It’s rare that Yakmala delves into the world of honest-to-goodness exploitation cinema. I suppose films like Deathstalker II and Troll II easily fall into that classification, but those are fantasy flicks primarily. The real deal fare usually stays far from a day of bad movie watching.
Well, I suppose Death Bed: The Bed That Eats might count, too.
What I’m really thinking of here is the sort of movie that doesn’t fall back on anything supernatural or fantastical in its premise. Movies that just straddle the line of legitimacy and some prurient interest. Movies where quality is a secondary concern to some shock, like filming a live birth or blowing up a young black man with a trunk full of moonshine.
That’s the long way of introducing today’s Best of Yakmala entry. From the 2011 inductees list, I present Shanty Tramp.
Imagine I have the Echoplex on whenever you see the title.
Shanty Tramp came to us from a special “Classics” Yakmala program that featured such films as The Conqueror, Johnny Guitar, and Topper Returns. It was the clear winner for its audacious disregard for filmmaking.
The plot of Shanty Tramp is hard to describe. It seems to revolve around a woman from a poor upbringing and background. She likes to fool around with bikers, but seems keenly interested in seducing Daniel, an upstanding black guy she sees at a tent revival. After he saves her from a biker tough called Savage, she gets her way with young Daniel. Unfortunately, the pair are discovered by her Pa and she immediately yells rape. Daniel goes on the run, eventually steeling a car filled with moonshine.
Meanwhile, Savage and his pals decide to exact their own revenge on the Daniel’s sweet old mother. They then disappear from the film.
I’m not kidding.
At home in her, um, shanty, Shanty Tramp gets accused of bearing false witness by her alcoholic father. He beats her with a belt for a little bit and then decides her might as well make her allegations true. Just with him.
Yeah, this movie is a little bit icky.
She ends up killing him and flees from the shanty before she can cry self-defense to the local fuzz. In her escape, she runs into the arms of the preacher back at the tent revival who promises to show her “the power and the glory” if you catch his sleazy drift.
Oh, and Daniel crashes the car causing all the moonshine to explode.
Shanty Tramp has a lot of material that goes nowhere, but again, that’s secondary because the main purpose of the film is the supposed thrill of seeing title character topless. She appears half-naked for much of the film’s hour-and-eight minute run time. She’s topless with Savage. She’s topless with Daniel. She’s topless with Pa. We see her willingly topless. We see her forcibly topless.
The point is: we see her boobs a lot.
But at Yakmala, we love a movie that forgets it’s a movie and that is Shanty Tramp through and through. This is evident in the opening moments, when a specially recorded version of “When the Saints” plays over and over, sometimes skipping on itself once the credit sequence — super-imposed over the titular Shanty Tramp’s behind — comes to an abrupt conclusion. From there, we are treated to poorly framed static shots that only occasionally boast sync sound.
Now, you might not know this about me, but I love bad framing. It’s such an important part of photography that watching people getting it wrong thrills me. In fact, I sometimes find an obliviously wrong composition more interesting than the most consciously composed shot.
Shanty Tramp is almost nothing but shots of excess headroom, figures out of balance with the frame, and performers awkwardly blocked on their own accord.
The sound mix is also rudimentary. Music appears and disappears with a special abruptness. Sometimes, it makes way for dialogue, other times, it just seems like the sound people were unsure what to do. Incompetent, but charming in its way.
While watchable, the film is awash in filth … which is really odd since nothing truly filthy happens. The atmosphere of sleaze just permeates the pixels and infects the viewing experience with a grit and unwholesomeness that David Lynch desperately tries to capture on purpose. That said, Shanty Tramp is really a safe swim in the sea of exploration cinema. We’ve yet to experience the western starring little people, anti-drug epics, or the infamous Child Bride.
Don’t worry, we’ll never watch that last one; that’s what the Cinema Snob is for.
But really, we should invest in more films like this one. So far, we’ve only ventured into the odd currents of exploration cinema with Teenage Mother, a film that offered us a live birth and boasted of the benefits in using forceps during delivery. It didn’t exactly go over well.
In the meantime, feel free to track down a copy of Shanty Tramp for yourself, you’ll be glad you did.