Felicia Feaster and Bret Wood's new book, Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film is a fascinating read. It takes its readers inside the salacious and fascinating world of '30s and '40s exploitation cinema, a world where good girls were lured into lives of prostitution, where college kids flocked to drug parties, where doctors warned young lovers about the effects of venereal disease by showing them graphic documentary footage of festering syphilitic sores and rotting body parts.
Books are great for developing ideas, but by their very nature, books about cinema take the "motion" out of motion pictures. They can't actually show you the scenes that they describe. They can only hint at what you'll find. That's why this tie-in interactive CD-ROM from Night Kitchen Media, Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of Exploitation Film, is possibly even more compelling than Feaster and Wood's excellent book. There just isn't any replacement for actually seeing the film clip of the self-flagellating cross-toting worshippers in The Lash of the Penitentes (a religious-cult expose) or the doctor delivering a baby in Because of Eve (a social disease saga). The generous quantity of rare film clips on this interactive CD-ROM (from more than 25 exploitation films) allows you to experience choice moments from classic exploitation movies, such as the scene where Dave O'Brien madly puffs on a reefer in Reefer Madness or the scene where a madam gives a young woman a tour of a house of prostitution in Slaves in Bondage.
But Forbidden Fruit is much more than simply a collection of video clips. The text (also provided by Feaster and Wood) isn't as detailed as you'll find in the book version, but the layout provides hypertext links for every film title mentioned. If you want more information about any movie mentioned in the text, you need only click on the title and then you'll be sorting through a variety of materials tied to the movie in question--stills, ads, reviews, posters, censor files, etc.
Another big advantage of the CD-ROM presentation is it allows you to select from three different ways of reaching the information. You can choose "The Story" and read a long essay that serves as an excellent primer on the exploitation genre. You can browse through the materials at your own leisure by choosing "The Films" and selecting whichever film titles fit your fancy. Or you can take the virtual tour and wander down Main Street of a small American town and into a theater plastered with exploitation movie posters.
The virtual tour in particular is one of the real surprises that you'll find in Forbidden Fruit. The era of exploitation cinema may now be long gone, but the virtual tour gives you a taste of what it must have been like to attend the showing of an exploitation movie. You get to wander through the lobby, past the movie posters and lobby stills, past the concession stand and the roadshow man hawking his wares, and into the theater, where you can watch choice "coming attraction" clips and excerpts from exploitation classics. And afterwards, if you step out the side exit, you might even run into an unsavory guy in the alley who peddles sex pamphlets.
The virtual tour uses Apple's QuickTime VR plug-in, while the bulk of the disc actually consists of frames-based HTML, so you can use your own browser to view the presentation--provided you have version 4.0. or better of Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape. (Version 4.5 or better of Netscape is highly recommended, and it's included on the CD-ROM, although I also got decent results with IE 5.0.) The HTML layout is efficient but not really any different from what you might find on any well-designed Web site. I know the designers here at Images would salivate at the prospect of designing without worrying about bandwidth limitations. So I was a little bit disappointed at the traditional left-side aligned HTML layout. But the virtual tour is a stunner. And all the content is exceptional.
The Forbidden Fruit CD-ROM serves a great function in preserving the exploitation film's role in film history and allowing a larger audience to experience these films.
Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of Exploitation Film from Night Kitchen Media is available on CD-ROM. PC requirements: Windows 95/98, 133+ mhz Pentium, 32MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM. Mac requirements: System 7+, Power PC 90+ mhz, 32MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM. Suggested list price: $29.95. For more information, check out the Forbidden Fruit Web site.