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Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde (2000) - Joan Hawkins

Parents: art horror - film

Related: Joan Hawkins - 2000

Joan Hawkins's study of "art-horror" focuses upon the historical intersections of "art" and "horror" discourses and audiences. Hawkins is thus interested in an interrogation of aesthetic criteria aimed at exposing the fragility of distinctions such as "high" versus "low" culture, or the "avant-garde" versus "horror" as a genre. The book examines specific instances of "art-horror" and thus examines the ways in which horror and art-house or avant-garde cinemas overlap and interpenetrate. The resulting study is one which significantly addresses issues of generic mutability and shifts in cultural value. --Matthew Hills, http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/journal/bookrev/cutting-edge.htm [Nov 2005]

Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde (2000) - Joan Hawkins [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


In Cutting Edge, Joan Hawkins offers a long overdue and highly provocative discussion of the subversive boundaries between “trash aesthetics”, “body-genres” and “avant-garde” practices of post-war “paracinema” culture. Focussing upon traditionally contentious distinctions between high and low culture, Hawkins makes a number of insightful observations that demonstrate the radical implications of both “low body-cultures” and avant-garde art cinema in “challenging the formally constructed notion of mainstream good taste” (p.30). Her “composite body-text of horrors” (p.169) explores the common themes, tropes and imagery that are characteristic of both exploitation and art cinema, but which have a tendency to privilege ideas of a “high” culture that is vehemently protected from the types of moral and social critique commonly directed towards the “low”. -- Robin Griffiths via http://www.cult-media.com/issue2/Rgriff.htm [Mar 2005]

[...] In her important and timely book, Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (2000), Joan Hawkins persuasively argues that "paracinema" fanzines and mail-order companies like the ones listed above "challenge many of our continuing assumptions about the binary opposition of prestige cinema…and popular culture," highlighting through their categories, selections, and reviews "an aspect of art cinema generally overlooked or repressed in cultural analysis; namely, the degree to which high culture trades on the same images, tropes, and themes that characterize low culture."

Hawkins goes on to claim that "paracinema consumption can be understood…as American art cinema consumption has often been understood, as a reaction against the hegemonic and normatizing practices of mainstream, dominant Hollywood consumption" (7). The trouble with Hawkins' argument is that, even while problematizing the opposition between art cinema and the so-called "trash" film, she effectively recasts it in terms of an ideological and equally misleading dichotomy between Hollywood and non-Hollywood filmmaking practices (whether alternative, experimental, "underground," or simply foreign). As recent scholarship has endeavored to show, however, the relationship between Hollywood and its various "Others" is every bit as complex, evolving, and mutually influential as that between trash (cult, "psychotronic," etc.) filmmaking and the cinematic avant-garde.[...] --Steven Jay Schneider, http://members.bellatlantic.net/~sschneid/HI.htm

Cutting Edge investigates the differences/relationships between avant-garde cinema and exploitation (what she terms as 'paracinema') - how viewers of both types tend to divorce themselves from mainstream cinema. The difference between the two types of cinema is that though both tend to use shocking material to explore certain themes whilst attempting to jolt the viewer out of complacency, 'paracinema' maintains a more ironical distance. The films used to illustrate this hypothesis are interesting choices. George Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face is used in a lengthy chapter as an example of a horror film that has transcended its origins to become a respected art house film. An equal amount of space is given to Jess Franco's Gritos en La Noche and Faceless (1988), both as examples of the how Franco approaches the material in a different way. Other examples explored in depth are Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, an exploitation film whose genesis was in the avant-garde scene, and Tod Browning's Freaks, a horror which has once again been appropriated by the avant-garde. But most fascinating for me however was a detailed description of Yoko Ono's RAPE. It was meant to be an allegory of the media's "rape" of Lennon, McCartney and the rest of the Beatles and their wives/families, though it raises some interesting points about the nature of spectator/victim in the role of cinema, a la Peeping Tom. Is this "art" or "exploitation". Undeniably it's the latter, BUT the film was never released commerically into cinemas, just a few specialist screenings for an "art" market. The author contrasts this film with snuff, a fake film which masquerades itself as reality. --A reader for amazon.com

Even before Jean-Luc Godard and other members of the French New Wave championed Hollywood B movies, aesthetes and cineasts relished the raw emotions of genre films. This contradiction has been particularly true of horror cinema, in which the same images and themes found in exploitation and splatter movies are also found in avant-garde and experimental films, blurring boundaries of taste and calling into question traditional distinctions between high and low culture.

In Cutting Edge, Joan Hawkins offers an original and provocative discussion of taste, trash aesthetics, and avant-garde culture of the 1960s and 1970s to reveal horror's subversiveness as a genre. In her treatment of what she terms "art-horror" films, Hawkins examines home viewing, video collection catalogs, and fanzines for insights into what draws audiences to transgressive films. Cutting Edge provides the first extended political critique of Yoko Ono's rarely seen Rape and shows how a film such as Franju's Eyes without a Face can work simultaneously as an art, political, and splatter film. The rediscovery of Tod Browning's Freaks as an art film, the "eurotrash" cinema of Jess Franco, camp cults like the one around Maria Montez, and the "cross-over" reception of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein are all studied for what they reveal about cultural hierarchies.

Looking at the low aspects of high culture and the high aspects of low culture, Hawkins scrutinizes the privilege habitually accorded "high" art-a tendency, she argues, that lets highbrow culture off the hook and removes it from the kinds of ethical and critical social discussions that have plagued horror and porn. Full of unexpected insights, Cutting Edge calls for a rethinking of high/low distinctions-and a reassigning of labels at the video store. --William Gawronski, amazon.com

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