Blogsploitation, or How I’m Learning to Enjoy Being Exploited

Here’s a lesson: Most movies aren’t very fun to watch when you’re producing and directing an ultra low-budget independent movie. Neuroses abound. Seeing good decision invites inferiority. Seeing a bad decision ignites anxiety. One gravitates more towards cartoons, “Star Tre”k”, and sports- in my case, the faker, the better. It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve been able to throw myself fully into cinematic experiences, and this return to full-on film fandom has taught me something about myself and the way I watch movies.

I’m starting to understand the function of exploitation film.

This increased understanding is more of an increased awareness, insomuch as that I’ve become aware of the broad definition of “exploitation”. I’ve come to define an exploitative film as any movie that accepts certain points of low quality to amplify certain points of high quality, resulting in a movie experience that averages out to being of high quality.

The traditional example would be a movie that sacrifices believable performances and set design for a story that stimulates niche cultural interests, like violence or sex. In short, serving sub-cultures by overlooking points of quality. Now, if the internet hasdone anything, it has further fractured our global population into non-nationalist sub-cultures. There is content designed to entertain any niche interest, often at the cost of specific quality.

So, how does this apply to me and my tastes? Well, I’ve often derided movies popularly defined as “exploitation” cinema, and I suppose I still do. Hobo With a Shotgun does not appeal to me. However, Transformers: Dark of the Moon does, and I would argue that it is as much an exploitation movie.

The realization hit me while I was discovering the Jackie Chan classic Supercop. I realized that I was overlooking important elements of the film to instead focus on its excellent action scenes. Supercop contains several bad, hokey performances, with as many failed attempts at humor. Granted, much of these decisions are clearly intentional, and a big part of why the film is highly regarded. Mostly, though, Supercop is the amazing movie it is because of how its action scenes escalate, from a safe, toothless training fight to an amazing, stunt-laden fight that travels from a helicopter, through the air, to a moving train.

Supercop is a fantastic movie, a movie I might consider giving an A+. Now, I try to be honest with myself, and fair with the films I give a grade to. I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure”. Movies were created as a cheap parlor trick, closer in ancestry to pro wrestling than the novel. If you enjoy a movie, there’s probably a good reason, dictated by an astute filmmaker’s guiding hand.

All this said, every one of us is a victim of exploitation at one point or another. If you like baseball movies, there are elements that make a good baseball movie that go beyond generic standards of film quality.  The same goes for romantic comedies, or live-action Saturday morning cartoons, like Transformers 3 or Thor. Fans of Christopher Nolan movies give up a certain female perspective to align themselves with overwhelmingly masculine protagonists. Fans of the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino give up a certain amount of moral empathy when they follow dark and dumb characters down sleazy rabbit trails. Fans of Hollywood classics give up a realist’s approach and embrace soundstages and utilitarian framing. Yes, many of the qualities that are given up are not qualitative at all, but you see my point- there is an exchange going on.

We’ve all heard of “blacksploitation” or “hicksploitation”. Let’s make funny words out of other types of exploitation, now that we’ve broadened our reach:

Tearsploitation – Emotionally charged-movies that appeal to our most raw feelings. The movies of Paul Thomas Anderson or Sam Mendes might count here, as well as the melodramas of classic Hollywood.

Christsploitation – The politically correct term here is “faith-based”. Movies that are marketed towards the Christian mainstream rarely go for quality first, making sure that their message is front and center. I might quote Marshall McLuhen here: “The medium is the message.”

Politisploitation – The movies of Ken Loach and Mike Nichols and John Sayles are, as subtly as possible, pointing towards a certain political ideal. Their crusade is as strong as the Faith-Basters, but admittedly, quality of performance and tone is often job one here.

Minutiaesploitation – The most fun to say. Movies in this category give up pace, plot, and in some cases, performance, to get at the deeper truths in the smallest human experiences. Examples might include neo-realist works like Vagabond, Man Push Cart, and Old Joy.

Dialogsploitation – I’ll admit, this is one of my weaknesses. I might overlook quite a number of plot problems just to hear Mamet or Coen dialogue.

Yousploitation – Finally, the catch-all. Everyone has interests, and we overlook overall quality if those interests are served. Again, are you a sports fan? A DC comics fan, or a Marvel? Like car chases, or indie rock? There are movies that contain these elements that you’re willing to grade on a curve.

Be honest with yourself. Call it niche marketing, call it exploitation, call it what you want. Whatever the case, our tastes are not balanced, as much as the AFI list or Sight & Sound might expect them to be. In fact, if your movie tastes line up perfectly with the AFI list, you’re clearly easily exploited by cinephelia. Gotcha!

In conclusion, you’re not immune to exploitation, but know thyself. Admit you have quirks and hang-ups. Embrace them. Enjoy the movies tailor-made for you, as well as the objective classics. Down with the shame of “guilty pleasure”!

Cheap post-script plug: There’s no shame in looking forward to the non-exploitative Nocturnal Third, which will hopefully get a premiere date soon! Check the official site and our Twitter feed every fourteen seconds for updates!