Review Date: 6/16/13
Director: Mark Hartley
Cast: Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Walter Hill, Chris Mitchum, Sid Haig, Pam Grier
Mark Hartley's follow-up to "Not Quite Hollywood" (2008) explores the world of Filipino exploitation cinema, but not as one might expect. It focuses almost entirely on Roger Corman productions from the 1970's and 80's, and is more about what filmmaking in the Philippines was like, rather than the films themselves. The Philippines was attractive to filmmakers primarily because it was so cheap to shoot there, which naturally led to a booming exploitation industry of blood, breasts, and beasts. The tropical climate and dense jungles were a great backdrop for war movies, which weren't very popular and fell out of favor by the late 1960's. That's when Corman's production company decided to focus on horror films, which dominated drive-in's and grindhouse theaters in the 1970s'. From there, Corman shifted to women in prison films, with Walter Hill's "The Big Bird Cage" (1972) leading the way. While exploitive in nature, these "women in peril" films were also quite liberating for the women who worked on them, as it was one of the only genres that allowed for female leads and women in action roles. The next evolutionary step was naturally the blaxploitation genre, which made stars of Pam Grier, Jeanne Bell, and Gloria Hendry. However, with the cultural shift of the 1980's and the increased danger of working in the Philippines, the exploitation genre eventually dried up and the audiences disappeared.
The film is quite educational regarding the politics and pitfalls of filmmaking in the Philippines, and its greatest strength lies in the outrageous stories told by the actors and directors. Roger Corman himself is charming, well spoken, and very matter of fact about all of his films, while a highly animated John Landis and a cynical Joe Dante bring an almost child-like enthusiasm to the conversation. The production values are decent, but most of the movie clips that are featured have not aged well and are of terrible quality. Having seen a good portion of the featured films, the biggest disappointment for me was the lack of variety and international flavor. Roger Corman wasn't the only producer who made films in the Philippines, and to my mind the only "true" Filipino film that was talked about was the mind-blowing "For Your Height Only" (1981). I was hoping to see more bizarre films like this, but Hartley chooses to stay within the confines of mainstream Americana. Unlike "Not Quite Hollywood", it didn't make me want to track down any of the featured films, but it was an entertaining and enlightening experience nonetheless.