Reefer Madness Poster

Make Your Movie Now

Filmmaking Stuff - How To Make, Market and Sell Your Movie

Get Instant Access

Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh have focused previous books in their series on film poster art on well-defined, discrete genres: the science fiction film, horror movies, the thriller as practiced by Alfred Hitchcock.

The exploitation film is something else. Whereas classical genres like the western or the detective film depend on a base collection of stock characters, themes and situations, exploitation films can, and do, draw on a range of subjects as wide as fiction itself, from the innocent burlesque of the late 50s 'nudies' like Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas to the ketchup-soaked sadism of a 60s shocker like Herschell Gordon Lewis's Color Me Blood Red. An exploitation film can be about childbirth or venereal disease, drug abuse or drag racing, a dance craze or crime spree. It may be the one genre defined not by content, but by attitude - a certain willingness on the part of filmmakers, and an unbridled enthusiasm on the part of exhibitors, to appeal to the public's less noble impulses.

It's not a secret that sex sells. It has been selling ever since Thomas A. Edison successfully commercialized motion picture entertainment in the 1890s, with two-minute cheesecake films like Fatima, Muscle Dancer and Annabelle Serpentine Dance (both 1895). Violence, the second horseman of the exploitation apocalypse, appears with relish in Edison's The Execution Of Mary, Queen Of Scots {another 1895 release) and reaches a truly bizarre extreme in the 1903 Electrocuting An Elephant (which, unlike so many exploitation films, delivers precisely what it promises - the spectacle of a rogue elephant being îlectrocuted at Coney Island).

But wherever sex and violence can be found, censors will surely follow. It took very little time for civic groups to begin cracking down an the new medium, denouncing the nickelodeons as dens of vice :hat encouraged drinking, prostitution and lack of respect toward Dne's betters (it was not a coincidence that the censors came from :he patrician class, while much of the audience for early film consisted of working-class immigrants).

The censors and the filmmakers shared one thing: a love of publicity. Soon, the two sides discovered that their's could be a nutually beneficial relationship. The clergymen and politicians could nake headlines and please their constituents by loudly denouncing he immorality of the new medium; the filmmakers and exhibitors were more than grateful for the unpaid advertising that drew public mention to their wares. When the authorities declined to be drawn, ater generations of exploitation filmmakers sent advance men into :ommunities to stir up controversy where none existed. One avourite tactic was to hire pickets to march up and down in front of he theatres that 'dared' to show these 'startling exposés', a spectacle always guaranteed to attract attention and stimulate ticket sales.

In a sense, it's the dance between the censor and the filmmaker hat defines the exploitation film. Without the censor to set limits, the îxploitation filmmaker has nothing to defy. Or rather, pretend to Jefy, since few if any exploitation filmmakers had a commitment to heir art that stretched to going to jail. Plainly pornographic material, I

which had also existed since the birth of cinema, was born underground and lived underground, shown in Parisian brothels or fraternity smokers. But exploitation thrives on the margins of legality, promising to show the unshowable but never, in reality, quite crossing the line.

In Ted Bonnitt's enjoyable documentary on the exploitation business, Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001), the veteran exploitation producer David Friedman defines the appeal of the genre in terms of audience expectations: 'Well, we didn't see it this week - but next week, we'll see it for sure!' Friedman, who worked in every exploitation sub-genre from nudist camp movies (Nature's Playmates. 1962) to Nazi porn (llsa, She Wolf Of The SS, 1975), left the business after pornography emerged into the (semi) mainstream in the late 70s. Once everything could be shown, there was no more tease, no more creative dodging of the limits and, for Friedman, no more fun. Today, at the age of 81, Friedman operates a small carnival in the southern United States, a return to the quaint, one-on-one hucksterism that drew him to the business in the first place.

One of the earliest tactics filmmakers used to evade the censors was to play the latter's own game, by pretending to denounce various social evils - drug abuse, the white slave traffic - that they would then go on to depict in loving detail. George Loane Tucker's 1913 Traffic In Souls, among the first American feature-length films, employed this technique with its tale of a plucky young woman searching for her sister, who has been kidnapped by a white slave ring (the head of the ring is revealed to be a millionaire philanthropist, in a climax that must have particularly pleased the immigrant audience). Mrs Wallace Reid, the widow of the silent film star who died of alcohol and morphine addiction, produced and starred in Human Wreckage (1923), the story of a crusading attorney's battle with drug dealers (and launched her own career, as one of Hollywood's handful of female writers and directors, as a result).

White slavery remained a central theme through the 30s and 40s, as illustrated by several posters in this book. The 1937 Slaves In Bondage promised 'uncensored secrets of the Nations [sic] sinister vice scandals', along with visions of 'girls ensnared into lives of shame!'. The Vice Racket (1936, also known as Gambling With Souls), promised to 'blast the truth before your eyes', about 'scarlet girls chained to the vultures of vice'. Main Street Girls (1936) offered 'a thundering indictment of crooked prison parole boards' while Secrets Of A Model promised to 'bare the private lives of the glamorous girls in glittering Hollywood'.

Following in Mrs Reid's footsteps, anti-drug films proliferated as well. Assassin Of Youth (1937), The Devil's Harvest (1942) and Tell Your Children (1938, better known under its many re-release titles, including The Burning Question and Reefer Madness) all unflinchingly investigated the curse of marijuana, with a particular emphasis on one of the drug's lesser known side-effects - its tendency to lead innocent young women to strip down to their lacy

Reefer Madness Poster


Predated by CONTINENTAL PICTURES Inc. - Produced by J. D. KENDIS - Directed by ELMER CLIFTON

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment