Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trash Talk: Susan George Ooh La La's Herself Around the Giddy Exploitative Motifs of Pete Walker's Fun Die Screaming, Marianne

Hello there kids. It's time to talk some trash. Some cinematic trash. Some great and thoroughly enjoyable cinematic trash. When a film, after already spending an almost ten minute long prologue fixated on the scantily-garbed protagonist, the titular screaming Marianne, running from the bed she shared with a hapless sailor who, like a post-coitus satisfied puppy, happily goes along with the masters-at-arms when he is arrested for going awol, to the speeding sports car of a stranger, has an opening credit sequence involving star Susan George, now dressed in nothing but an appropriately alluring string bikini, gogo dancing to Kathe Green's haunting song, Marianne, you know you have hit the veritable jackpot of any self-respecting expoitation/grindhouse junky, such as I. In fact, it is the kind of film that, when you look at the newly released blu-ray case (wonderfully done by Kino Lorber's Redemption label, but more on that a bit later), you are surprised to not find the words "Quentin Tarantino Presents" scrawled across the top. Trash cinema, indeed.

Okay, okay, maybe everyone isn't as into this style of filmmaking as QT and I are, but really, even those unfamiliar with such "low brow" art as this, would probably, at the very least, get a kick out of Die Screaming, Marianne. Right? Okay, probably not, but for those horror/thriller fans, those Pete Walker fans, those denizens of the dark cellars of underground cinema, this is truly a great joy to watch. The needless running about of beautiful women, flauntin' what god gave 'em; the cheap language and, let's face it, pretty awful dialogue and acting; the giddy split-screening moments; the swelling music and genre-specific luridness. All of it equates to, not art cinema, not mainstream cinema, but the trash of the film world. But oh darlin', what fun and alluring trash it is. And yes, as I am a shining example of, one can like the so-called higher art of cinema - you know, the canonical stuff that always makes those greatest films list (many of which adorn my own favourites list) - and still get the biggest kick out of what many (myself, oh so obviously included) would call trash cinema. Fun and enjoyable trash cinema, indeed.

Pauline Kael, a critic from whom a generation of acolytic Paulettes, myself included, have been born, said of such things, "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." I don't know if I agree with such a statement, at least not fully, but it does have some merit indeed. Kael also spoke of such trashy ideas, when she wrote, "When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable." Again, not something I would totally stand behind - I like Citizen Kane as much as the next film snob - but one sees where she is going with such talk. The staid academic flavour of an Antonioni or a Tarkovsky, even if they are creating solid pieces of cinema, or the pedestrian manner of all those high-falutin' arthouse pics that try to be something they just are not, the kind of films that the enfants terribles of the Nouvelle Vague were rebelling against, or the achingly middle-of-the-road fodder that spews forth from Hollywood at a ratio of about 100 to 1 against that auspicious creature, that rare mainstream work of art. All of these beasts can make way any day, for what Kael calls trash cinema. Sure, it is great to play the cinematic intellectual - and god knows I can play the film snob with the best of 'em - but it is just as fun to wallow in the so-called trash of the film world, and even though visually, Die Screaming, Marianne is quite the work (can a film this obscure be this influential, or is it just that this film is influenced by  the obvious usual suspects), it surely is pure trash cinema - and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

But enough of this trash talk (see what I did there), let's move on to exactly what all this trash is about, shall we? Die Screaming, Marianne was the third of what would eventually be fifteen films, by English writer/director Pete Walker. Walker specialized in horror and exploitation films throughout his career, and even amongst that crowd, which included such directors as Mario Bava and Jess Franco, he was one of the lesser known quantities. Never getting much respect at all, often derided by contemporary critics, Walker made movies for the sheer fun of it. The filmmaker is credited as having said, "I was the uninvited guest to the British film industry. Nobody wanted to know me. I knew I wanted to make films, but I would see these serious-looking guys going around with scripts under their arm, spending three or four years trying to get their films made. I couldn't be like that - I had to make a living and I wanted to get behind a camera and shout "action". So I would go out and shoot something like School for Sex - God, that was a terrible film - and a few weeks later every cinema in the country would be showing it." Walker would kind of denounce his own self-criticism later by saying, "But recently I had to record commentary for the DVD releases, so I saw the films for the first time since making them, and you know what? They're not as bad as I thought. But searching for hidden meaning . . . they were just films. All I wanted to do was create a bit of mischief." Granted, Die Screaming, Marianne is the first, and so far only, Pete Walker film this critic has seen, but it is more than enough of a whistle-wetting, to make me search out the director's other works.

The basic gist of the film, is this: twenty year old Marianne is first seen running from the hoodlums sent after her by her sadistic ex-judge father. We find out that upon Marianne's mothers disappearance/death, the young girl was given the number to a Swiss bank account that held several hundred thousand dollars, as well as papers that would put her father away for life.  And all this will be hers upon her twenty-first birthday. Of course, her evil dad, and even more evil half sister, want that number, and will do anything to get it. There is a lot more twisting and turning in the film, but this is the basic storyline. Full of sex, violence, torture, and even a hint of incest thrown in for good measure, Die Screaming, Marianne, is a perfect example of the great trash that Kael spoke so fondly of. Influenced, judging from the artistry of Walker's style here, by the Italian Giallo genre, it is far from a great film - one may be able to associate his love of cheap cinema with someone like Ed Wood, but his talent, at least judging from this one film, is far superior - it is however quite a lot of fun, and actually, as I just more than alluded to, quite artistic in its style, camerawork and overall mood, but the thing that makes the film go splash-and-a-half, is the aforementioned screaming mimi in a string bikini, Miss Susan George. 

The film was made and released in 1971, the very pinnacle of George's rather brief rise to the upper echelon of acting. Out around the same time as Sam Peckinpah's subversive yet  influential Straw Dogs, George was the very epitome of raw sexual desire, and directors used that to their best advantage. George would only make a handful of films of any note (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and the oft-overlooked Mandingo among them), and would eventually semi-retire from the movies, doing the occasional British TV show, and raise Arabian horses on her stud farm, but that raw sexuality, even if it was inside someone who really was never the greatest of thespians, is more than enough to get the home town thugs of Straw Dogs all riled up, and it is most certainly enough also to get pretty much everyone, even a father, in a tizzy right here in Die Screaming, Marianne. But truly, the film is a fun creature indeed, and its new release on blu-ray, via Kino Lorber's enigmatic Redemption label (see, I told you I was going to get back to this in a bit) is a godsend for any genre fans out there.  As clean and as crisp as one can expect from such a low budget, and let's face it, mostly ignored, and therefore probably not cared for like a classic film would and should be, the bluray transfer is quite good. It really is a rather intriguing piece of work from Pete Walker, and I cannot wait to check out his other work. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


  1. I know people who refer to trashy movies as guilty pleasures. I don't feel guilty...

  2. It might be up there with "Kill Pussy Cat, Kill, Kill" I love these trashy flicks. It is hard to find them now

  3. Fox - I feel no guilt whatsoever over anything that I like. A few months back, I posted something called "My (Guitless) Guilty Pleasures," where I included such films as Land of the Pharaohs, Myra Breckenridge, and Valley of the Dolls. So no guilt, baby!

    B - I think you may have put one two many Kills into your movie title. But yeah, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a fun film. Got to see that one on the big screen a few years back. Heck, I saw this film on the big screen as well. That's the one big thing I miss from when I ran Midtown Cinema for five years - watching my DVD's and blurays on the big screen before and/or after hours.

    Thanx for stopping by guys. See ya 'round the web.

    1. I saw this so many years ago that, yes, I was trying to recall the title by memory. Thanks for the correction and hopefully, one day, I can see it again