I, your correspondent, am accustomed to find amusement in many places.
But I suppose what entertains me the most, and the most often– what indeed sometimes seems the absolute height of felicity –no kidding– is… watching a monster movie.
Not necessarily one of the current computer-generated crop, either, though I have to acknowledge that there are some of these that really are pretty good…
You can even make the case that whatever fault a historically informed critical eye may find with our own times, at least we find ourselves in a true Golden Age of multi-million- dollar fantasy cinema, with budgets and effects on display that no one from the days of the old-time studio system would ever have believed possible.
But, no, I mean something on the order of (just to pick one at random) X, the Unknown, a creaky, old, black and white postwar British science fiction picture starring– yes, starring… second-tier American actor Dean Jagger.
Or, say, The Crawling Eye (1958), another English production from that same period.
It doesn’t have to be from the U.K., of course. It might be Tarantula, Universal’s all-American giant spider epic (1955), with John Agar, Mara Corday and Leo G. Carroll.
It’s such a pleasure.
Or, House of Frankenstein, the 1944 monster rally which gives us a Frankenstein-like mad scientist (Boris Karloff), Dracula (John Carradine), the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) and the original (Lon Chaney Jr.) Wolfman, among others.
I’ve chosen examples here which appear at the top of no critic’s list.
And that’s the point.
This all has nothing to do, I should make clear, with the jaded, sophisticated dilettante’s showy embrace of badness for its own sake. Discard– please! –the late Susan Sontag’s lamentable concept of “Camp,” if you remember it, and it happens to cross your mind.
But– how wonderful to be fussing around late at night, maybe making tea, and being kept good company by Creature With The Atom Brain (1955) when it comes on–or when I put it on.
You see, I’m what they call a Monster Kid (age 61).
I and others like me venerate these pictures and the lore associated with them.
And there are quite a few of us– Monster Kids, I mean– not just from my own generation, either. We come in all ages and types.
Furthermore, many of today’s filmmakers, the creators of those big-budget fantasies of the present era, are also Monster Kids themselves, and were, before they were famous.
Why do we like these movies? My thought is, we like them because to us they satisfy all the criteria of art in their own way– and because they also have enduring value as social criticism, even as existential statements.
As a member of the Church of the SubGenius (q.v.) I endorse the concept of Bulldada, as we call it– the idea that in critically dismissed but vital, eternally vigorous popular culture, those who dare to seek will find a more active and genuine literary, dramatic or artistic experience than what’s available from the critical A-list.
Time will prove us right, too. The darlings of general fashion will fall into obscurity, but in a hundred years, I predict the cognoscenti will still be seeking out the incredibly low-budget Edgar G. Ulmer-directed The Man From Planet X (1951).
I’ll have more to say in defense of these assertions in future posts in Culture Clutch.
But here’s where I discern value.
These movies were made purely to entertain.
The best way they could do that was to address the concerns of the day in their own oblique way– to be about what people were viscerally interested in.
In so doing they claimed territory unreached by more acceptable, bourgeois concepts of propriety and supposedly “elevating” subject matter.
Often, not having what a minuscule budget couldn’t provide on screen compelled the filmmakers to use artistry to fill up the gaps. This could succeed– and even be of interest when it didn’t.
Or, instead, the subject matter made innovation happen, to everyone’s benefit.
Excellence will out, over time.
In 1933, the year of the original King Kong, poor old Kong got nothing at Oscar time.
Instead, the Academy Award went to the prestigious Cavalcade.
Ever hear of it? Cavalcade?
I’ll bet you’ve heard of King Kong.
Monster Movies Forever!