Spring Breakers, Drive, and the Modern Artsy Exploitation Film

Spring Breakers, Drive, and the Modern Artsy Exploitation Film

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Exploitation films are about ‘exploiting’ a niche, or current trending genre for money. They are fun, usually low budget, and have explicit subject matter i.e. violence, sex, nudity. You know, the fun stuff.

And one of the most important things that exploitation films have in common is the ‘unofficial trend’ to have low morals, and artistic merit. They’re fun. They’re made to entertain. They’re the potato chips of movies. Let’s blow shit up!

Though, there seems to be a modern trend to take the ‘exploiting’ out of this unofficial subgenre, and instead warp it into ‘cinema.’ To see this new trend we should ask, what are exploitation films?

Well, in the 1950’s TV was on the rise, and caused a huge dent into the theater business. (Where most money came back in the day, thus the reason there is an emphasis on box office numbers.) So studios created B-picture to bring audience niche films. A few are now viewed as ‘classics’ such as Casablanca, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This was also the time of the Drive-In movie theaters was popularized. The reason is because after World War II there was a huge influx of soldiers that began purchasing homes in the suburbs, and thus Drive-Ins were a cheap way to bring cinema to people that were too far from town. This is why we know the name James Dean; he was a star for the juvenile delinquency genre that was created for the niche ‘teen market‘.

This trend continued on with spaghetti westerns, low budget horrors, and B-Sci-Films. (Star Wars was seen as B-Movie upon its creation, and the reason why the studio gave George Lucas the rights to films merchandise. Eventually this made him in to a millionaire.) This continued into the sixties, and seventies, with a relaxation of taboo topics film turned out bloody, sexy films for people to enjoy.

Drive poster - Filmyr

Source: Ken Taylor

The modern exploitation movie differs. The reason? Modern filmmakers grew up seeing B-Movies. They’re educated on exploitations films. The sex, the violence, the ‘cool’ factor. Though they’ve decided to take something that’s simply entertainment and have tried to add meaning. If you’ve seen Drive you feel an 80’s vibe, from the music, to the credits of the opening scene. The film opens on a driver and his quick getaway from a couple cops. It’s fast, fun, and fools you into believing that you’re in for a treat. Though it quickly turns sour. The film focuses on a subtle, slow-paced, character evaluation. The problem is that there is no strong character. Why? Because the film has fun written all over, and thus lack a three-dimensional character. This isn’t bad. It just doesn’t work well with a juxtaposition of artsy ‘cinema’ against fun.

Spring Breakers poster - FilmyrAnother film that failed to meet the legend it created for itself is Spring Breakers. It looks like the perfect Spring Break film. The film contains hot girls, some of who are former Disney clean-cut stars, combined with neon masks and big guns. The buzz around the film was massive, a studio’s marketing wet dream. The director/screenwriter Harmony Korine made the film, as he stated, ‘to make-up for his lack of spring breaks growing up.’ The film reeks of a kid’s fantasy of going on spring break. The film was actually shot during spring break, and extras were cast from actual spring breakers in Florida and this create the buzz that spread into Instagram, and the college demographic.

The film’s opening scene is set against a Skrillex tune combined with topless women, and students partying, and drinking on a beach. The film feels like a perfect combination, but sadly creates a wet mush of a film. Harmony’s desire to add meaning to his film is applaud worthy, if he was creating an Oscar contender. Though he understands he isn’t and thus creates something that alienates all viewers, critics despise it because of the blatant sexuality, and the audience feels betrayed because it lacks the ‘fun’ of an exploitation film. There is almost no story, a cornerstone of the exploitation film, but at the same refuses to add bloody, or even sexy, filled scenes. People don’t remember Scarface for its ‘commentary’ on society, no, people remember for the fun lines like, “Say hello to my little friend.” It’s fun. It’s stupid. And it’s worth watching over and over again. Don’t believe me? Well they even had a ‘swear-along’ not too long ago.

The film business is also called the entertainment business, so, when someone takes the ‘fun’ out of a what is supposed to be a great film it creates something unrecognizable. My recommendation? Go see Hobo with A Shotgun. Now that film nailed the ‘exploitation’ genre.

What do you think about the rise of artsy exploitation films?

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