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The Naughty and Nutty in Full Glory

A new book celebrates the 'graphic wonderland' of exploitation film posters

September 15, 2002|ANNE VALDESPINO

"Dracula's Dog." "The Pusher." "Scorchy." "Honky." "Teen-age Jailbait." "Son of Blob." "Free Grass." "Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory."

The id of Hollywood's psyche comes alive in "Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters," a new release from Chronicle Books celebrating ads for beyond-the-pale films from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Guiding readers by the popcorn-clutching hand, the book comes on like a car wreck with a look-if-you-dare attitude. It's the work of Jacques Boyreau, whose archive, Cosmic Hex, contains hundreds of films and thousands of movie posters from which "Trash" is drawn.

Co-founder of San Francisco's Werepad, an underground "cinema space and cosmic lounge," Boyreau has been a serious collector for 10 years. He believes the glory days of movie art faded away decades ago.

"A-list movies have helped themselves to the tricks of exploitation, but what they've not helped themselves to is the graphic [guts] of the design. Hollywood is just bursting with creativity. But I hardly ever see anything in poster art today that's more than a glorified head shot. In terms of text, the sledgehammer is still operative, but I miss the graphics. It's like Hitchcock title sequences--that's a graphic wonderland I just don't see anymore."

Heavy-duty studio marketing kills visual creativity, Boyreau said. "I knew a guy who was in on the 'GoodFellas' posters. He said it's a committee making totally innocuous art--do we need 100 people to make it as bland as it is? It's lame. I call it the gulags of market research."

"Trash," which was released last month and has sold out its first printing of 12,000, attempts to bring back some of the visual sizzle that Boyreau has missed since his fascination with celluloid began.

"I was lucky. I had a cool dad and he took me to rep houses around Chicago," he recalls. So, before I was 10 I had seen everything from 'The Wild Bunch' to 'On the Waterfront,' 'The Treasure of Sierra Madre' and 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.' I didn't see them on TV but in all their big-screen glory."

Boyreau's father, who was French, instilled in his son a love of all films. But there's a special dark, dank little spot in Boyreau's heart for those twisted, offbeat, sexy, violent, over-the-top exploitation flicks. "Growing up in Chicago, I got the real McCoy in the last of the exploitation grind houses," Boyreau said. A sneak preview of "Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold," starring Tamara Dobson and Stella Stevens, was inspirational.

"It made an impression," he said solemnly.

A visual cornucopia of cheese and sleaze oozes over the pages of "Trash." It's a riot of color and a variety of styles, from slick studio stills to op-art, clip art, psychedelia, cartoon, fantasy and sci-fi images. Show-stopping taglines match the eye candy:

"Black Cobra": How much snake can one woman take?

"The Thing With Two Heads": They transplanted a white bigot's head onto a soul brother's body! The doctor blew it.

"Shaft in Africa": The brotherman in the motherland.

A poster from "Deliverance" tucks in alongside other more "legit" films such as "Panic in Needle Park," "The Omega Man," "Black Like Me," "The President's Analyst," "Mad Max" and "Escape From New York." Boyreau decided to include those titles because of subject matter and how the posters sold the movies.

"It's exciting to bring in so-called 'legit,' " Boyreau said. " 'Deliverance' is about two grotesque mountain men raping Ned Beatty and the guys getting arrows shot through them. It's the most seminal redneck psycho rampage movie, and so many movies have taken their lead from the film--like 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'Walking Tall.' "

Chapters in the book sort the rubbish into convenient recycling containers: sex trash, action trash, horror trash, groovy trash, race trash and docu trash.

Some of the posters, kept lovingly for years by Boyreau and friends, show white creases where they have been carefully folded.

"An reviewer who seemed like a super, Uber nerd collector said, 'They're not in mint condition,' and yes, technically speaking, they've been around the block," Boyreau said. "We're into breaking them out of the museum prison. Our approach is they should be circulating and these folds are the wrinkles of time. I think it's a nice touch. There's a utilitarian quality to exploitation posters that we want to preserve and wallow in."

Wallow fittingly describes the feeling of flipping through "Trash." It's a funky flashback for anyone who lived through these decades, a scrapbook chronicling the careers of once big and now often forgotten actors such as Senta Berger, Richard Roundtree, Adrienne Barbeau, Marjoe Gortner, Nancy Kwan, Tisa Farrow, Nastassja Kinski, Tony Franciosa, Michael J. Pollard, Susan Saint James, Telly Savalas, Tom Laughlin, Chuck Connors, Elke Sommer and the queen of the '70s movie, Karen Black.

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