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B-Movie Mania Takes Over at the Wex

Hope Madden Hope Madden B-Movie Mania Takes Over at the Wex
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Who’s ready for a hot, lurid summer? Maybe a trip to a more transgressive Hollywood?

The Wexner Center for the Arts has you in mind with their seasonal double series B-Movie Mania: A Low-Budget Summer.

Beginning this weekend and running through the end of August, the Wex celebrates those maverick and rogue filmmakers of the 1930s whose fringe existence allowed them to take advantage of restrictions the newly enforced Motion Picture Production Code placed on the big studios.

Why this particular brand of nostalgia this summer? According to David Filipi, director of the Wex’s film/video department, it’s kind of a throwback to the film center’s own campy past. He says the Wex used to regularly run B-movie films throughout the summer months. 

“They used to be really popular and people looked forward to the next incarnation,” he recalls. In looking into options for summer programming, he realized there were two different brief programs fitting the bill that were available.

“All the sudden something clicked,” Filipi says. “What if we make it a big B-movie summer and join these two series?”

This Friday, July 5, the first of the two programs in the series, Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Pictures, drops the first of its unseemly clusters of Hollywood’s lowest-rung films. Boasting exploitation titles such as Sex Madness, Test Tube Babies, and She Shoulda Said “No”!, each film in the series is screened in new restorations.

“Forbidden Fruit month is more lurid,” says Filipi. “The films of Forbidden Fruit were much more exploitative. The people who put these films together were not filmmakers, they were business men. I was going to say business people, but they were business men.”

Filipi says those producing these particular films were more interested in taking advantage of a demand caused by the new code than they were in any kind of artistic merit.

“When the production code started to be enforced in 1934, all the sudden the things that were a little bit more on the fringes in Hollywood films were no longer being presented in any way: sex, drug use, more extreme violence,” he says. “These guys were totally opportunists. They made these films that purported to have some educational value or to be presenting information about health or a warning of the dangers of drug use. In fact, they were just a shell for getting away with showing glimpses of nudity, to show drug use, to show violence.”

The art center follows this program with Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch: Poverty Row Films Preserved at UCLA, premiering in August. The second program focuses on a more artistic output of low-budget films that pushed the envelope without sacrificing quality. This series precedes each of the films in the double features with cartoons of the era.

“I’m especially interested in the Poverty Row production history,” Filipi says of the second program.

“The Poverty Row films were all made by legitimate studios in Hollywood, they were just the lower budget studios — Republic, Monogram — studios that made films that were consumed in normal movie theaters, but in smaller towns,” he explains. “Westerns, low budget crime films, things like that. But the content was pushing the boundaries a little bit more than what MGM was making or Warner Brothers were making. They were getting legitimate film professionals making these films. Either actors or actresses on their way up or on their way down.”

Filipi thinks the summer months are a perfect fit for the dual program.

“We tend to try to find things during the summer that are a little bit more accessible,” he says. “These B-movies have always been pretty popular with our audiences. There’s a lot for people to like when you look at these two series combined. They both have their different appeals, but I think they are quite different appeals.”

The differences?

“Forbidden Fruit, it’s like a side show,” he says. “You know what you’re getting into: camp value. There’s surprise, maybe even shock that these films were made.”

“The films of Gower Gulch are a little bit more of a conventional moviegoing experience,” according to Filipi. “But they yield all kinds of really interesting things cinematically.”

Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Pictures runs July 5 – 25.

Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch: Poverty Row Films Preserved at UCLA takes over August 1-15.

For the full line up and ticket information, visit wexarts.org.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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