Bored stiff with the increasingly homogenized big-name movies and dreary, predictable “indies” coming out of Hollywood? Don’t despair. If your cinematic taste runs more to the vintage drive-in end of the scale, where flesh-eaters and loco hillbillies romp with kung-fu fighters and bouffant-coiffed go-go dancers, you’re not alone. You’re in Trash City, and Tamao Nakahara wants you.
Nakahara is the director of “Born to Be Bad 2,” a three-day film fest and conference at UC Berkeley for people who take their guilty pleasures very seriously. Beginning with a Friday-night double feature of Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 I Walked with a Zombie and a 1972 Hong Kong martial-arts-‘n’-girlies thing called Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and stretching through Sunday with six separate panels and a lecture on such topics as “Euro-Trash” and “Why I Hate Gwyneth Paltrow,” B2BB2, as Nakahara calls it, is the latest example of lowbrow film culture being raised — with a straight face — to the level of art in museums and universities. Just a few years ago, academics wouldn’t be caught dead going into a grind house to see Black Emmanuelle or The Corpse Grinders, but yesterday’s junk has become today’s graduate dissertation subject. Somewhere, John Waters must be chuckling.
The San Francisco-bred Nakahara arrived in Trash City while researching her Ph.D in Italian studies. While studying in Italy, she discovered Mario Bava and Liliana Cavani, and gradually her thesis became “Busty Babes and Boiled Babies: The Status of Exploitation in Postwar Italian Cinema.” Explains Nakahara, “I wanted to know: Where the hell does all this come from? The larger project led me to exploitation.” She especially responded to Cavani’s The Night Porter (“It had aesthetics but was sleazy”) and the Decamerotico sex comedies. “I like sex and gore, but sex is more interesting,” she admits. “People are attracted to cult films for their own purposes, of course. Sometimes you can break down a film for hours, then come away saying, ‘Yeah, she was really hot.’ If anyone tries to separate themselves from the subject matter, I think they’re missing the point.” Last year’s first “Born to Be Bad” at UCB grew out of the Graduate Film Working Group, a student-run organization that picked up where more conventional film-studies courses left off. Says Nakahara: “The old professors want to teach Godard, but young students have an entirely different appreciation of film.”
The panelists come from as far away as New York, Wales, England, France, and Taiwan, and they will discuss everything from Hong Kong vampire flicks and Turkish Star Wars rip-offs to the collecting of movie posters. The conference’s first two years’ collected essays are so good, in fact, that Nakahara and her group plan to publish them under the title Born Bad. In between talkfests (there are 12 1/2 hours of discussion compared to 7 1/2 hours of film), trashophiles can relax with such rarities as Raw Force (a 1982 cannibal/kung fu epic), the backwoods sex pic Pigkeeper’s Daughter (gratuitous nudity, huge breasts), and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, with Vincent Price running amok in San Francisco. All films are screened at the Pacific Film Archive. All panels take place at the Gaballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall. www.trashcinema.com