At the antipodes of what are considered unmissable movies and masterpieces are the B movies. But in some cases, over time, the value of some of these B films has been reassessed to cult status.
B movie: meaning
The term b movie comes from the English definition that film studios used to give to minor films that were a sort of continuation of a more expensive main film. Just like the B side of a record was to be heard after the main tracks, but that doesn’t mean it was of lower value.
How are B movies born?
The b-movie was born as a strategy to recycle sets, use cast actors still under contract when the shooting of the main film is finished, and exploit the materials of a film with a high cost to make one with a much lower cost. The b-movie was usually made in a few days, often in less than a week, and then screened in theaters along with the main film.
The goal was to show two films at the cost of a single ticket. Especially in provincial towns this was possible, and the audience was happy to see two shows instead of one. The b movie screened after the main film usually did not have its own advertising campaign, had no posters or press releases: it was only advertised at the last moment with the trailer. It was like an added bonus of the main movie show, the most expensive movie.
In this way, with the same investment, a film studio had the possibility of increasing revenues, sometimes doubling them. In some cases the b movies became higher-grossing than the main film. The history of cinema is full of b movies, especially produced by Hollywood majors in the 50s and 60s. From the 70s on b movies became a way of working for independent productions and film micro-enterprises that used a low budget to make genre films with a shamelessly commercial appeal.
In fact, the b movie differs considerably from a independent arthouse film low-costand often has little to do with art. The spirit of the b movie is to use low-level materials, unknown actors who come from the undergrowth of the world of cinema to create films that can be interesting for a wide audience.
The American B movie The American
B movie spread in the 1940s and 1950s genres the western, horror and sciencefiction.The leading actor, with a single contract and a single pay, played both the series A film and the series B. The use of the B movie i also spread to other genres: any genre could be suitable and the double show was a good success.
With the decrease in the rigidity of censorship in the 1960s, b-movies grew more and more, until they became a standalone genre with publicized releases such as Serie A films. Their contents were sometimes shamelessly violent and obscene, as in thegenre. grindhouse, which was distributed outside the large-scale distribution, in special events.
The advertising strategies of the grindhouse films became very effective, through the techniques of psychological saturation: catchphrases that bombard the public with slogans and trailers that hinted at the morbid content, until the curiosity to see the film became irresistible.
Another American phenomenon concerning ib movie is that of midnight screenings: horror films, special events dedicated to a younger audience who want to spend the night watching scary films with friends. Events that have led to extraordinary successes of small low-cost horror films, such as Halloween by John Carpenter, or the more recent The Blair Witch Project.
Martial arts films Bruce Lee’s, the so-called Hong Kong cinema, distributed first in the East and then released in the West, were also a notable success in the United States.
Roger Corman’s b movies
One of the American directors who was able to best interpret the logic of the b-movie is certainly Roger Corman. With tricks and special effects that are often grotesque and of low quality, Corman has been able to direct and produce films that have proved to be great commercial successes and works of good artistic value. Roger Corman’s filmography, both as a director and as a producer of series B films, is very long.
Another well-known exponent of the American b movie was Ed Wood, the director famous for having made some of the ugliest films in the history of cinema. The film Plan 9 from outer space, a classic of the science fiction-horror b movie, was released in theaters in 1959 but was ignored by critics, until, in 1978, two American critics called it the worst film of all time. , the film became incredibly popular. The insane plot of the film, a mess between zombies, vampires and UFOs, is actually particularly funny, and the film is one of the weirdest objects in the history of cinema that must be seen at least once in a lifetime.
In the United States, the phenomenon of series B films also involved the western. American westerns were conceived as low-cost commercial products without particularity artistic and creative inspiration. Their great success sparked the interest of the Italian film industry which produced well-known B-series western films such as Django and Unnamed man. From this group of small, unpretentious B-series films, however, one of the strands of the great Italian auteur cinema was born: the western by Sergio Leone.
In the 1980s the b-movie phenomenon began to decline. The American public was becoming more and more accustomed to spectacular films and large productions with special effects. However, the production of B Movie continued with the Home Video distribution. The producers of b-movies sold their products directly to chains such as Blockbuster, or to cable television stations that broadcast 24 hours a day and also needed products to fill the afternoon and night schedules.
In the 1990s, the cost of producing a film in the United States increased dramatically. The phenomenon of the American b movie was gradually replaced by independent films that preferred a more intellectual, arthouse and less commercial style. An independent cinema often also quotationist and Pulp like the Quentin Tarantino phenomenon, which exploded in those years with the low budget projects Le iene and Pulp Fiction.
With the arrival of digital technology and distribution on the internet , low-cost independent and genre films have multiplied: it is estimated that over 5,000 small low-budget films are produced each year in the world. Since the beginning of the 2000s the concept of B Movie has disappeared, replaced with that of an independent film, without a clear distinction between art films and commercial films.
The independent director of the new millennium In fact, he has at his disposal all the tools necessary to make a film with very few means, with the help of digital cameras that generate images of the highest quality comparable to 35 mm film, and non-linear editing software that allow a total control of video and sound. Some independent directors choose the path of genre films chasing commercial and professional success inspired by what works in large-scale cinema distribution.
Others use the possibility of making small low-cost films to create real works of art, also different from the previous conception of arthouse films. They are films that free themselves from the typical structure of the cinematographic product and the perception of entertainment to cross video art, philosophical reflection and poetry. Digital technology and underground distribution on the internet are today the most fertile ground for creating experimental films, in search of new ones avant-garde languages.
Italian B movies
Italian cinema of Series B at low cost has been prolific as the American one. From the erotic comedy “pecoreccia” of the 60s aimed at an audience in search of erotic excitement, up to detective genre the B-series defined as “poliziottesco”, where the policeman, executioner or anti-hero, fights to restore order in a violent city , usually Naples, Rome or Milan.
The sexy comedy performed by actors such as Lino Banfi, Renzo Montagnani and Alvaro Vitali, and by beautiful and young actresses such as Edwige Fenech, Barbara Bouchet, Lory Del Santo, Nadia Cassini, was made as a series of comic and bizarre gags, with an absurd flavor and grotesque. Although these films were made with an obsession to continually show the body of the leading actress, the quality of the actors and the writing made some of them truly hilarious, with a certain cinematic appeal.
In the B-series detective story, the contribution of the actor must certainly be remembered Tomas Milian in various serial roles, re-proposed in many films over the years,: from Inspector Giraldi, to the thieving proletariat of the Roman suburbs nicknamed “Er Monnezza” (the garbage man).
Another Italian phenomenon that filled cinemas in the 1980s was that of Pierino. Played by Alvaro Vitali, he was inspired by an Antonio Rubino comic book character, who in turn had inspired a countless series of popular jokes. Pierino is thirty years old but he is small both physically and psychologically, and still goes to school. He is always aroused by the attractive professors and other women he meets in his adventures, and he always tries to spy on them in their intimacy, while they undress, from the keyholes.
The series B films were making a lot of money and filling the cinemas. Someone then thought of making copies, that is, the B-side of the B-series film. Low-cost spaghetti westerns, detective films and sexy comedies multiplied with embarrassing imitations of successful characters.