issues built auteur-ist mythologies around such red-blooded Americans as Don Siegel, SAMUEL FULLER, and Nicholas Ray, putting far more thought into analysis of these directors’ B pictures than the directors had put into making them. Cahiers du Cinéma also abetted the French mania for Jerry Lewis, deeming him “le Roi du Crazy.”

Cassavetes, John. Handsome actor-director (1929–1989) whose heavily improvised, occasionally tedious independent films, especially Faces (1968) and Husbands (1970), anticipated and influenced the Dogme 95 movement—though Cassavetes carried off his self-indulgences with an acuity and slim-lapelled flair that his heirs lack.

Cassel, Seymour. Rumpled, mustachioed character actor who made his name as part of JOHN CASSAVETES’s repertory in such films as Too Late Blues, Faces, and Minnie and Moskowitz—and, as such, has been deployed in his later career by such hip-minded directors as Wes Anderson, Alexandre Rockwell, and Steve Buscemi, often as a plaid-jacketed scamster type.

Chop-socky. Formerly derogatory term for Asian martial-arts movies, since repurposed, à la “queer,” as the hipster’s term of choice. Though it encompasses everything from sixties-era Taiwanese kung fu films to Bruce Lee’s pan-Pacific hits of the early seventies, chop-socky is most identified with the latter-day Hong Kong film industry that begat Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, and John Woo. Despite genre limitations that its Asian audiences plainly recognize, chop-socky, like ANIME, is upheld by feverish Snobs as the path all future cinema must take, which is why the only recent mainstream films that have mattered are Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Matrix trilogy, and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. Tarantino’s a Johnny-come-lately; I was going down to Chinatown for my chop-socky fix in ’83!

Corman, Roger. Improbably patrician, mild-mannered purveyor of schlock and avuncular mentor to some of Hollywood’s most combustible, provocative directors. Stanford- and Harvard-educated, Corman forsook a career as a literary agent to become a director for AIP in the fifties and sixties, churning out dirt-cheap genre flicks with Henry Ford efficiency. As a producer, he discovered Jack Nicholson and served as an employer-sage to such future auteurs as Francis Ford Coppola, MONTE HELLMAN, Peter Bogdanovich, John Sayles, and Jonathan Demme, some of whom repaid him with wink-wink cameos (Corman played a senator in Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II, and the F.B.I. chief in Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs). With his brother, Gene, Corman founded his own production company, New World Pictures, in 1970, which served the dual purpose of churning out trash-SPLOITATION pics (including the best-known W.I.P. films) and distributing such Eurofare as Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Fellini’s Amarcord to U.S. arthouses.

Criterion Collection, the. Achingly tasteful video-reissue company that, like the Rock Snob-beloved labels Rhino and Sundazed, has found success by recycling old movies as lavish, extras-laden packages for deep-pocketed connoisseurs. (The two-disc Criterion version of Straw Dogs, for example, comes in Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, with a full-length SAM PECKINPAH documentary and a new interview with Susan George.) Having all but cornered the market on the works of prestige directors like Jean Cocteau, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa, Criterion has branched out into repackaging rock documentaries (Gimme Shelter, Monterey Pop) and “acceptable” fun movies such as My Man Godfrey, Armageddon, and Withnail and I.

Deep focus. Fetishized cinematographic technique that enables all the action in a shot, from the foreground to the deep background, to remain sharply defined. Employed most famously in Citizen Kane and robustly championed by the French cinephile and theorist André Bazin. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s graceful use of deep focus recalls the work of Yasujiro Ozu, non?

De Vol, Frank. Musician and soundtrack composer (1911-99) whose futura-luxe onscreen credit in fifties and sixties movies, “Music by De Vol”—suggesting a sleek, avocado-green pushbutton incidental-music generator—endears him to Kitsch Snobs. A radio bandleader in the forties, De Vol was tapped to work in movies, appropriately enough, by kitschmeister ROBERT ALDRICH, moving on to compose the “groovy” scores of such films as Pillow Talk (1959), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967), as well as the theme song for The Brady Bunch. Not without a sense of humor about his peculiar niche, he played the bandleader Happy Kyne on Martin Mull’s subversive seventies talk-show send-up Fernwood 2 Nite.

Diegesis. Unnecessarily opaque film-studies term for the world inhabited by a film’s characters; the music playing on a character’s radio, for example, is diegetic sound, whereas the ominous music foreshadowing the character’s graphic decapitation is non-diegetic sound. The diegesis of Last Year at Marienbad is deliberately ambiguous, not unlike that of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, non?

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