In their U.S. heyday from the late-'60's decline of the Hays Office to the rise of home video, exploitation films provided a big-screen outlet for the American id. At their most basic, these were taboo-busting exposés of a repressed collective psyche, but in deft hands this material could be heightened into lurid melodrama, social commentary, even a means of empowerment.
The work of Matt Cimber provides a concise survey of this nebulous genre. After directing wife Jayne Mansfield's touching swan-song performance in Single Room Unfurnished, Cimber followed suit with a series of softcore "educational" films and then, sensing an emerging trend, a blaxploitation period that would prove hugely influential on Samuel L. Jackson. To these, and his later pseudo-feminist fantasy films, he brought a red-blooded flair and a genuine if sometimes oddly-expressed sense of empathy.
"I've always been a big fan of Matt Cimber movies since I was a kid." -Quentin Tarantino
Starting out as a model, Millie Perkins kicked off her film career auspiciously in the title role of George Stevens's 1959 The Diary of Anne Frank, but she was a reluctant actress and the next two decades saw her recede from the mainstream to circulate in more intimate cinematic waters. An acting workshop with Jack Nicholson led to pivotal turns in existential auteur Monte Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind, The Shooting, and Cockfighter. Less lauded, and overripe for cult recognition, are her subsequent collaborations with Cimber.
at 7:00pm: The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976) by Matt Cimber 88 min. Color 35mm Cinemascope
Tagline: Molly really knows how to cut men down to size!!
Cimber reveals in this masterpiece, his only "slasher" picture, an audacious, hallucinogenic, psycho-surreal cinematic vision, abetted by Dean Cundey's (The Thing, Roller Boogie) phantasmagorical photography. As in the films of Sergio Leone, the present is haunted by the crimes of the past, and becomes comprehensible only as that past is brought ever so gradually to light. This revelation dawns with primal force in The Witch as the audience's ignorance is mirrored by Molly's own disassociation and denial. In the screenplay by Perkins's husband Robert Thom--writer of her previous vehicle Wild in the Streets--childhood trauma spawns not so much an inhuman monster pursuing redemptive revenge as a deeply, tragically human one hurtling into mental deterioration. Elements from Perkins's personal history inform Molly's character, and her brave and emotionally naked performance dares the viewer to treat it as camp: an impossibility once its underpinnings become clear. This is perhaps _the_ transcendent exploitation film that can stand tall amongst the very best of '70's cinema.
For its castration-anxiety-inducing scenes of violence, this film would come to be banned in the UK as one of the infamous "video nasties".
at 9:00pm: Lady Cocoa (aka Pop Goes the Weasel) (1974) by Matt Cimber 93 min. Color 35mm
Blaxploitation meets Women-out-of-prison in this genre-bender! Sultry pop chanteuse Lola Falana (the "First Lady of Las Vegas") plays unjustly-imprisoned soul sister Coco, who earns a day's furlough at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino--shot on location in winter--en route to turn state's evidence against her mob boyfriend. With lumbering hitman "Mean" Joe Green on her tail, Coco relies on sex, sass, and blind luck to get her through the day. Obviously shot on a shoestring budget, Lady Cocoa nonetheless features dynamic camerawork and an amazing action set piece, and Millie Perkins steals the show in her supporting role.