The grindhouse returns to the Combat Zone this weekend — in spirit, at least — as the ArtsEmerson film series, based at the Paramount Center, presents a tribute to sleazemeister David F. Friedman.
"We're taking up where the Pilgrim Theater left off," jokes Emerson professor Eric Schaefer, author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films 1919-1959. Schaefer will host a screening of the 1963 film Scum of the Earth, the lurid tale of young women enticed into modeling for nudie magazines.
Friedman, who died in February at age 87, brought a carny's craftiness to the production and promotion of low-budget motion pictures. As recounted in his entertaining memoir, A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King, Friedman exploited the public's yearning to see the nudity and violence that Hollywood under the Production Code withheld.
Scum of the Earth was produced by Friedman and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis shortly before the pair made the cult classic Blood Feast. According to Schaefer, the film anticipated the darker turn that exploitation took in the mid-'60s, away from the good-natured, full-color "nudie-cuties" shot in Florida nudist colonies. This "roughie" was made in black and white not to cut costs, but so that it would literally look dirty. Friedman had no problem making these teasing, softcore skin flicks, but he balked at the explicit fare that audiences came to demand. He was a "reluctant dabbler in hardcore," says Schaefer, and eventually left filmmaking to run a carnival in his native Alabama.
Schaefer, who considered Friedman a friend and mentor, sees him as more than just a charming huckster: "He was a champion of the rights of adults to see what they wish to see on screen."
Freedom of expression aside, Friedman relished nothing more than a great gimmick. For Scum of the Earth, it was creating a comic book based on the movie to give out to patrons. "The ballyhoo that surrounded the film was more important to him than the film itself," says Schaefer. "He'd always say, 'My films are crap, but my trailers are a thing of beauty.' "
Scum of the Earth screens Friday, September 30, at 6 pm, at the Bright Family Screening Room, Paramount Center, 559 Washington St, Boston. Call 617.824.8400 or go to artsemerson.org for more info.