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B-Movies

by Peter Bogdanovich
October 27, 2011 12:06 PM
9 Comments
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B-Movies

Back in the early 1970s, in my monthly Esquire column, I did a piece on B-Movies, focusing mainly on the low-budget but personal films directed by Samuel Fuller, Don Siegel, and Budd Boetticher. I said that TV had become a disappointing replacement for the small-cost, provocative, under-the-radar kind of strikingly individual films these picturemakers were doing. This, however, was long before The Sopranos, The Wire, or Mad Men changed everything, and cable-TV actually became more adult and more adventurous than network television, or indeed most current Hollywood movies. A whole new world opened up, and it was enormously exciting. Certainly, while The Sopranos reigned for six seasons, everyone was watching, and no movies supplied the kind of adult, brilliantly written, acted and directed fare that was coming over cable every Sunday.

So my old piece is dated, and is meant to be read with that in mind. Author-critic Clive James has uploaded this article onto his website, and we herewith supply the link. (It has also appeared in my 1973-l985 collections, Pieces of Time. See Publications section above.) Because while the jabs at TV are ancient history, the comments on the individual directors are still valid and worth noting. They made personal films in the guise of genre material. Today we’re just getting the genre; those kind of movies now being mostly expensive, computer-generated B-movie material without the guiding, sometimes subversive viewpoints expressed by guys like Boetticher, Siegel, Fuller, and several others including Joseph H. Lewis, Allan Dwan (in his sound period; see my Who the Devil Made It), Andre De Toth or Gerd Oswald or even Anthony Mann. These little-known lone wolves still deserve our attention. Always remember, if you haven’t seen the picture, it’s not old, because it’s new to you. Which is what counts, after all, more than the date of its initial release.

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9 Comments

  • Aaron Brown | November 20, 2011 5:45 AMReply

    Thank you for including this article Peter! Over the years I have become more and more obsessed with old B Movies and their influence on contemporary cinema. I think the B Movies of the sixties and seventies shaped modern cinema even more so than the mainstreamfilms. The Last Picture Show was so incredible because it rode that fine line of mainstream melodrama and independent B Movie. That film pushed boundaries, exploring what films of the same subject matter were unable to do because of so many restrictions brought on by the rating code. Watching it for the first time, I had no idea where this film was going to take me and how far. That is always exciting.

  • Jill Sim | November 1, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    Sorry, meant "technical approach" not "visual approach" -- which would be a redundancy. Cheers.

  • Jill Sim | November 1, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    Television generally erases the 'sweep' of the movies. The power to fully engage and absorb an audience in a world. The B-movie scale, and I'll use one of my personal B-movie favorites, "Carnival of Souls," as an example, might seem at first blush ready-made for the TV screen after the drive-in run, low-budgeted as it was, but once you've seen it on the screen and on TV, appreciate it for sheer beauty of and scope of image, tone, and tension, to understand that the film deserves and requires viewing on the big screen. Bogdanovich's own "Targets" is another example of a vastly superior B-film (and I hope I'm correct in that assumption, which is based on B requisites such as "under the radar" "provocative" and "strikingly individual") that must be seen on the broader canvas. The entire visual approach to telling a story in image and sound must be determined by the screening medium. I'm no fan of Tarantino, as I do not think being excessively provocative is tantamount to an artform, but I do think "Jackie Brown" is a solid (and also terrific) B-movie, and I hold that Tarantino's original vision, whether it's tone, tension, aesthetic, or his characters, is undeniable. Interestingly, while most of his pictures translate poorly to television, "Inglorious Basterds" with its polyester Nazi uniforms, and what is quite possibly the only World War Two movie ever made that made the war look small, looked like it was made-for TV. Zero sweep! I agree that what we're seeing now is a sort of B-movie television revolution. Television shows that can pass for good (and long) movies. "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "Rome," "The Wire," and "The Sopranos" to name a few, have that 'sweep' that movies have. It makes me wonder if movie serials will come back.

  • Jesse L | November 1, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    No slur meant against Peter B. Personally, him I like.

  • PB | October 31, 2011 6:11 AMReply

    No, Mike, I just meant that he is somewhat better known than a number of the others; no slur intended at all.

  • mike schlesinger | October 30, 2011 6:54 AMReply

    Peter, why "even" Anthony Mann? Do you believe he is less worthy than these other remarkable artists?

  • Shaun | October 30, 2011 2:55 AMReply

    I think the Japanese b movies that came out of Nikkatsu studio in the 60's like Branded to Kill and A Colt Is My Passport are really fun and entertaining movies much like the American b movies. They are a must watch for any film fan. Seijun Suzuki is the best director.

    P.S.
    Bogdanovich had a small part in the Fourth Film Quentin Tarantino and had a special thanks credit. So if you don't like QT you have to appreciate his tasts.

  • Kevin Barry | October 28, 2011 12:45 PMReply

    I bought Pieces of Time as soon as it came out and still refer to my well-worn copy. Gerd Oswald still seems to be the most obscure of the names you mention here. I have always been a fan of A Kiss Before Dying (far superior to the remake), but his films are not easy to find. I recently located a DVD of Paris Holiday (in its Technirama shape, finally) and Crime of Passion is available to stream from Netflix. It appears that Oswald only made about a dozen features buried amongst a lot of TV work.

  • Jesse L | October 28, 2011 5:40 AMReply

    Since you are talking about genre directors, I'd like to say here that I consider Quentin Tarantino a hack. I know this will not endear me to those in his cult, but I haven't liked any of his movies. And he has the balls to put over the title of his fourth film (which mercifully I have forgotten), "The Fourth Film by Quentin Tarantino." Give me a break. Maybe when it's your forty-fourth film. When will he make a picture for adults? Phew. He stinks.

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