Sunday, March 28, 2010

Finally, A Book On Jack Hill

Jack Hill is one of America's most interesting and creative filmmakers, though it's likely you haven't heard of him unless you're into stuff titled THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS. Although Hill hasn't directed a film since 1982's SORCERESS (which was cut by producer Roger Corman against Hill's will and may be the least "Hill-like" of his features), Scottish writer Calum Waddell's McFarland book about the man, JACK HILL: THE EXPLOITATION AND BLAXPLOITATION MASTER, FILM BY FILM, will give you a fresh look at his career and tell you where you should begin investigating his work.

Hill directed sixteen features between 1964 and 1982 and wrote a few more. Waddell covers them all in great depth, aided by Q&A sessions with Hill himself, whose remarkable memory for detail and unassuming manner are well known to those who have enjoyed his DVD commentary tracks.

Many of us Hill fans are well aware of the often fascinating production histories behind his more prominent features like his Pam Grier films COFFY and FOXY BROWN and the Quentin Tarantino favorite SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, but the juicy stuff here covers Hill's earlier work co-directing four Mexican horror films starring Boris Karloff (the horror master's last work) and a West German nudie called ME, A GROUPIE.

Waddell does a very good job describing the films (without wallowing in lengthy plot synopsies), providing pertinent background information, and occasionally giving us the points of view of those who worked on the films, including Hill's producing partner (and one-time girlfriend) Jane Schaffer and actresses Judy Brown (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE) and Joanne Nail (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), to name a few.

One niggling problem that runs through the book is Waddell's unease with the more politically incorrect material that runs through Hill's filmography. Drive-in pictures of the 1970s were usually filled with torture, rape, female nudity, and depraved violence. What made Hill such an interesting director is that he was able to integrate all these required ingredients (really, there's no way he would have been able to make these exploitation movies without including these elements), but add three-dimensional characters, political subtext, wit, style, and subversive humor. This is what made, for instance, pictures like THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE stand out above most of the grimy women-in-prison films that quickly followed in the wake of Hill's success. Waddell appears to be quite uncomfortable with these exploitative elements, and there is an amusement factor to reading the author's apologetic questions to Hill about the rapes or bare breasts that populate his films and the director's responses along the lines of "No, I'm not ashamed of it" or "I abhor political correctness" or "Because I thought it was funny." Perhaps Waddell is too young to remember a time when trashy movies weren't afraid to be trashy.

These speedbumps aside, outside of Hill's DVD commentaries (of which he has done ten that I know), JACK HILL: THE EXPLOITATION AND BLAXPLOITATION MASTER, FILM BY FILM is the finest chronicle of the director's career that I know of and is highly recommended.

1 comment:

AndyDecker said...

The success of movies like COFFY or FOXY BROWN is that they convey a impression of realism in their sets and sense of time which later Bs never could achieve. In this guys like Jack Hill were better directors than many of the Hollywood crowd.