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Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
Schlock The Secret History of American Movies
Actors: Forrest J Ackerman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, David F. Friedman
Director: Ray Greene
Genres: Documentary
NR     2003     1hr 29min

In the tradition of A Decade Under The Influence Schlock: The Secret History Of American Movies surveys one of the most fertile yet underappreciated eras of American cinema: the 1950s and '60s. During this period a talente...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Forrest J Ackerman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, David F. Friedman
Director: Ray Greene
Creators: Sean Peacock, Daniel Hsu Accomando, Wade Major
Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Studio: Pathfinder Home Ent.
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 12/02/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 00/00/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 29min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Not what it seems
Mike Patrick, professor of media | 03/07/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Man, I hate giving a lousy review to a movie that's gotten a lot of good ones, because now everyone's gonna write in to argue it with me.

But here's the thing: "Schlock!" begins promising, with brief scenes of movies like "Teenagers from Outer Space" and "The Fast and the Furious," and an interview with '50s TV horror movie host Vampira, but then takes an abrupt right-hand turn into nudism movies and burlesque, where it spends most of its time.

Now, I agree that the nudie film circuit has a fascinating history, and I'm all for watching clips of naked young women playing volleyball, even though they're all as old as my Grandma now. But my argument is they aren't really "schlock" movies -- at least not in the same sense that the teen exploitation and monster movies of the '50s and early '60s were. And even though the movie makes a strong argument that they're related, skin flicks and cheesy teen movies really are separate genres altogether.

In that regard, the movie doesn't live up to the promise of its title, and that's a shame. The filmmakers scored great interviews with industry giants like Roger Corman and monster mag publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, as well as "schlock" stars like Dick Miller and Vampira, but they only serve to make you wish there was much more of them. In fact, while the film shows several scenes of Vampira's appearance in "Plan 9 From Outer Space," it never even mentions the movie at all. And "Plan 9" is perhaps the king of all "schlock" movies!

Where was "Robot Monster," "Teenage Zombies" or "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla"? I could name a million "schlock" movies that "Schlock!" ignores altogether, in favor of its odd concentration on nudism movies, which, while titillating (heh-heh), don't really belong here.

Two stars from me, with the hope that the next filmmaker to make a "schlock" movie documentary knows what "schlock" really is."
Bad Girls Go To Hell Indeed
Doris Wishman Lives | Burbank, California | 04/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Do they let us contradict people on this site? Because I'm looking down the comments and I see one guy who is saying this movie misspells the word "SCHLOCK" (I'm Jewish, it's a yiddishism, and they spelled it correctly, "SCHLOCK," not "shlock" as this incorrect spellchecker viewer says it should be) and another guy who says that sexploitation movies aren't part of the "schlock" genre (this despite the fact that the most articulate interview subject in this movie -- an honest to God theoretician of the exploitation realm -- is David F. Friedman, a key figure in sexploitation).

I mean, c'mon, ask yourself, is Russ Meyer an exploitation moviemaker, is he a "schlock" auteur? Answer: Of course. So why wouldn't his sexploitation competitors, who are a part AND ONLY A PART of this movie also be considered "schlock" filmmakers? They should be, and in this movie they are.

Sam Arkoff and Roger Corman get half this movie's running time, which seemed like plenty to me, since so much more has been written and said about them than the Doris Wishmans of this world. Speaking of Doris: as an aspiring "bad girl" filmmaker, I gotta say, I found her absolutely inspirational. "Bad Girls Go To Hell" indeed!

I think the guy who was unwilling to admit that sexploitation movies are exploitation movies needs to watch this thing again, and more closely. He'll have a good time if he does to, and so will you, dear and gentle reader.

Wishman forever!"
Worlds of Revelation for the Unititated
Movie Iconoclast | Ventura, CA | 03/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's amusing to read down the reviews and see the usual angels on the head of a pin discussions about inclusion and exclusion that seem to always occur between schlock devotees, along with the justifiable praise this wickedly amusing documentary deserves. This stuff is all subjective, so I'll just state my opinion, which is that this movie is splendid and that the filmmakers got it pretty much exactly right in the balance they strike between teenage exploitation and the "adults only" variety -- I clocked it, and it works out to pretty much a 50/50 split, which is how it ought to be if you're focusing on the actual exploitation production and distribution patterns of the 60s and not the films like Corman's "Bucket of Blood" which have gone on to individual fame through constant TV airings.

There was a lot of crossover between the teen exploitation and sex exploitation worlds, and it could be argued that "SCHLOCK!" could do a better job of demonstrating this; for example, there is no discussion of the fact that Sam Arkoff's teenage-themed AIP handled films by sexploiteers Harry Novak and Doris Wishman, in Wishman's case under the "Hallmark" bannerhead, which was created for movies too offensive to run under the schlock AIP monniker! But by blending these two worlds, this documentary makes a point that needs to be made, which is that the teen exploitation filmmakers and the sex exploitation filmmakers were two sides of the same outsider coin, and sometimes their relationship was even closer than that shopworn analogy makes it seem.

Many latter day schlock fans get their opinion about the nature of this bizarre movie world from television, which celebrates the goopy monster pics of the Roger Cormans and Ed Woods on a regular basis but which has refused to show the equally public and popular adults only fare that packed in theatregoers back in the 60s, and so a lot of the hardcore fans don't realize that sexploitation was a parallell universe in a similar orbit on the other side of the generation gap, a point this film makes elegantly and persuasively. How many "Plan 9 From Outer Space Fans" realize that Ed Wood ended his career making "monster nudie" exploitation movies for cult sexploitation producer A.C. Stephens, for example? Without realizing it, the "official" schlock history neglects more than half the movies the exploitation filmmakers created. This documentary corrects for this problem, and so has a thing or two to tell even some of the more devoted schlock afficianados about what was what back in the day. The eyewitness testimonials of the actual filmmakers are priceless, and should settle the question as much as it's possible to do so.

The fact that these people nailed down what to my knowledge is the only serious interview cult icon Doris Wishman ever sat for would be reason enough to buy this pic -- the terrific interviews with David Friedman and Sam Arkoff among others make this a must have too. I wished this movie was longer, and was going to give it four stars as a result, but I decided that if that's your worst criticism, maybe that's not a criticism after all."
A documentary on the rise and fall of the Exploitation films
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/19/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary written, directed and edited by Ray Greene features clips of independent movies made in the 1950s and 1960s at the height (relatively speaking) of exploitation movies in the United States. Along with the clips, "Schlock! The Secret History of the American Movies" has interviews with the people who made these movies. You should recognize at least some of what whizzes by here (e.g., "Nude on the Moon," "Carnival of Soul"") and if you have any familiarity with the genre you will recognize lots of names. Just be disappointed when one of these movies catches your fancy and then you discover it is not available on video or DVD.

This 2001 documentary begins by asking, "What is an exploitation movie?" An easy answer is not forthcoming, but you certainly will understand the evolution of the genre over the quarter-century in which it thrived. Greene finds the genesis of exploitation in the discovery that teenagers comprised an economic market distinct from the rather broad category of "children." I am not sure if I would privilege the arrival of Vampira on the scene as highly as Greene does, but you have to admit she makes a pretty good poster girl for the movies under discussion. Actually, the youth oriented films (e.g., "I Was a Teenage Werewolf") get rather short shift in "Part I: The Fast and the Furious," although it does introduce Roger Corman's work at A.I.P. and explores the idea that there are examples of exploitation films that might actually be meaningful (not that their creators are aware of such depth). There is also an emphasis on the idea that with exploitation movies it is how you sell these things that matters more than whether or not they are any good (because they usually are not).

Court rulings on obscenity set up "Part II: Sinema," which is the most interesting part of the documentary because Greene shows how the industry got from sex films dealing with the miracle of birth and "hygiene" issues, to the nudist camp films of Doris Wishman, to the Nudie Cuties and the films of Harry Novak. Once exploitation films go "Across the Great Divide" in Part III, and we get to the emphasis on blood and gore that has an impact on the sexploitation films and we get to what are called the Roughies. So if you are not interested in sexploitation you are going to be disappointed with "Schlock!" because this is where Greene is able to make his best academic arguments. Really. You can only look at so many naked women and Greene's analysis and the interview clips with Wishman and Novak are a lot more interesting.

The final section returns Corman to see what he was up to in the 1960s and looks at how what was happening at the end of the decade with the ratings system and "Midnight Cowboy" ended up sounding the death knell for exploitation flicks. The concluding argument is that today ALL movies are examples of exploitation, and during the end credits while we watch people walk by a poster for "Godzilla" ("Size does matter"), which reinforces the idea that today all movies are "exploitation" by definition. It is interesting to see these filmmakers point out that today movies have their best days and weeks when they open, which was the trademark of exploitation films in their heyday, versus the way movies from major studios would build momentum over time.

In terms of DVD extra we begin with behind the scenes footage with sexploiters Harry Novak (takes us on a tour of his office), Dorish Wishman (interview outtakes), and David F. Friedman (demonstrating a typical "sex hygiene" book pitch). Then Greene talks about "Sci-Fi: Science and Symbols" in a short clip for a television documentary and we have the short, "The Atom and Eve," a surreal industrial film from the early 1960s produced by the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, which uses buxom dancer Leslie Franzos to sell nuclear power (as Greene wryly notes in the card introducing this one, "Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder").

For Audio extras there is a KPCC Radio interview with Greene, the songs "Your One and Only Original Lizard Brain" and "Under the Rug," the latter by Johnny English, who wrote the soundtrack music and liked it enough to add lyrics and make it a song. For that matter, you can listen to the entire soundtrack. There is a exploitation art gallery (most of which pops up in the documentary), credits for the filmmakers and also credits for the talking heads from Forrest J. Ackerman to Doris Wishman (which Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman and Maila Nurmi a.k.a. Vampira in between). You will also find an audio commentary track with Greene, co-producer Wade Major and special guests that really does continue to explore the topics broached in the documentary."