Friday, March 27, 2009

Retro-cinema: "A Bucket of Blood" (1959)

Despite the needlessly lurid title, Roger Corman's 1959 production is thankfully short on the red stuff and long on insightful social commentary. More of a late film noir than a true horror film, A Bucket of Blood explores the beatnik subculture of the late 1950s and satirizes both its pretensions and its assumptions. The story revolves around the downtrodden busboy Walter, who waits tables in a café patronized by snobbish hipster would- be artists and their hangers- on. Despised by the regulars, Walter longs to be recognized as artistic in his own right, but he lacks both the talent and the audacity to persuade anyone else that he is worth noticing. By accident, though, Walter does eventually hit upon a way to create unique works of art through the most macabre means imaginable; and even as he is subsequently feted by the cognoscenti he is able to justify his crimes to himself by appeal to the beatniks' own sub- Nietzschean credo that the artist is the ultimate lord of creation, one who is above all moral accountability.

Interestingly, this is all very reminiscent of the subject of Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 drama Rope, in which the professor -- played by Jimmy Stewart -- preaches the expendability of ordinary people in the interests of a higher "will to power", and so unwittingly inspires two of his students to engage in a pointless thrill- killing. Again, it is Nietzsche who is ultimately being targeted here, but more broadly the movie aims to say something about the darker side of a modern way of thinking that fuses elitism with nihilism in order to to come up with something that is truly horrible.

A Bucket of Blood is only 66 minutes long, so the plot moves very quickly through its development and resolution, and there is enough satirical humour in it to keep any real film enthusiast engaged -- at least until the film is over and he can pop the next DVD into the slot.

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