Collaboration | Lecture [5A] Film and Quality Part 1: B-Movies
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (1956)'
With the emergence of big studios during the 'The Golden Age of Hollywood', from the 1920's-1930's, (RKO, MGM, Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros etc.), B-Movies arrived as a term used to describe lower budget films, churned out by the 'Big Five', as a means of survival. Often it allowed a constant cash flow, re-use of existing props to save money, staff to continue working and people to keep watching between A-Movie arrivals.
The term was coined in the early 1930's so to separate the two apart, with B-Movies often featuring in double bills, or/and as a supporting 'act' to the 'A Movies'.
In light of the Depression, they were often the affordable option, existing as a "cultural phenomenon" that sprung up in times of social/economical difficulty (springing up again for instance during the post-war emergence of 'drive-in' cinemas).
Nowadays, the term is often used when referring to both i- historical films of the 1930's-50's, that feature with low budgets, repetitive narrative formulas/cliches, and cheesy acting/dialogue, and ii- modern films that may or may not actively appropriate these recognisable styles, for purposes of humour/nostalgia.
For this post I wish to discuss one of the most arguably successful/classical examples of 'B Movie' within cinema; 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. It was first featured as a "quintessential, black and white B-picture", in 1956 by American director Don Siegel. Offering audiences an easily digestible plot, recognisable stock characters and typically cheesy and romantic dialogue (Becky- "I'm not the high-school kid you used to romance. How could you tell?", Miles- "You really want to know?", Becky-"Hmm, hmm. (nods). ~Cue predictably romantic moment~ "You're Becky Driscoll." and:
Becky- "Is this an example of your bedside manner, Doctor?". Miles- "No ma'am. That comes later.")
The characters are typical of this time period, with the main protagonist- Doctor Matthew Bennel being the smart and charismatic 'American gentleman' ("Ma'am"), with a smooth voice, and assertive in character; and his romantic interest Becky Driscoll, embodying the typical Hollywood glamourous love interest, who seeks comfort from a 'strong male figure', (Becky-"Miles, I don't care what Dr. Kauffman says. I'm worried", Miles- "You are in the capable hands of your personal physician").
These traditional representations (even if inaccurate, and degrading at times) allow for familiarity, and relatability- in times of uncontrollable stress and conflict.
Having been released during 1950's America, there is now some discussion as to whether the looming fear of communism (spreading across the globe and seemingly affecting 'allies'), rests at the heart of the film. The paranoia evident in the character's homes mirrors a similar paranoia towards a "deranged ideology taking over our neighbours and loved ones'". Both of which was seen "transforming them [the allies] into aliens who want to destroy our [the American's] way of life".
American's likened communism to something 'alien' (i.e something "belonging to a foreign country"), not so much in space, but rather just next door. A fear that exists predominately more, in ones head, than the external world around them.
Featuring with a lower budget, ($417,000 approx), there's little to no special effects, monsters (only a few plant-like pods), no deaths etc, and limited violence.... 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' works instead at enforcing paranoia and psychological fear by means of doubt.
Five redeeming qualities of the film include:1- The emphasis on psychological fear, in absence of a larger budget, actually works at building tension and paranoia for the audience. With little to no evidence of people not being who they say they are, and the more 'realistic' filming means it's more relatable, and tense (as we're unable to tell who's who ourselves, and more imaginable to happen in 'real life').
2- As argued by Philip French (2003), B-movies may re-tread existing ideas, and plots (often giving way to cliché dialogue and predictable circumstances), but in their own way, they undoubtedly have "an unpretentious, sometimes camp, charm". When they are laughably bad they are entertaining, and when they're good they are a unique step away from the mainstream.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' is an easy watch, and appeals well to the 1950's American psyche/needs of the time. Stepping away from A-movie themes, and tackling an arguably conceptual theme around conformity, though this takes the form of typical, 'alien-life'.
3- Though at times long forgotten, 'B-Movies' were undoubtedly a constant presence in American culture, allowing for moments of relatability, and/or escapism from the reality of the Depression, and war-torn life. It became an important part of history in American's cinematic history, and its culture.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' came during a time of paranoia towards communism. In that regard it struck a cord with movie-goers, and allowed for a critique in film that may only have been allowed in less know, B-Movie context.
4- It's quick to entertain and fulfil viewer's needs. Something a source of reliable comfort, again in times of conflict.
5- The actors/actresses aren't bad at acting, and the story itself is quite entertaining. The fact it tackles with the general theme of conformity, also means it's still relatable in some way, 60 years on.
Fig. 1 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers Poster', (2014), [Poster]. Available at: https://stoptrophyhuntingnow.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/posters-02-invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-1956.jpg [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Dirks, Tim (No Date), 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)', [Online]. Available at: http://www.filmsite.org/inva.html [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Duane, Martin L. (2005), 'What Exactly is a B-Movie?', [Online]. Available at: http://www.bmoviecentral.com/bmc/bmc-articles/145-what-exactly-is-a-b-movie.html [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
French, Philip (2003), 'Low- budget dross and brillance', [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/apr/27/features.review2 [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Heallon, Karla (2010), 'A History of the American B-movie: The Beginning of the B', [Online]. Available at: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/15547/a-history-of-the-american-b-movie-the-beginning-of-the-b [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
'IMDb', (No Date), 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', [Online]. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049366/?ref_=tt_rec_tti [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Newman, Kim (2000), 'EMPIRE ESSAY: Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers Review', [Online]. Available at: https://www.empireonline.com/movies/empire-essay-invasion-bodysnatchers/review/ [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]Robey, Tim (2014), 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), review', [Online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11198302/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-film-review-tim-robey.html [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Saporito, Jeff (2016), 'Q: Was "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" intended as political allegory?', [Online]. Available at: http://screenprism.com/insights/article/was-invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-intended-as-political-allegory [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
'Shodhganga', (No Date), 'Chapter - III: Representation of Women's Identity in Hollywood', [Online]. Available at: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/22634/9/09_chapter_3.pdf [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Stock, Francine (2015), 'Women and Hollywood', [Online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/bdfb8bb8-6da3-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]
Tyler, Kieron (2014), 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', [Online]. Available at: http://www.theartsdesk.com/film/invasion-body-snatchers [Accessed Date: 15/12/2017]