Friday, April 10, 2015

Modern Schlock

The other day, on a podcast segment I did for PQ Ribber over at the Overnightscape Underground, I was bemoaning that they don't make proper schlock movies like they used to.  Sure, they make plenty of imitation schlock movies - you know what I mean, those movies which are self-consciously badly made, or have fake scratches overlaid on them post production to try and make them look like a fifth generation print of a B-Movie.  There also a lot of genuinely bad movies still being produced, (just about anything made for the SyFy Channel fall into this category), but bad doesn't necessarily equate to schlock.  A true schlock movie has a some undefinable quality which lifts it beyond simply being bad or cheaply made.  For me, its that sense of delirium that the best of them have - that feeling that you are trapped in someone else's fever dream.  But, on further reflection, it occurred to me that modern schlock has just taken a different form, more in keeping with modern media.  After all, they don't make proper B-movies in the classic sense anymore.  Just direct to DVD or cable cheapies made with levels of skill and imagination even lower than their budgets.

Contemporary schlock is instead to be found in the kind of 'reality' TV programmes of the kind I've watched too many of lately: those storage auction shows and programmes about US car repo firms.  They certainly have an air of surrealism about them, the way in which people suddenly become insanely aggressive with each other as they battle to buy the shitty contents of some storage locker, for instance.  Even more surreal is the number of times those lockers they've fought over and overpaid for turn out to have some amazingly valuable antique hidden in them, or and a vintage car lurking under a dustsheet.  What's truly schlocky about them is the fact that they are so obviously faked, yet everyone involved acts as if the carefully staged events we see infolding are real and spontaneous.  Take Container Wars, for example, that highly 'realistic' depiction of port authority auctions of unclaimed shipping containers.  From the off, this show is so obviously faked - someone must already have knowledge of the contents of these supposedly sealed containers.  After all, if they are of international origin then the Customs authorities will have to have checked them, otherwise they'd be opening them up to find the dead bodies of illegal immigrants piled up in them.  Either that, or some lucky bidder will make an amazing score when they find those blocks of cocaine secreted inside that container full of crappy furniture they've just bought.  ('That's amazing - I paid twenty thousand for the container, but this shit has a street value of over a million!  That's an incredible result!').  Yet everybody on it leaps around and shrieks as those containers are opened, as if it all really is a surprise.

Even better, those shows about the towing companies unfold like the cinema serials of old with their ongoing storylines, character arcs and sub-plots.  In a previous post I noted that, if this were still the seventies, Lizard Lick Towing would have been a Burt Reynolds movie, full of Good 'Ol Boys engaging in manly hijinks as they repossess cars.  In virtually every episode I've seen, the protagonists have to repo some van or tractor from a barn in the back of beyond and end up being attacked by a bunch of shotgun waving hill billies wearing dungarees and straw hats. Sometimes they disturb these hicks at night and they come rushing out of their cabins dressed in their long red one-piece underwear.  As in all good schlock, no stereotype is left unturned.  South Beach Tow is, if anything, even schlockier, making no bones about the fact that everything we see has been 're-staged' for the cameras, using actors to portray the supporting cast of irate car owners, rival repo agents and irate bystanders, (but everything depicted is based on 'real' incidents, of course).  Just like the auction shows, everybody seems to be insanely aggressive and every job descends into an assault or full blown brawl.  But, as with Lizard Lick Towing, the police are amazingly never called to these very public incidents and nobody ever seems to get arrested, (or if they do, they only ever seem get cautions, rather than custodial sentences).   Ah yes, schlock is alive and well, it seems, and living in a storage container.



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