Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Actually See the Birth of a Baby!

The Exploding Kinetoscope is four years old today. Not a monumental anniversary, perhaps, but this weblog's date of invention falls between my own birthday on December 27th and, I understand, something or other that happens on December 25th.

In modest celebration of all these babies being born, let's head into the ExKin paper archives! I acquired this beauty a few years ago, and apart from some rusty vintage staples, it's fresh as the day it was printed. Nothing could be more appropriate than a jaunt through the highlights of the original pressbook for the birth-of-a-baby Golden Age exploitation classic Mom and Dad (1945)... especially as paired with the 1949 Mitchum-sploitation anti-dope parable She Shoulda Said 'No!'!

The tale of showman, "producer," marketeer and American genius Howard "Kroger" Babb has not been told in full biography. Babb's legend weaves in and out of David F. Friedman's autobio A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King (1998, Prometheus Books; required reading for all movie-drunk humans!), with the older exploitation pioneer serving as a sort of tall tale creation myth for all movie con-men. Babb appears like an eternal trickster figure, inspiring, disobedient, dishonest, and so incorruptible in nature that he cons his would-be protégées and, maybe, the very gods of capitalism!

Mom and Dad, directed by ol' One-Shot himself, William Beaudine, is Babb's masterpiece of ballyhoo. Promising the audience that "YOU... will SEE the birth of a baby! Both normal and Cesarean!," the ad campaigns do not exactly lie. But they also imply frank sexuality, uncompromising depiction of clinical science and to enlighten through education. The Mom and Dad press book very nearly vows that the film will save the world... and it is no less hyperbolic or dishonest with potential exhibitors.

In some ways, this is my favorite page of the book, despite relatively sedate graphics. The two messages from Babb are direct challenges to exhibitors, confrontational and dismissive. So the movies aren't fresh first release material? If people haven't seen 'em, they're new enough. The implication of the box at the bottom is that Babb is handing you, the drive-in or grindhouse proprietor a perfect, can't-fail recipe, and if you blow it it's your own damn fault. To a theater owner, this is a more effective affront than asking if he's a Real Man! What kind of showman are you? Can you handle Mom and Dad?

No comment necessary, really, but the headline alone demonstrates one Proven Fact: every modern marketing department, for every distributor on the planet, when placed next to Kroger Babb, has absolutely zero kung-fu.

Kroger Babb threatens to punch your bridge club in the face!

No quotation marks are "unnecessary," when advertising for Gay Drive-In.

Look, you're there to see Mom and Dad, and you're only at that for the sexy parts anyway. It is still startling to see the the co-feature complaining about being overshadowed in its own advertisement.
The reality is that Mom and Dad is a panicked/dreary teen social issue melodrama, which doesn't mention, let alone depict sexual intercourse, and exists only as a support system for the live birth footage grafted onto its slender frame. The way it plays seems almost intentional, designed to disappoint and anger the lusting audience into rioting, then, spectacularly, unpleasantly, and totally honestly gives them what they came for. You will see the birth of a baby. And another baby. And sometimes a shock-science reel about the horrors of VD. Sometimes more... sometimes less.

No one drove away from Mom and Dad feeling ripped off... because it was constantly remade for every audience. In markets where authorities intervened, Babb would swap out the graphic medical footage. During screenings where cheated audiences were about to explode, he'd slip in a nudist or sex reel. It is a grand confection of smoke and mirrors showmanship. There is no definitive version of the film, and in some ways no film to consider at all. There is nothing important except the advertising and the birth reel.

The pressbook is a fine illustration of the value of marketing the same barely-there product in every way possible. The above ad is the most sexed-up, with prone, leggy blondes and promises to reveal the secrets real moms and dads will not speak. The medical sidebar is a highlight, implying that Mom and Dad will make you powerful, wise, deliver you from ignorance, and cleanse you of sin!

There is a reason this special piece of antique garbage is in the National Film Registry (and would be one of my first choices for an exhaustive Criterion Collection special edition disc). It is a brilliant demonstration of the business of selling movies, of spectacle intersecting rip-off, supply creating demand. In Mom and Dad desire to see, to know is met with shameless, crowing opportunism.

Under the pretense of thorough education and responsibility, Babb juiced his crowds for further coin by accompanying most Mom and Dad playdates with a lecture delivered by a fake doctor who hawked sex hygiene pamphlets — a $10 value that was a steal at $2...

As it happens, I'm just the kind of sucker who needs one of these.

The lurid pink/el cheapo austere cover of "The Key to Successful Sexual Relations". The "Dr. Elliot Forbes" who Babb employed to tour with Mom and Dad had the amazing ability to appear in dozens of cities at once because he was 26 different actors canvasing the nation. In the name of historical precision, "Successful Sexual Relations" dates from 1955, and was not the only (or most common) book that Doc Forbes made available for purchase. It was also coupled with other sex hygiene genre pictures with similar lecture gimmicks attached.

The booklet is boring by most prurient/enlightened/post-Kinsey standards, as the language is semi-medical, antiquated, vague and retiring in turn. Still, it is kinda-sorta progressive, walking "husbands" and "wives" through a deconstruction of what is wrong with their (assumed) attitudes toward human sexuality, then providing weird how-to advice. The above page is among the frankest passages, but perhaps most titillating for Mom and Dad audiences were two pages of sloppy line drawings of female genital anatomy, which also happen to be badly proportioned and leave off some body parts.

American Birth Control League founder Margaret Sanger either had a problem with her Shift key, or was shouting with enthusiasm for this book's important message of "high positioning."

If you can't live without your own copy of "The Key to Successful Sexual Relations", I've scanned the order form from the last page. I wouldn't count on ever seeing your $1.25 again, though. These companies disappear at the rate of approximately one per minute... about the frequency at which suckers are born, both normal and Cesarean.

Go ahead. Try to resist Mom and Dad. Stupid "jerks" always try to outsmart the proven facts!


Craig said...

Happy birthday/anniversary! I'm fairly new to your blog, but enjoy it a lot. Your writings are unpredictable and engaging.

William B said...

And it's my birthday today as well! Which I'm spending, er, reading blogs, apparently. Oh well--stupid "jerks" might tell me to do something else, but I don't care....

P.S. What's next for the site? Top 10 2003, Dollhouse 2.04, some other merry adventure in prose?

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Can you handle Mom and Dad? id one of the most common question in the houses of America, well I am no sure but I think so!! I think that your post is so cool, thanks for sharing!!22dd