Today’s trash day in my neighborhood. I suspect I’m not alone in having a soft spot for bad movies. Perhaps it’s because I don’t like to see things wasted. That, mingled in with my dislike of A-list culture where the people with all the advantages get all the notice. I appreciate those who struggle. Maybe that’s why I picked up Guy Barefoot’s Trash Cinema: The Lure of the Low. That, and because I’ve read other books in the Short Cuts series and found them intelligent and informative. And yet again, many horror movies are considered “trash”—indeed, Barefoot mentions quite a few of them—which makes me curious. You see, even back when I was a grad student it was still thought, among some, that film wasn’t sufficiently intellectual to justify academic treatment. The fact that media now dominates culture gives the lie to that assertion, especially since so many cerebral movies exist now.
In any case, Barefoot takes the subject seriously, using great care to define “trash.” Given that the series stipulates brief books, this isn’t a comprehensive treatment, but it has a big takeaway for me. Trash is simply what the majority of people don’t want. As our landfill crises show, it never really goes away. (We began composting when we bought our house, and the amount of trash dropped precipitously. Food scraps can also become something useful.) There are any number of reasons a producer or director might attempt trash—it’s quick and cheap, it shocks viewers, or it says something about our society. Yes, even trash can teach us about ourselves. Really, there’s a value to keeping things and trying to find the beauty where others see only garbage.
From my youngest days experiencing cinema (it was a rare treat then), I realized this was a powerful medium. I still remember movies I saw as a child, imperfectly no doubt, even today. And they still speak to me. Some of them are great and others were almost forgettable. Some are like gems while others seem like trash. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be watched, however. A great number of trash films have become cult classics. They may not reach the esteemed halls of academy award winners, but they are sometimes honest efforts without the money behind big studios. I tend to root for the underdog. Having said that, I haven’t seen most of the films discussed here. Another way of looking at it is that my wishlist has grown.