Critical perception is laced with love in this appreciation of the B-movies and exploitation flicks of the 1970s, which remain “the third—and, to date, last—great period in American movies.”
An astute critic of film and popular culture in general, Taylor is often drawn to the grittier vitality of the dark underbelly. This collection of critical essays will provide revelation for many—readers who have never heard of most of these movies—but it also serves as vindication for the movie geeks who know exactly where Quentin Tarantino finds inspiration. The author celebrates the emergence of directors Walter Hill and Jonathan Demme, the coronation of Sam Peckinpah, and the riveting onscreen presence of Warren Oates, Charles Bronson, and particularly Pam Grier. Most of these essays are about something larger than just one particular film, and the homage to Grier, “A Queen Without a Throne: Coffy and Foxy Brown,” is particularly ambitious, showing how institutional racism contributes to the systemic underuse of great black actresses and how some of the forces that were at work in the rise of the blaxploitation trend anticipated the popular emergence of hip-hop. “Like the gangsta images of hip-hop,” writes Taylor, “blaxploitation offered a disreputable form of feel-good minstrelsy.” He continues: “there’s no denying that blaxploitation allowed many black moviegoers their first images of black heroes, affording them some of the good, disreputable pleasures that white audiences had enjoyed for years at shoot-’em-ups and gangster films.” The author is equally perceptive and provocative on the connections between the Rolling Stones’ much-heralded “Some Girls” and the less-celebrated Faye Dunaway film Eyes of Laura Mars, “a celebration of sleaze as high chic.” Though Taylor is careful not to inflate the artistic case—“outsized claims for their greatness would only falsify their grungy, visceral appeal”—he makes readers eager to see movies that were barely seen the first time through.
An illuminating collection of film criticism that is like a critical history of rock as exemplified by garage bands and one-hit wonders.