I gained my love of trash from two people: El Santo, the trash connoisseur and super genius behind 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting, and Roger Ebert. From El Santo, I gained an appreciation for the right kind of sleazy movie. Anyone could show you naked bodies, appalling violence and a smear of historical and logical inaccuracies. Not everyone could do so with the right, joyously stupid attitude. The Luigi Batzellas and Umberto Lenzis of the world could conjure up distasteful images in tone-deaf historical trappings, but what I learned was that it was the rare director who could play with fire and make the burns look like they were part of the act. Messing around with cannibals, Nazis, and biblical figures was the bread and butter of the Italian film industry in the '60s and '70s, and so few escaped unscathed. Treating history like a playground cost a lot of people their careers and their legacies.
Roger Ebert made me appreciate what a good sleaze merchant could sell you and how to recognize the genuine article from a snake oil salesmen. His exuberance when writing for Russ Meyer, the King of American Trash, and one of my favorite auteurs, showed me that you could take real pleasure in embracing one's id and presenting the filthiest, most rollicking peep shows ever committed to film. Roger never lost his naughty side, even as he became one of America's most respected writers (rightly so). And so many American filmmakers seemed to have forgotten the lesson it took us so long to learn. You can be profound, thought-provoking and yourself, while still potentially upsetting the Catholic League of Decency.
Joe D'Amato is a filmmaker I think both El Santo and Roger could agree on. He took the greatest delight in showcasing naked figures in carnal congress, to the point where even when the script called for such scenes to be malicious or invasive, his and the actor's joy still comes across. His love of filming cut through all other concerns. His affection for filmmaking was what kept him so insanely prolific. He made films about cannibal killers, murderous taxidermist perverts and lazier-than-usual zombies, and always his glee at being able to do his job was palpable. He showed me, in my teens, when I was discovering the history of film, that trashy nonsense could be as important to your sensibility, to the current of film history, as "The Godfather" or "Casablanca." "Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals" may never made it to Roger's Great Movies, but I bet he would have enjoyed a hearty chuckle at its egregious excesses, its dimwitted good nature, its commitment to being as happily dumb as possible. One of my happiest memories is watching this film on my 17th birthday with some of my closest friends. This is the stuff of which trash dreams are made and I wish we could return to a time when the dumbest films released in a calendar year were as intelligently ridiculous and full-throttle as the best of Joe D'Amato.
The Unloved - Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals from Scout Tafoya on Vimeo.
To watch more of Scout Tafoya's video essays from his series The Unloved, click here.