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A New Monthly Section, a manifesto, Eddie Romero, and Cirio Santiago too!

One constant challenge at Scarecrow, beyond that of where to put all of our rapidly approaching 100,000 videos, is how in the heck to display said collection. Is it possible to satisfy our constant need to parse and classify in a manner that is also customer friendly and generates rentals? A misconception I often hear is that Scarecrow must be really insanely popular and making lots of money because we have so much stuff and it often seems busy. While it's true we have lots of really wonderful, loyal customers, and we're not about to go out of business, we also have videos such as "Max Maven's Mindgames" on VHS. Look at this box: The subtitle, which you can't really see well in this picture, is "The Video That Reads Your Mind." This video is tucked away upstairs in a dark corner of the "Literature" room (why Literature? It's where we had room!) on a shelf labeled "Magic Tricks & More." Yes it's cool that we have about 50 movies in this section, making our "Magic" section as large, if not larger than, the "Foreign" section at a corporate chain rental store, but the problem with having so much stuff is that it's bad business. You see, we purchased Max Maven's Mindgames, as in we paid money in exchange for the tape, and in order to make a profit it would have to generate enough rentals to surpass the amount we paid for it. To date, it's rented once. This is just one example of many videos in our store that have only rented a few times, if at all. Why do we do it? ...Are we stupid?... No! Just crazy and run by madmen! We would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And this is why there are not many stores in the world like Scarecrow. We are in it for the love of collecting, archiving, and sharing, and we are lucky enough to have an owner who doesn't mind keeping his day job (thanks Carl), and a city so supportive of our crazy mission that we can sustain a level of operation that allows us to offer such a diverse, if at times unprofitable, collection. Don't believe me? Next time you walk through the doors, take a look at the first visible rental section, the "New To Store" shelf. These are videos that are not exactly "New Releases" but more often older releases we recently acquired. Right now, it's crammed full of stuff. Now imagine each of those DVDs/VHS cost us an average of $10-15 each. We'll be lucky if most of them rent at all! So getting back to my original point: we have all of these videos, we have limited space, but we can still have a bit of fun with choosing how to display them. For this reason we always have rotating monthly or seasonal special sections of staff picks, sections for recently departed talent, and the like. One thing I have always wanted to see Scarecrow offer our customers is something akin to a museum or a cinematheque experience. Our section that is divided by notable directors is a step in the right direction, but there are so many directors, genres, movements and tendencies throughout film history that deserve recognition that do not fall under the "auteur" banner and could never be put together as a permanent rental section. At Scarecrow we have the resources and the staff to present some fairly comprehensive overviews of some of these "lesser known" people and occurrences, therefore beginning this month we will have a special employee curated "Spotlight" section. Each section will be accompanied, hopefully, by additional information tacked to the shelf. It's pretty much "anything goes" so I look forward to seeing what folks come up with. For the first round I had to choose between several ideas that had popped into my head over the years (Subversive subtexts in horror films, resistance and occupation in war films, Peter Watkins, Yasuzo Masamura...), but I decided any or all of these could be a regular special section some other time, and instead decided to feature two interesting, prolific Filipino directors whose work I wanted to see crammed together all in one place: Eddie Romero & Cirio Santiago. Here's the accompanying text that I prepared for the section:
The Outsourcing of Exploitation: Eddie Romero and Cirio H. Santiago American drive-in and grindhouse frequenters of the 60s and 70s probably would have never guessed that the English language schlock they were watching was being produced in a small island nation that was currently under the reign of a corrupt and cruel dictator. Even when the films were marketed as 'exotic' they contained at least one C-grade American actor, and the levels of sex and violence were no more subdued than the homegrown drive-in trash. Films such as The Mad Doctor of Blood Island and TNT Jackson were being cranked out by dedicated workmen such as Filipino directors Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago exclusively for distribution outside of Asia. Though censorship laws often prevented these same films from being shown within the Philippines, there was little production interference from the government of Ferdinand Marcos. In the Philippines, producer Roger Corman found a good, exotic location in which to shoot low-budget films for American distribution, and eager production crews ready to make quick money from shoots that lasted, at times, less than one week. In 1971 Corman and director Jack Hill made a smash hit with their Women-In-Prison movie, The Big Dollhouse. Supposedly, noted directors Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, and Carl Franklin all spent time in the Philippines working on Corman productions. These productions began to include Filipino directors and certainly are the genesis for the prolific output of Romero and Santiago, the best and most notorious of the bunch. Eddie Romero was a bit of child prodigy, and began working in the Filipino film industry as a teenager in the late 1940s. His work on the production of the classic Filipino variation of Dr. Moreau, Terror Is a Man, led him into a long, successful career as a purveyor of popular genre films. His first immediate smash hits were what are collectively known as the 'Blood Island films,' a series of films made between 1968-71 that made extensive use of exotic locales and imaginary native rituals and superstitions. Americans flocked to the drive-in to see scantily clad women dancing in primitive ceremonies and terrorized by ridiculous monsters. He and Roger Corman made good cohorts, and shared production credits on the aforementioned Big Dollhouse. When larger budget films began exploiting the jungle locations of the Philippines, Romero served as an assistant on productions such as a little Vietnam War picture called Apocalypse Now. Moving into decidedly less exotic territory, the 70s found the bulk of Romero's directorial work in various action genres, mainly 'blaxploitation.' It was not unusual to find character actor Sid Haig or Foxy Brown herself, Pam Grier, on the cast list for a Romero production from this time period. Unfortunately, his output dwindled with the death of the exploitation distribution network (ie drive-ins and grindhouses) and the rise of home video. Romero is still alive, however, and according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) he completed a film in 2007 (his first since 1988)! Slightly younger, and way more prolific, Cirio Santiago has essentially never stopped making his brand of low-budget, high-entertainment fare. Virtually worshipped by über-fanboy Quentin Tarantino, Santiago is credited with directing nearly 60 films between the 1950s and the present day. After a handful of straightforward Filipino productions, he jumped headfirst into blaxploitation production, directing at least five between 1973 and 1976! The most interesting of these is The Muthers, a true genre mash-up in which a gang of black, female pirates must infiltrate a sadistic prison: a blaxploitation, women-in-prison, pirate movie! His consistent exploitation of women, violence, and black cinema launched his career, but always opportunistic, he was ready to adapt to the demands of the market. After the smash success of Australia's The Road Warrior in 1981 and America's First Blood in 1982, Santiago shifted his focus from badass black babes to post-apocalyptic action extravaganzas and Vietnam vets on vengeful rampages. What he lacked in originality he made up for in gumption! Who needs a big budget to visualize the post-apocalypse when some vacuum parts glued to a car, leather pants and shoulder-pads will suffice? The death of any sort of distribution network for these kinds of movies was not even enough to deter Santiago: throughout the late 80s and 90s he continued making action films, mainly set in Vietnam, finding lucrative business in the straight to VHS market. According to IMDB he has the (dubious) reputation of being the 'master of the Vietnam War genre.' To this day he is an important member of the Filipino film community, and continues working on productions both as director and producer. Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago are not the kind of directors who will ever be studied as auteurs, and rightly so: there is no consistency of style or theme in their work beyond that of the desire to make money from a cheap production. They will probably never have a permanent dedicated directors section at Scarecrow (even though I would argue there are several Italian directors who do have sections and I would consider equivalent), but that is not to say they are without their qualities. Clearly there is a craftsmanship and a charm to their productions that made them popular as entertainers and as businessmen. I can only hope future generations may appreciate them so that their work may survive the leap from VHS to DVD and beyond. Eddie and Cirio, I salute you! Sources: IMDB, Mondo Macabro by Pete Tombs, and a lifetime of watching crappy movies.
Here's some pictures to whet your curiosity: Stop on by, this section is right by the front of the counter on top of an awesome collection of pirate movies. None of these movies will change your life, but I think if you're having a "movie night" with the dudes or just looking for a way to pass 80-90 minutes, you could do far worse than throw on an American financed, Filipino exploitation movie.

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