As part of the Barbican’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ season, I examine the unique women directors who worked in the golden age of exploitation cinema, their struggles and successes, and the singular works they created in this one-hour lecture.
Stripped and slashed, sometimes both at the same time: this is the fate usually reserved to women in exploitation films. Generally made by male filmmakers for male viewers, the low-budget sex and violence fare of the 1960s-70s does not exactly come across as female-orientated on first view.
And yet, one of the most prolific pornographers of the period was sexploitation queen Doris Wishman, while actress and filmmaker Roberta Findlay worked on legendary shocker Snuff with her husband in 1971. For all its obsessive focus on the female body, exploitation film offered a way in to maverick women directors who could never hope to break into conservative, monolithic Hollywood.
This was particularly true of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Priding itself on being anti-authoritarian and countercultural, New World Pictures were at the same time making exploitative pictures that put female nudity centre stage. This contradiction defined the company’s relationship with its first two female directors, Stephanie Rothman and Barbara Peeters, resulting in fascinating films such as Terminal Island (1973) and Bury Me an Angel (1972), where sleaze and feminism uneasily cohabited.
29 October 2016, 3pm, Barbican, London.
Picture credit: Terminal Island (Dir. Stephanie Rothman, 1973).