Bad Movies and “Bad” Movies

Troll 2

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The trailer for I Am Here….Now is totally hypnotic, absurd, and weirdly compelling. But just as compelling is the backstory as transmitted from Hadrian Belove to Andrew Sullivan to the readers of the Daily Dish:

One of our in-house guys cut a really hilarious trailer for Neil Breen’s latest crazy fucking masterpiece of accidental weirdness. The trailer itself is hilarious. If you don’t know him, writer/director/actor/caterer Neil Breen is a real estate agent in Las Vegas who self produces these indescribable movies, casting his friends from the biz…total outsider madness. This guy is so different he has four dots in his ellipses.

For someone like me, this is a genuine find. See, I’m a bad movie buff. A connoisseur of crap, if you will. And recent cinematic history hasn’t been all that kind to my unholy obsession.

Don’t get me wrong: there have been some really positive trends for the terrible movie. Film and editing equipment is getting cheaper every year, especially shitty film and editing equipment. Same goes for visual effects: an aspiring director can create whole worlds on his desktop computer, especially if he doesn’t mind if those worlds are lodged somewhere in the darkest recesses of uncanny valley. It’s easier than ever for a budding auteur with outsized ambition and microscopic talent to scrape together a few thousand, cast some reluctant family members (or non-union actors), and immortalize their hilariously fucked-up vision in celluloid.

That’s where we got The Room, to name arguably the most towering achievement in bad movie history. And it looks like this very same trend has now blessed us with I Am Here….Now. The casual observer might think that the awful film is going through a bit of a renaissance, and she wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But there’s a flipside: for every Troll 2, we now have to sort through five Transmorphers: slick, self-aware productions cobbled together by a professional cast and crew at the behest of a cynical producer. It’s getting harder and harder to find the real crap in this sea of fake crap.

I blame Snakes On a Plane. This was the first mainstream attempt to produce a so-bad-it’s-good B-movie that was wholly cognizant of its badness. Not a truly bad movie, but a “bad” movie. A smirking, ironic commercial pitch to our baser instincts. The difference between the intentionally bad Snakes On a Plane and, say, the great British satire of 70’s genre television Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is that whereas Darkplace is a clever, affectionate riff on a specific period and field in pop culture, Snakes On a Plane is just deliberately half-assed and uses its own half-assedness as a selling point. It promises to invite us in on a joke that isn’t really much of a joke at all.

In other words, there’s no ambition. The only ambition is to flatter our sense of taste and savviness for long enough that we’ll fork over some money. Compare that to The Room, whose trailer promises a film “with the passion of Tennessee Williams.” What makes a movie like The Room so fascinating is the enormous gap between what it tries to be and what it is. Something like Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus can’t compete because it is exactly what it tries to be and can’t stop reminding the audience of that fact.

The recent wave of fake-bad movies is really just another example of how businesses have screwed us all by co-opting irony for commercial purposes. It’s a testament to the dark, hollow place we’ve found ourselves in that television commercials can become enormously popular in their own right simply by commenting on how stilted and hollow television commercials are. Or as David Foster Wallace put it in his essay E Unibus Pluram:

What explains the pointlessness of most published TV criticism is that television has become immune to charges that it lacks any meaningful connection to the world outside it. It’s not that charges of nonconnection have become untrue. It’s that any such connection has become otiose. Television used to point beyond itself. Those of us born in like the sixties were trained to look where it pointed, usually at versions of “real life” made prettier, sweeter, better by succumbing to a product or temptation. Today’s Audience is way better trained, and TV has discarded what’s not needed. A dog, if you point at something, will look only at your finger.

The great thing about a genuine, genuinely ambitious, bad movie is that it tells us something about a real human being’s desires and fears, albeit unintentionally. The Room is as much a movie about half-mad misogynist Tommy Wiseau as it is about poor, cuckolded Johnny. House of the Dead isn’t a story about zombies but a story about a deranged German ex-boxer who somehow cobbled together the financing to adapt some old third-rate arcade game. What is Snakes On a Plane about?

That’s why I’ll continue watching the true disasters, the movies that at least tried to fly before crashing to the runway. I want bad movies, not “bad” movies. You can keep your fucking quotation marks.

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