My Taste for the Tasteless


I’m currently reading “Euro Horror”, by Ian Olney, the first section of which offers stacking explanations for the exclusion from Film Studies of the European horror films from the 1950s to 1980s. It’s a persuasive set of arguments that lead to the standard critical conclusion; these movies are disposable, excessive crap. Presumably, Olney will refute this stance in the remaining chapters, but as I’m a slow reader it may be some time before I find out.

Something else in Olney’s foundational arguments caught my attention, causing me to reflect on my own appetite for these films. Almost as an afterthought (although perhaps to be expanded on later), Olney suggests that the fans’ consumption of these movies is an almost political rejection of the current popular culture for that of a previous time and place. I’ll have to hope that he provides an elaboration of this statement, but until I read that far I’m left with my own stumbling thoughts on the subject.

Certainly, I watch the works of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Amando de Ossorio, Jorge Grau, Lucio Fulci and so many others of the period because I’m finding something in them that I’ve not seen elsewhere. It could be a submerged room, a garishly lit hallway, a face made of cake splattered on a subway windshield, corpses replaced by mannequins, or skeletal killers in robes fumbling after victims.

It’s also true that I’ve rarely found pleasure in the pop culture milieu in which I live. Sure, I loved “The Avengers” and watched almost every Harry Potter movie, but I’m talking about the parade of action, suspense, drama, comedy, and even horror releases that come out each year to be consumed and then quickly forgotten. They’re filled with things don’t interest me, that I can find anywhere.

I think it’s the very datedness of the films discussed in “Euro Horror” that appeals to me. When I watch these movies I see a time when these images alternately shocked and calmed the audience. What degree of misogyny is being presented to the audience as acceptable or even desired? What degree of suggested or visualized trauma is chosen to elicit a reaction? At what point is narrative discarded in favor of grabbing the viewer by the viscera?

For all I know, that’s what Olney meant. All I know is that my tolerance for disposable media increases as its immediacy fades. Maybe in another 20-30 years I’ll be more interested in today’s crap.

4 thoughts on “My Taste for the Tasteless

  1. There are so many things that I only get into years after they’ve gone away. Sometimes it’s that I need to get used to the idea/admit that I like it (see late 80s/early 90s rap which I didn’t cotton to liking until about 7 years later), but usually I need time to get past “it’s crap” to “oh, man, this is some CRAP”. I was thinking about Hard Target, which I watched recently; for years I spurned it because, well, it was a crappy 90s action movie. I watched a few weeks back BECAUSE it was a crappy 90s action movie (and also because it was one that John Woo directed and starred Lance Henriksen). I think a related element is that time allows us to see which things have some gold or at least silver buried in them, time for things to develop followings, and then there’s the sameness-when something is 20 years old, it’s trappings are either comfortably familiar or less tired-we’re not seeing the same thing constantly in current entertainment.

    • Good point. I have to say that there is something of a rejection of the contemporary implicit in the process; we both observed, for instance, that our attraction to mass-market movies needs some temporal distance. Given my current disdain for the output from Asylum (modern producer of brazen crap), I have to wonder if I’ll find it endearing in the decades to come. Perhaps there’s a touch of “back in the old days” feeling involved. Today’s refuse always seems lesser to that of long ago.

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