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Conference Report: Cine-Excess XII Birmingham City University, 8-10 November 2018

Written by Adam Herron.

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Conference Report: Cine-Excess XII: I Know What You Starred in Last Summer: Global Perspectives on Cult Performance

Birmingham City University, 8-10 November 2018

This year’s Cine-Excess International Film Festival and Conference was foremost concerned with global traditions of cult performance, reflected by a diverse programme of panels and screenings held over the course of three days. This year, entering its twelfth consecutive year and third city (after previous years in London and Brighton), Cine-Excess was held at Birmingham City University. Conference organiser Xavier Mendik used his introduction speech to highlight how the event’s aims of combining theory and practice while providing a forum for debate between academics, industry professionals and fans have developed since last year. Two major successes raised at the conference start were the launch of BCU’s ‘Film Futures’ initiative, an array of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes with film theory integrated with opportunities for film production and business management, and future plans for the establishment of the Brian Yuzna Film Academy, a “new graduate horror film training academy”.

Panel Discussions

The first panel of the day, titled ‘Strained Roles: Performance Perspectives Inside and Beyond the Hollywood Machine’, saw Gabriela Zogall (University of Birmingham) discuss Snow White and the Huntsman, and Maleficent, arguing that contemporary developments of 4th wave feminism and the #MeToo movement have facilitated re-evaluation of the fairy-tale archetype of evil queen. Aleksandar Saša Dundjerović (Birmingham City University) presented findings from his research on film and theatre director Robert Lepage, using Le Confessional as a case study in temporality, memory, and the cult influence of Alfred Hitchcock upon the film’s themes. Applying Richard Dyer’s theory of star image onto the actor Doug Jones, best known for his portrayal of fantastical creatures in heavy prosthetics, Christopher Parr (University of Wolverhampton) proposed that whereas Jones is not a star in the conventional sense, his recognisable acting style has earned both cult appreciation and mainstream attention from films such as Hellboy and The Shape of Water.

The ‘Sex Performance, Sex Scandals’ panel began with John Mercer’s (Birmingham City University) paper “Acting Like A Man in Gay Porn”, forwarding a tripartite model of acting, performing, and being/behaving in order to analyse labour and performance in gay pornography. Darren Kerr (Southampton Solent University) explored the complexities of performance, celebrity and autoerotic asphyxiation, highlighting how the ‘Screening Sex’ project co-created with Donna Peberdy (Southampton Solent University) has aimed to spark renewed debate on attitudes toward sex and media inside and outside the academy. Oliver Carter (Birmingham City University) presented an overview of the British adult film economy from the 1960s to 2000s, when distribution faced added legal obstacles and was often an ad hoc industry operated out of garages and back rooms. Through an ethnohistorical approach synthesising archival material, original film prints, and oral histories, Carter’s work looks to give further critical attention to adult film history in Britain.

Day Two began with the panel ‘From Hero to Hysteric: Masculinity and Cult Performance’. Commencing with James Newton’s (University of Kent) engaging paper on the post-apocalyptic road movie, it was argued that between the original and remade versions of Mad Max, released in 1979 and 2015 respectively, a “culturally maligned” exploitation cycle using non-standard production techniques emerged in tandem with the video boom of the 1980s. Thomas Sweet (Independent Scholar) examined the camp excess of Nicolas Cage, negotiating the boundaries between critically acclaimed performances such as Leaving Las Vegas and cult favourites such as Vampire’s Kiss and The Wicker Man. Focusing on the performance of Mark Patton in Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and the film’s reappropriation as “the gayest horror film ever made”, Daniel Sheppard (University of East Anglia) used queer theory and textual analysis in order to unpack tensions between Patton’s insistence that his character of Jesse was gay and writer David Chaskin’s disavowal of this interpretation. Alex Fitch’s (University of Brighton) discussion of S. Craig Zahler considered the director’s representations of masculinity in the western, prison drama, and crime thriller, arguing that in Trump-era America, the consolidation of patriarchal and white supremacist values in his films is subject to appropriation by far right ideological groups.

The panel ‘Witchfinder General at 50’ began with Justin Smith’s (De Montfort University) analysis of Vincent Price’s cult performance as Matthew Hopkins, tracing his differing relationships with directors Roger Corman and Michael Reeves and the idiosyncrasies of his resultant performance styles. Adam Herron (University of East Anglia) considered the cult stardom of Vincent Price in East Anglia, advocating the methodologies of the New Cinema History to examine regional film histories, memories, and microhistorical avenues of enquiry. Ian Cooper’s (Independent Scholar) paper, titled “A Disreputable Classic”, emphasised the extent of the controversy surrounding Witchfinder General from the production phase to date, comparing its trajectory from bad object to piece of British film heritage to that of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.

The final day of the conference began with Antonio Terron-Barroso’s (University of Birmingham) case study of Penelope Cruz and her distinctive accent in Spanish co-productions, gauging the potential scope for quantitative analysis of Spanish cultural identity in her existing oeuvre. Julie Ripley (Falmouth University) explored intersections between gender, sexuality, and fashion in the Italian giallo film cycle, contesting ideas that fashion and feminism are incompatible while highlighting how filmic representations have perpetuated a culture of internalised misogyny, classism, and eating disorders within the world of haute couture. In a case study of the transnational mediation of Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Tamao Nakahara (Independent Scholar) discussed how creative differences and alternate crew members in the US and Italian cuts of the film resulted in two contrasting end-products. Xavier Mendik (Birmingham City University) presented findings on the career of Tomas Milian in Italian cult cinema, highlighting how elements of performative excess such as death spasms and facial contortions in his work may be understood within the context of the Anni di Piombo and anxieties about death and kidnappings during this period.

‘European Icons: Performance in National and Transnational Contexts’ began with Kirsten Adkins’ (University of Wolverhampton) paper on Diamond Reynolds and the dissemination of her image from social media to news reports to an ongoing art installation at Tate Britain projecting her portrait on celluloid. Charlotte Stevens (Birmingham City University) looked at the online subculture of fan vids, using a case study of Jodelle Ferland to highlight the pleasures of cult spectatorship beyond diegetic narratives. Finally, Fran-Pheasant Kelly (University of Wolverhampton) examined George Clooney’s cult reputation as “the sexiest man alive” to highlight shifts in the consumption of stardom via social media, as well as methodological shifts in critical evaluations of stardom through the framework of celebrity studies.

‘Tales of Terror’

A welcome addition to the conference programme was ‘Tales of Terror’ on Day Two, a segment which saw Masters level students from the ‘Film and Screenwriting’ and ‘Film Business and Promotion’ programmes at Birmingham City University present ten minute pitches to a judging panel, made up of Guest of Honour Victoria Price (daughter of Vincent Price), film journalist Claire Bueno, and filmmaker Phil Blake, with the winning entry to be produced as a short film. The theme for this year’s competition was ‘Finding Witches’, and pitches included the titles The Witch Scheme, The Trials and Retribution of Prudence Bell, 15 Years, Malleus, and Finding Witches: Gotta Hunt Them All!. After the final judging decision, Malleus was declared as the winning proposal.

Presentation of the Cine-Excess 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards. From left to right: Xavier Mendik, Pete Walker, Victoria Price, Claire Bueno.
Presentation of the Cine-Excess 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards. From left to right: Xavier Mendik, Pete Walker, Victoria Price, Claire Bueno.
Post-film interview with the cast and crew of <i>Eyes and Prize</i>. From left to right: Robert Sharl, Oliver Cane, Gerard Mcdermott, Nick Blakeley.
Post-film interview with the cast and crew of Eyes and Prize. From left to right: Robert Sharl, Oliver Cane, Gerard Mcdermott, Nick Blakeley.

Programme of Screenings

During the three days, Cine-Excess XII also offered an impressive programme of film screenings alongside the other events, held across Birmingham City University and the local Mockingbird Cinema. Described as “a critique of society’s obsession with the cult of instant celebrity”, the opening film of Day One, Eyes and Prize (2017), was accompanied by appearances from director Oliver Cane and actors Gerard Mcdermott and Nick Blakeley. Following several years of production spent between the University of Brighton and Birmingham City University, That’s La Morte: Italian Cult Cinema and the Years of Lead (2018) was introduced by director Xavier Mendik as a labour of love that was made possible through equal parts guerrilla filmmaking and dedication from its collaborators. The final screening of the day was a UK theatrical premiere of the Chinese film Lost in Apocalypse (2018), introduced via Skype by director Sky Wang and described as “a fresh take on contemporary zombie cinema”.

Day Two saw a screening of House of the Long Shadows (1983) with a joint introduction from Guests of Honour Victoria Price and the film’s director, Pete Walker. Preceded by the presentation of the Cine-Excess 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards, which saw the pair interviewed by Claire Bueno on the careers of Vincent Price and Pete Walker, the discussion was well attended and included a consideration of the intersections between the careers of Price and Walker, details of on-set antics such as the improvised monologues Walker would task Price with delivering each morning while shooting House of the Long Shadows, and consideration of the warm reception both have enjoyed from fans of their work. Following this, Julian Richards’ Reborn (2018) was to be shown shown, but rescheduled to the following evening due to technical difficulties.

The majority of Day Three’s screenings took place at the Mockingbird Cinema, with the exception of The Cleaning Lady (2018), following the companionship between “a beautiful but lonely woman [and] her cleaning lady whose face has been tragically disfigured” and culminating in a shocking crescendo. Moving to the Mockingbird Cinema for the remainder of the screenings, Theatre of Blood (1973) was introduced through a Q&A discussion with Victoria Price, who considered her father’s starring role and the poignancy of its subject matter in relation to the metatextual critiques at stake and her own relationship with her father. Next, the short film The Eve (2015) centred on “a teenage boy [who] seeks the help of Santa Claus to resolve family tensions”, using each of its 20-minutes running time in “inventive and atmospheric” fashion. Finally, Marc Martinez Jordan’s 2018 film Framed brought the themed content of the screenings full circle, mounting a critique of extreme violence via live-streaming platforms through the narrative’s dark “satire about social networking”.

Concluding Remarks

Cine-Excess XII was a great success on all fronts, offering a rich programme of academic speakers, insightful and bold contributions from industry professionals, and an eclectic range of screenings. Its growing team of organisers and partnered organisations deserve high praise for their ambitious efforts to combine theory and practice, while developments such as the ‘Film Futures’ initiative and the involvement of new postgraduate students in the festival proceedings should be noted by other institutions.

Adam Herron is a PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia. His publications include a forthcoming article with the Intellect journal Film Matters in 2018 titled “‘Victim Sells’: The Commercial Context of Snuff Fiction and A Serbian Film”, and a book review of Main Street Movies: The History of Local Film in the United States for the Manchester University Press journal Film Studies in 2019. He has delivered papers at Aberystwyth University, Birmingham City University, De Montfort University, Northumbria University, and UEA. His research interests include genre, gender, media history, and media audiences.

This article was published on November 20, 2018.

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