Friday, July 30, 2010

Accidental Genius

Over at the AV Club, Leor Galil interviews Michael Stephenson, former child star of the wonderfully inept Troll 2 and director of the new documentary, Best Worst Movie, about the cult phenomenon behind, well, you guessed it.

With Bad Movie Night being a staple over at my sister's place, we've discovered that some nights are indeed busts. That's because it's easy to find bad movies, but it's not the easiest thing in the world to find sublimely enjoyable bad movies, no matter how many good friends you surround yourself with, and no matter how many judgement-impairing chemicals or social lubricants are available (or drugs and alcohol, as the kids are calling them nowadays).

Some movies are just horrible pieces of shit: cynical "high-concept" studio films without an original idea behind them. Karate Dog. Santa With Muscles. Theodore Rex. These are not fun bad movies to watch; they're depressing and soul-crushing. They've been made solely to pander to the lowest common denominator by people with no talent, and it shows with every frame.

Some movies are just unpleasant to sit through, no matter what frame of mind you're in.

Then you have the films that are clearly (or at the very least, suspiciously) aiming to be fun bad movies, and they suck precisely because they're trying to be bad movies, like After Last Season and (to a lesser degree) Repo: The Genetic Opera (although this isn't so much trying to be a bad movie as it is trying to deliberately be a "cult" film) These movies are trying to gain cult status, and therefore missing the very point (cult films becoming such after organically cultivating a devout following).

Finally, if you're patient enough, or get a good tip, you come across the genuinely enjoyable bad movie: something that you watch multiple times and encourage those who haven't seen it to watch it multiple times with you. Movies that are, in odd ways, deeply personal misfires, sometimes (almost painfully) revealing the souls and psyches of their makers.

Here's part of the exchange between Galil and Stephenson that nails the appeal of Great Bad Films:

AVC: When directors promote their movies as bad, does it somehow negate the very reason people go to see bad movies?

MS: I think it takes away a little bit from the very reason why people come together and enjoy these types of movies, and that's because they are genuine failures. They weren't meant to be what they are. What's happened is accidental, and it's accidental brilliance nonetheless, but it is not something that was strived for in the production of these films.

AVC: Aside from the accidentally bad qualities of these films, what else do you think qualifies a good-bad movie?

MS: The fundamental quality, obviously, is complete sincerity and absolute lack of irony.

Now, obviously, there's no formula for Great Bad Movies, precisely for the same reasons why there's no formula for a genuinely Great Movie. The elements that make Tommy Wiseau's The Room a Great Bad Movie are different than what make Tiptoes a Great Bad Movie. Hell, we've seen some achingly sincere, personal films during Bad Movie Night that are crushingly dull, and clearly focus-grouped-to-death films that are excellent (if not great or Great) bad movies.

But sincerity does go along way: trying to make one kind of picture and ending up with something completely different out of sheer ineptitude and/or insanity (contrary to the retconning/backpedaling ads calling The Room a "laugh riot," it's pretty clear there's not an ounce of irony in the movie itself).

(The only reason why I'm not saying sincerity is essential is because some genuinely enjoyable bad movies, like Hard Ticket to Hawaii or Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf aren't born out of any compelling desire from their makers to communicate something personal or profound with its audience. But although sincerity isn't mandatory, it's more often than not crucial; and irony is death for a Great or great bad movie.)

Ultimately, you have to wade through lots and lots of different kinds of crap before you get to the genuinely good butt-nuggets (to coin a lovely phrase). Sometimes, it's definitely worth it. Other times, you end up watching Sorority Boys.

Wanting to share The Butterfly Effect with the gang,

James "Advocate of Ass" Comtois



Blogger Danny Bowes said...

Excellent post, sir. The elusive Good/Great Bad Movie is a rare joy indeed.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Jamie P said...

Great Minds Blog Alike, James! I was lucky enough to see the Chicago screening of "Best Worst Movie" over the weekend (followed by a midnight show of "Troll 2") and was struck me the most in re-watching T2 was the absolute sincerity of the people in the film. They're not trying to be bad actors or to make a bad movie - its just a thing that happened. Regardless, "Best Worst Movie" was a total joy and I can't wait to see the DVD extras. Hope you're well!

10:55 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Thanks, Danny! Yeah, once you get through your list of best bets (Roadhouse, Troll 2, Howling II, The Wicker Man and The Happening), you do find Bad Movie Night to be a bit of a gamble more and more.

And hey, Jamie! I actually just read your entry on seeing Best Worst Movie at the Music Box! Great minds indeed. :)

And definitely: you can tell watching Troll 2 that the people involved aren't trying to make a jokey or bad movie. It's a sincere failure.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the documentary and am bummed that I apparently just missed the NYC screening before its official November release.

11:29 PM  
Blogger joshcon80 said...

Yay! Troll 2 is such a good time. I'd also recommend The Apple and Samurai Cop for your movie nights. Both are AMAZING.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

I've heard nothing but batshit great things about The Apple. That definitely needs to go into the queue.

12:00 PM  
Blogger joshcon80 said...

The Apple is INCREDIBLE. It's in my top 5. Also, I have the soundtrack on vinyl, which is the most expensive record I have in my collection, just because it's so obscure.

When you see the movie, you will know why this is funny.

11:21 AM  

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