A few days ago (and with my advancing age and failing memory, I cannot now recall precisely where), I read a commentator who essentially bemoaned the fact that every single piece of celluloid dreck ever to hit the grindhouse, drive-in, or VHS remainder bin is now being repackaged as a “Cult Classic” on DVD. There is something to this criticism, but I would argue that, in the final analysis, this is no bad thing.
First, though, let me acknowledge the validity of the point. There is no doubt that many of the films being released with this description are certainly no classics, and just as certainly not the subject of the adoration of any cult worthy of the name. For instance, one of the Welcome to the Grindhouse double-bills is a combo of Policewomen and Las Vegas Lady. Now, maybe, maybe there is someone (or more than one someone) out there who was pining for these titles, someone for whom these were formative viewing experiences (or, which might be a teensy, eensy, weensy bit more likely, whose posters were formative viewing experiences). Maybe. But not likely. Honesty forces me to admit that I haven’t viewed the disc yet, so take my comments with a suitable amount of salt, but by all accounts, the films don’t even rank as decent sleaze, but are rather mere filler.
Again, maybe I’m wrong about these films. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that they are bad in the worst possible way: i.e. let’s assume that they are boring, bland, and utterly forgettable. Pretend that watching even the first ten minutes means running the real risk of slipping into a persistent vegetative state. Grant all these things. Now: is a release of this sort still worthwhile?
Yes. Absolutely yes. And for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is Theodore Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of everything is crap.” Very true of the film industry, even more true of the psychotronic scene. But some of that crap is gold. How are we to find the 10% gold if we don’t have access to everything?
Secondly, as Stephen King has said of B-level horror films, if you have a real love of the genre, you have to develop a taste for real sh*t. This point is closely related to the first, of course, but also highlights the role of taste. What is unwatchable tedium for one viewer is unearthed treasure for the next.
Thirdly, and most importantly, is a point made by the folks at Something Weird Video some years ago. Though I can’t swear to the source, I think it was Mike Vraney speaking in Cult Movies, and what was said was something along the lines of this: “If it was put on celluloid, it’s worth preserving.” Amen. The point of preservation has nothing to do with quality, or even entertainment. Nothing whatsoever to do with taste. Every single film made is part of the larger mosaic of film history and a culture’s memory. We know that, tragically, a very high proportion of silent era movies have been lost forever. Classics or duds, it matters not. Whatever the shortcomings of Policewomen and Las Vegas Lady might be, were the films to vanish forever, a little bit of the picture of 1970s films would be gone. Insufficient care and a dismissive attitude towards the productions of popular culture were contributing factors to the big gaps we have in cinema’s historical record.
There’s no reason to make those mistakes again.