'B List' Celebrates Film World's 'Underbelly' David Sterritt and John Anderson recognize the films that didn't make it into the "A list canon" in their new book, B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love. Tell us: What's on your B-list?
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'B List' Celebrates Film World's 'Underbelly'

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'B List' Celebrates Film World's 'Underbelly'

'B List' Celebrates Film World's 'Underbelly'

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We know you're an NPR listener - you like those really high, highbrow films, "The Godfather," "'Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "Citizen Kane." We also know that lurking within the soul of every fan of Scorsese are a few lower budget lobbs(ph). Maybe you never wore fishnets but you know all the words to the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" or you secretly cherish those lesser Oliver Stone Movies. You profess a fondness for the tragedy of 1986 version of "The Fly," but truly love the original, decidedly B-list 1958 version.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: No, they don't make screams like that anymore. We're celebrating your lesser known sub mainstream cult hit favorites, all the femmes fatale zombie, saloon singers, vampires and pop stars with the help of David Sterritt, the chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, he and co-editor John Anderson have brought them all together in a new collection of critical essays called "B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love." Later in the hour, historian James McPherson joins us with the long view of the war powers of the president.

But first, their course, they're sheik, they're cults. What's your favorite low budget B list beaut. Our phone number 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. David Sterritt joins us from the studios of the production room in Santa Barbara, California. Nice to have you back on Talk of the Nation.

Mr. DAVID STERRITT (Film Critic): Good to be here.

CONAN: And by your own admission in the prologue to your book, it's an odd collection that marries platoon and the sound of calm.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah, one of the things that we really wanted to do is to have a book, if possible, with something in there for virtually every taste. And I really think that we've done it. What this means, of course, is that the entire book won't please anyone - that even the hardest to please person is going to find something in there which rings a bell.

CONAN: And let's start with some definitions. How do you define, in a world without double features anymore, a B movie?

Mr. STERRITT: Stumps me. It's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We were going to talk about this for hours. We're left speechless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STERRITT: Exactly. Yeah, no - it's, of course, the term originally did mean not just a movie that was, like, on a double feature - but back in the days of double features, it was - a B movie was a movie that was made specifically to be on the bottom half of a double feature. So this was kind of the orphan step child or something of the movie industry. And they were made on little budgets and they were made usually without any kind of stars, even minor stars often stayed away from these. So they were really, you know, the little product that wasn't really intended to mean very much.

Nowadays, we don't have double features anymore, we don't have drive-ins anymore and the scene has changed. So, we don't have B movies in that technical sense but we still do have the littler movies, the movies that not so much is invested in - and crucially these lower budget movies without stars and so forth, that still get made all the time, are the movies that allow for more experimentation, more risk taking, more personal expression by directors and writers and all the creators in the industry precisely because there's no big investment riding on them - you can take a chance without worrying that, you know, you're going to be losing somebody's $80 million.

CONAN: And because of that, these are the vehicles that then - young directors, writers, actors - that propel them to start them. You think of "The Duel" for example that well you know, a young men went on to make a film about sharks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah. No - exactly. And of course, that's a function that TV movies have served for a very long time. You mentioned Steven Spielberg - and "Duel" was a made for TV movie - and yeah, that helped to launch his career. And of course the great producer Roger Corman - and director - who is still around, launched any number of major careers.

CONAN: You write a great essay about the career starting film for Peter Bogdanovich.

Mr. STERRITT: Well, exactly, "Targets" - which is I think a phenomenal movie and inexplicably all but forgotten movie. And you know, he's just one of many film makers. But Francis Ford Coppola got launched this way. Martin Scorsese got launched way down in the B movie world. So, you know, so many of these people started small and then worked their way up. And I suppose that somebody could sit down and write "Sharks" and so forth and show that people who are now making the - today's equivalents of B movies, let's say the straight to video quickie that never even gets into a movie theater - some of these people are now showing what they can do and eventually they'll be making real movies and maybe ultimately real A movies, which, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean better movies. Sometimes people make their little quickie for no money, just as a calling card because they want to go and make, you know, more Mummy remakes or something in Hollywood. But the directors who really do have something in their soul that they want to express, can very often do that best in a B movie and then maybe they get bigger budgets, but they keep the same passion.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers in on this conversation. Our guest is David Sterritt, the co-editor with John Anderson of the "B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love." And we'll begin with Steven - Steven calling us from Cincinnati in Ohio.

STEVEN (Caller): Hi. Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

STEVEN: Have you got me?

CONAN: Yep. You're on the air.

STEVEN: Great. OK, my vote is for "Gun Crazy."

CONAN: And why is that your favorite?

STEVEN: Well, I like the - the why the femme fatale is played. And John Dall is such a perfect face for the hopeless lover dragged down by the black widow. And that long take when they rob the bank, shot from the backseat of the car, I think is just fantastic.

CONAN: Would you agree with him Sterritt, "Gun Crazy?"

Mr. STERRITT: Oh, I think Steven is right on the money with this, yeah. I mean, "Gun Crazy" is a really perfect example. It's a movie that's really well-known to film critics, you know, we all know it and love it and have seen it a million times. But it's really not that well-known by the general public. And it really deserves to be - it's an amazing movie with amazing performances, as Steven pointed out. I mean, John Dall who was, let's face it a terrible actor - even Hitchcock couldn't make him give a good performance in a rope - gives this out of the clear blue sky brilliant performance in "Gun Crazy."

And there is this bank robbery scene where the whole thing, the camera stays in the car while the bank robbery is happening indoors and it's just this long take that keeps going on and on and the suspense builds and builds - and part of the suspense is, well, the scene actually proceeds smoothly until the camera runs out of film or somebody's going to make a mistake and have to film the whole thing over again.

CONAN: Or could they really not afford to build another set to stage the bank robbery.

Mr. STERRITT: Well, all these kinds of problems come up. Anyway - but that's exactly the kind of movie that we wanted to call attention to in the B List, yeah.

CONAN: Steven, we'll all go out and rent a copy.

STEVEN: Thanks. Can I throw in "Detour" as a second choice?

CONAN: I'm not familiar with that one.

Mr. STERRITT: You know "Detour." Yeah, no Steven again - yeah, where were you when we're putting this book together? Could have used you. Yeah.

STEVEN: I teach film along with Literature, I'm an English professor.

Mr. STERRITT: OK. That explains everything. Well, good. Well, I certainly hope you're introducing your students to some of these under-recognized gems, yeah. By the way, both "Gun Crazy" and "Detour" are in the book. And "Detour" has been called, by some people the greatest or one of the very greatest B movies ever made. It was shot on almost no money at all. It has a plot that just sort of barely make sense. It has this sort of atmosphere of poverty and desperation around it, as a production. And that's what the movie is about. And everything comes together and it's just remarkable and everybody should see it.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Steven.

Mr. STEVEN: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we get, this is - Dan is on the air. Dan calling us from Roslyn in New Mexico.

DAN (Caller): No, that's Roswell, New Mexico.

CONAN: Roswell, New Mexico. Well, we have somebody who is only familiar with Northern Virginia, go ahead.

DAN: No problem. Yeah, I get out no list of low-budget films can exist without mentioning one them, my favorites, that being "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

CONAN: And this is a movie that's famous for being terrible.

DAN: Absolutely. I love terrible films. And on the subject of terrible films, there's another one that - nobody I've ever spoken to has ever heard of, but it starts back in the 60s, when I was growing up, called "Billy The Kid meets Count Dracula."

CONAN: Who wins?

Mr. STERRITT: Well,..

DAN: (unintelligible) Let me tell you how he wins real quick.

CONAN: No, no. Who wins?

DAN: Billy the Kid ends up shooting at Count Dracula, puts six bullets in his chest, he doesn't go down, rears back, throws the gun and hits him in the head, knocks him out.

Mr. STERRITT: How could it possibly have ended?

CONAN: Of course, threw him in running water.

DAN: Yeah.

CONAN: Dan, thanks very much for the call. And...

DAN: You're welcome.

CONAN: Your book is really about B movies - that are really good movies - but there is that other category of B movies that are ridiculously bad.

Mr. STERRITT: Well, yeah, of course, and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" was famously made by Edward D. Wood Jr., who Tim Burton made a wonderful movie about - some musical called "Ed Wood." And yeah, he was famous for making movies, I mean, you know, we're talking about B movies here and, you know, in the minds of some scholars, there is also such things as the C movies and even the Z movie. And I supposed that a movie like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or the Billy The Kid-Dracula movie would be somewhere down around the, you know, maybe W or X range.

CONAN: Santa Claus versus the Martians, yeah.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah. All of these, yeah, and it doesn't mean that they don't have their charms. They certainly do have their charms. A lot of these films do. But you're right. "The B-List" is not so much about the bad movies that were incredibly made for no money and with no stars. They're about the good movies that were even more incredibly made with no money and no stars. And I think that one function of this book is not to make fun of the movies that didn't click, but to celebrate the ones that did.

CONAN: Here's an email from Terry in Portage, Michigan. "I remember 1976 sitting in the dorm room with some friends picking a movie to go to. Somebody had seen the only other option, so we picked the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," even though none of us knew anything about it. We sat there stunned through the opening lips and the rest of the ride. Already, by then, there were some costumes in the audience, responses being shouted and other general Rocky fun going on. For years after that, when I need an escape, I went to the midnight movie. I have it on DVD, but it just isn't the same, and my wife doesn't get it." We'll be talking about more films like that. And of course, immortal rock and roll B list movie films like the "Buddy Holly Story."

(Soundbite of movie "The Buddy Holly Story")

Mr. GARY BUSEY: (Singing) Now get ready, we're going to play some rock and roll.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr BUSEY: (Singing) So here we go. One, two, one, two, three, four. That would be the day when you say goodbye. And that would be day when you make me cry. You say you're going to leave (unintelligible). For that would be the day, hey, hey, that I die.

CONAN: That's Gary Busey, I am Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's Talk Of The Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This Talk of The Nation. I am Neal Conan in Washington. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Eraserhead," "The Conversation" - we're talking B movies today. David Sterritt co-edited the new book the "B List; The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love." You can read more about how they picked the films in their book in an excerpt on our website at npr.org/talk. So what's your favorite B movie and why? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also send us your B movies on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And David Sterritt, a lot of these movies come in to certain categories and you separate them into categories, including one that seems to fit almost all of them in one way or another, at least in spirit are B movies. And those are noir the one you pick is "Kiss Me Deadly" which begins with Mike Hammer or Ralph Meeker, picking up an unknown naked women in a trenchcoat.

(Soundbite of movie "Kiss Me Deadly")

Mr. RALPH MEEKER: (As Mike Hammer) I'll make a quick guess. You are with some guy who thought no was three-letter word? I should have thrown you off that cliff back there - I might still do it. Where are you headed?

Ms. CLORIS LEACHMAN: (As Christina) Los Angeles. Drop me off the first bus stop.

Mr. MEEKER: (As Mike Hammer): You always go around with no clothes on?

CONAN: That's some guy who thought no was a - and that is incredibly, a very young Cloris Leachman there.

Mr. STERRITT: It actually is, yeah. They don't write dialog like that anymore. Well, maybe they still do, but somehow it doesn't sound the same. Yeah, I mean, a film-noir had to be one had to be one of our major categories because so many brilliant B movies were made in that - the great noir cycle, which really stretched through the 40s and 50s, and we've got quite a lot of them in the book. A couple of them are even mentioned, "Detour" and "Gun Crazy," there's "Kiss Me Deadly," there's "Out of the Past," "Pickup On South Street" and then also,..

CONAN: Samuel Fuller, one of my favorites.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've got a good selection of Samuel Fuller in the book. Sam Fuller was an astonishing filmmaker and visually really brilliant. And then we've also got neo-noirs, which we call nightmares in Technicolor. Movies that were made later on and kind of gave a different spin to the old noir ideas. So you have movies likes "Point Blank" and "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Last Seduction." So yeah, I mean, those movies which do tend to be very dark - certainly not all the movies in the book are dark, but they are our very major category and so they kick off the book.

CONAN: Well, you mentioned Quentin Tarantino, who has made a career out of B movie homage and here's a clip from "Reservoir Dogs."

(Soundbite of movie "Reservoir Dogs")

Unidentified Man #2: Here are your names: Mr. Brown, Mr. White, Mr. Blonde. Mr. Blue, Mr. Orange, and Mr. Pink.

Mr. STEVE BUSCEMI: (As Mr. Pink) Why can't we pick our own colors?

Unidentified Man #2: No way. No way. Tried it once - it doesn't work. You got four guys all fighting over who's going to be Mr. Black. And they don't know each so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink.

CONAN: Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah. Quentin actually does have that real ear for B movie-type dialog. And of course, some of his movies are now really major, large-scale productions. But in "Grindhouse," not long ago, which is also in the book, by the way, I think it's the most recent film in the book - he and Robert Rodriguez sat down and made a real- not just an homage, but a - almost attempt to resurrect the old B movie genre, which is uneven, I think, in a lot of ways. But it does have a lot of the B spirit to it, including all of the kind of cockamamie, phony trailers and things that they throw in to the mix.

CONAN: Here's an email from Ken in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "I love B movies. I sure hope you include "Grindhouse," the great homage to B movies in your discussion. My wife and I saw "Grindhouse" at the last Grindhouse in Tulsa. The sticky floors and broken seats made the perfect setting for this movie' And yeah, there's a certain kind of, you know, art and film that you really want to see and the aphelia(ph) that it was 50 years ago. And the "Grindhouse" needs to be seen in a grind house.

Mr. SHERRITT: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I saw "Grindhouse" in a very different kind of a setting. I saw it when I was teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. So I saw it with a lot of art students. And I kind of expected - it was a real packed house - that everybody would be kind of sitting around and thinking deep thoughts about the visual style and so forth. But you know, it was almost like being at the "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The audience was so interacting with that movie and was so caught up in the excitement and the fun of it. And you know, with not all B movies. Some B movies really deserved to be watched in reverent silence. They really do, because they're that good and they're that thought-provoking. But then there are movies, you know, like "Grindhouse" and a lot of the real, original B's, where being in the audience is at least as much fun as what's going on on the screen. The audience becomes part of the show and that's fun for everybody.

CONAN: And this is some of the dialog, no doubt, everybody who ever saw "Death Proof" part of "Grindhouse" knows by heart.

(Soundbite of movie "Grindhouse")

Mr. KURT RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) You saw my car. I saw your legs. Now look, I ain't stalking you. But I didn't say I wasn't' a wolf.

Unidentified Woman: So you really weren't following us?

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) I am not following you, Butterfly. I just got lucky.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Now this is Michael. Michael with us from Mukel in California.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi.


MICHAEL: My favorite is the crown jewel of B movies, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and it seems to be a real great thread of B movies. The feminine lead is always a woman who is apparently drop-dead gorgeous all the time. And on that film-noir, you happen to live until you ever met a tall blonde, blue-eyed woman who's wearing just a trenchcoat. That's an experience.

CONAN: My favorite line - I've always remembered it from "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was, 'how did I get involved in all of these science, ichthyology, fish?'

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: I can't even spell it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STERRITT: You know there is so many great horror movies that come under the B umbrella, including some of the great 3D classics of the middle 1950s that we could just get a sampling of them into the book. But I mean, I love "Creature from the Black Lagoon" but hey, I really love "I Walked with the Zombie" for example, and you know, speaking of horror movies, my great friend, Stewart Klawans, who is the film critic for the Nation magazine, wrote an essay on the sequel to "Carrie", "The Rage: Carrie 2", which came out in 1999 and I didn't even remember the movie so I got it from Netflix and I put in on and I look at it and it is sensational. So, you know, the pure B horror movie can have so much going on in it and can be so much more interesting than the A horror movies these days, which are so completely taken over by special effects. You can't accused "The Creature from Black Lagoon" of being taken over by special effects.

CONAN: That suit's amazing though. Thanks very much for the call, Michael. And science fiction again, the difference, as you're saying, between the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and the original - and this is from the 1956 original, when at the moment Miles realizes that Becky has been replaced.

(Soundbite of movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers")

Ms. DANA WYNTER: (As Becky) I went to sleep, Miles, when it happened.

Mr. KEVIN MCCARTHY: (As Miles): Oh, Becky.

Ms. WYNTER: (As Becky) They were right.

Mr. MCCARTHY: (As Miles): I should never have left you.

Ms. WYNTER: (As Becky) Stop acting like a fool, Miles, and accept this.

Mr. MCCARTHY: (As Miles) No. Never!

Ms. WYNTER: (As Becky) He's in here! He's in here! Get him! Get him!

Mr. STERRITT: You know, there been at least three versions of that ending. And in a lot of ways, the original one is still far and away the best. And you know, I said a moment ago, that there are B movies that deserve to be watched in reverent silence. I am not sure if "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is one of them exactly. Excuse me.

CONAN: Is one of them.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah. I am not sure it's one of them but, you know, watching a movie like that from the middle 50s or "Red Planet Mars" from the early 50s. Watching movies like this - the political subtext, what's going on in them, particularly references to the red scare and fears about conformity in America and so forth. These themes are expressed and explored so intelligently in these movies that it is really quite remarkable. And then another film we have in the book from the 80s, "The Brother from another Planet" which takes on racism in America in a science fiction context and it's also brilliant.

CONAN: And let's get Justin on the line. Justin with us from Salt Lake City.

JUSTIN (Caller): Yeah, hey, how's it going?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JUSTIN: I just wanted to point out that the three of my favorite major movie directors these days, they started out pretty small. Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi , even Peter Jackson made "Meet the Feebles" way back in the day.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah, absolutely. And these are - people who really start off not just in movies that were small but movies that were crummy, you know. They had no prestige attached to them at all.

JUSTIN: Yeah. And I also wanted to know if, I mean, coming from you, like, what the differences between maybe a B movies and things that people consider like Indie movies these days.

CONAN: Good question.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah, very good question. And that's one of the things where if there's no more B movies in the old sense of the low-budget quickie for the bottom half of the double bill, they're definitely are equivalents of the B movie nowadays. And a lot of the Indie movies, the independent movies, are just exactly that. And if you think about it, some of the people who still work in independent movies, that is creatively, they're not controlled by the Hollywood studios are really the equivalent of B filmmakers. Maybe the best example is Jim Jarmusch. And we have "Stranger Than Paradise" in the book. But if you look at even a recent movie by Jim like "Broken Flowers," you'll see that he's got bigger names and he shoots in color but it's still the same sensibility at work. And even somebody like Woody Allen who gets all these huge stars to work with him all the time but they work for very little money and he makes the movies cheaply and quickly and we think of them as art films but in a way, they're the equivalent of the old B art films.

CONAN: Interestingly, you're talking about B movies as sort of a trick of mind, not necessarily a budget. For example, you site "The Conversation" is in this book and that's a film - and by the way Justin, thanks very much for the call - that's a film made by Coppola right after the "Godfather," so he was a pretty hot property and it stars Gene Hackman right after "The French Connection." So he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood at that particular moment.

Mr. STERRITT: Absolutely. In fact, we say in our introduction of the book that we took a big tent approach to the B movie. We didn't say we're not going to give you a definition of what the B movie is because any attempt to do that would just really be arbitrary. So what we said to the members of the National Society of Film Critics is that tell us what movies that you'd like to write about and if it doesn't automatically sound like a B movie, then you got to tell us why it is, you got to tell the reader why it is.

And "The Conversation" is an example, written by - the essay written by Peter Kuo and as he points out, Coppola had just made the "Godfather" which was making gillions of dollars and of course, had enormously big stars and was a super major production from Paramount Pictures - and Coppola was pleased with it in a lot of ways but he hadn't enjoyed making it all that much and he had ultimately felt that he was basically just kind of making a motion picture version out of Mario Puzo's novel.

He wanted to do something that really came out of his own heart and soul. And so he made "The Conversation" and yeah, you know, it had a healthy budget and it has Gene Hackman in it but doesn't have anything like the resources that the "Godfather" had in it. So by that standard, relatively speaking, it is kind of a B movie and it's spirit of kind of personal expression and not worrying much about the box office. It's very much a B movie made in between the two fabulously successful Godfather; pictures.

CONAN: We're talking with David Sterritt, the co-editor along with John Anderson of "The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love." And you're listening to Talk of the Nation, which is coming to you from NPR News. And of course, we can't skip another genre which contributed so much to the B movie and that is the Western. Here is Gary Cooper in "Man of the West" as well. What else, a former outlaw plagued by his past.

(Soundbite of movie "Man of the West")

Mr. GARY COOPER: (as Link Jones) He might give you a little tussle if you let use his knife. He's pretty good with the knife.

Unidentified Man: Ah you got a really sharp sense of humor.

Mr. COOPER: (as Link Jones) Yeah, I was about to say the same thing myself, cousin and I think you might appreciate it if you'd let him use that good-looking gun he's got hanging on his hip there, too.

Unidentified Man: And he got his juices, brother. Look at him!

Mr. COOPER: (as Link Jones) All right, say it all. Then if you wanted to make it even, you could let him come up on you from behind. He's real fine at that.

CONAN: They don't cockle like that anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah, you know the Western is one of those genres that's always dying and yet refuses to die. As we speak, "Appaloosa" is playing and it's a wonderful movie with big stars and big production values and a lot of interesting things going for it. But back in the day, there were a lot of westerns that were made with very limited resources and westerns were so hugely popular that the idea was just to get a lot of that out there without always worrying about the details and what resulted from that was some really interesting and offbeat uses of the Western movie convention.

CONAN: And some pretty big actors like Gary Cooper, like James Cagney was in a couple of Westerns, you don't think of that and of course, Randolph Scott, Jimmy Stewart. I think Jimmy Stewart's classic roles are Westerns. Anyway, here's some emails. This is from Nick in Mystic, Connecticut: What about Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi." For someone who's a young filmmaker, this B movie served as the inspiration to make a good movie on the cheap. If you could please comment on how Rodriguez turned to small budget into an almost legend on low budget filmmaking.

Mr. STERRITT: Yeah. And again, Rodriguez has already come up in this conversation with regard to "Grindhouse," which is in the book. And Rodriguez, my own personal view of his secret in his early career when he got launched was that he's just a brilliant film editor and he can take those little pieces of film and he can put them together into these really kinetic combinations that take something - a scene that maybe doesn't even have a whole lot going on for it - and turn it into something that's really exciting to watch. And again, it wasn't just a trick, it's something that he's been able to build on and have quite a major career making kind of mainstream movies as well as little more offbeat things.

CONAN: And we're going to let some e-mailers have some words here, just to give them some chance here. Tony in Cincinnati, Ohio: 'My favorite movie of all time is a B list movie, "The Big Lebowski." It is perhaps the most quotable movie I've ever seen. I highly recommend it to everyone I know that loves B movies. This is from Mark in Nevada, "my all time favorite B movie is certainly "Repo Man" from 1985. Cheaply made, had a quirky script and sensibility. Was funny as hell and about as weird a film as Americans can make. I try to watch it every couple of months to make sure I remember driving makes you less intelligent and that the life of a repo-man is always intense." And here's Mara in Anchorage, Alaska, "The Enchanted Cottage" starring Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire and Herbert Marshall has it all.

An injured war hero, blind pianist who writes toned poems. A creepy and menacing housekeeper who wears all black has a heart of gold and an attempt to make Dorothy McGuire ugly with a little bit of pale lipstick and an eyebrow pencil. It's the perfect movie for a cold autumn day. Pop some corn, brew some tea, leave your disbelief and cynicism in a drawer." And I guess that's a true B movie. We're leaving out however, well, we'll going to leave one clip of tape from another classic genre and that of course it he war picture and this is a clip from Oliver Stone's movie, well, "Platoon."

(Soundbite of movie "Platoon")

Unidentified Man 1: OK. We'll move out in 20 max.

Unidentified Man 2: I thought it was O'Neill's turn tonight.

Unidentified Man 1: No no no no no. Tubs and more houses are short. Two shanks is going on R and R tomorrow and you want to send them out on an ambush. Uh uh, you got the fresh mean, buddy.

Unidentified Man 2: They don't know Barnes and chances are, we're going to run in to something, think about it.

Unidentified Man 1: That's just great, Bob. What do you want me to do? Send one of my guys out to get zapped so some lame ass just in from the woke and get his beauty sleep? No!

CONAN: A clip from Oliver Stone's "Platoon." Of course, he's got a new picture coming out. We'll have to see whether it qualifies as a B movie or not. David Sterritt, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. STERRITT: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: David Sterritt, co-editor of the book "The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love." He's a film professor at Columbia University and the chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and he joined us from the studios of the Production Room in Santa Barbara in California. Coming up, historian James McPherson on the war powers of the president and the role of commander in chief. Stay with us, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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