Sunday, December 5

A star wonders: how to make a movie so bad that it’s good | Movie

TThere is nothing like a good or bad movie here. Sometimes the title alone is enough to let us know what’s in store for us – think Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). Sometimes the good-bad can be knowing that we are guaranteed an overly mature performance from a particular star: think Nicolas Cage from 2010 onwards. Sometimes a lurid or ridiculous premise promises to have a good time on its own (see: Night of the Lepus, aka the killer rabbit movie). But if the creative minds behind these kinds of cultural milestones were in on the joke, it’s less obvious at times.

If you’ve seen the romantic drama The Room (2003), you’ve seen the 21st century’s most advanced contribution to the canon of good and evil, the most lavishly entertaining example of the form. If you haven’t seen The Room, save this article for later and enjoy its charms. What about The Room? It is much quicker to list what is okay with it, because the answer is nothing. He’s completely unhinged. People wear tuxedos for no reason, then play soccer. Shots are shot out of focus. Characters regularly succumb to soap opera-style outbursts. It’s, as they say, so bad, it’s good.

Movies that are so bad that they are good are becoming legendary for that very reason, of course, not a recent phenomenon. Happy 30th birthday to cult favorite Troll 2, a movie that doesn’t feature trolls. Speaking of birthdays, 2020 also saw Showgirls turn 25. Once deemed so bad it’s good, it has now been enthusiastically claimed as a work of misunderstood genius. Xanadu, the calamitous nightclub extravaganza that brought Olivia Newton-John on skates together with the Electric Light Orchestra, turns 40 this year and has yet to be claimed as anything more than a nightmare. But there is still time.

Wooden, spoons ... The room.
Wooden spoons … (left) Juliette Danielle, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in The Room. Photograph: Christophel Collection / Alamy

The godfather of wonderfully terrible movies is Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed Wood’s 1959 effort on aliens attacking Earth. The rope hubcaps are commissioned as interstellar spacecraft, wobbling on their way to our planet. When we first get a glimpse of the extraterrestrial beings inside, the hubcaps start to look quite cosmic in contrast; the aliens bear a resemblance to economic actors wearing medieval fayre costumes. Horror veteran Bela Lugosi, who appears as the villain, passed away before filming; His character scenes are constructed from screen test footage he had shot with Wood, plus additional footage featuring another much taller guy with a cape over his face. Throughout the movie, the landscape has a habit of staggering alarmingly, especially the tombstones.

But would we still see Plan 9 or anyone else today if the filmmakers had dodged these pitfalls and released ordinary movies? The history of cinema is littered with anonymous graves of bad movies, but not all of them falter. It’s the flaws that make them memorable, that help them achieve legendary status.

Perhaps people like Tommy Wiseau, the star director, writer and producer of The Room, got the last laugh. Thousands of people show up each year to screenings of his masterpiece to interact with it, throwing plastic spoons into the air, as is now traditional in any of the many shots in the film where you can glimpse a background picture frame that contains an action. image representing a spoon. The myth of the film is so great that James Franco made a biopic, The Disaster Artist, about its creation. Fans love The Room for its unique flaws; it has a legacy that few legitimate comedies achieve. One of the last screenings I attended before Covid was at a sold-out Prince Charles theater, with Wiseau presiding over proceedings with out of place charisma: If you want to lead a cult, make a cult movie.

Wild things
Softcore blimey … (left) Kevin Bacon, Denise Richards, Neve Campbell and Matt Dillon in Wild Things. Photograph: Allstar / Columbia

The Room is far from the only example of this phenomenon: from fan conventions to midnight screenings and their digital equivalents, collectively delighting in a piece of culture that is enjoyable in a way that its creators may not have intended is a form of entertainment with a long history. . What’s more, in a year in which meeting in person has been a challenge, collective digital encounters have never been more important. Personally speaking, a regular WhatsApp group viewing party hosted by a friend helped me overcome the blockage; It was called Sexual Tuesday and it was devoted exclusively to watching shitty erotic thrillers (highlights included I Know Who Killed Me, Wild Things, and Presumed Innocent).

Still, the filmmakers themselves don’t exist in a vacuum, a far cry from how their films are received by movie fans. Most are movie fans; they are fully aware of the concept of so-bad-is-good. Sure, most of them would rather make a genuine classic, but isn’t it better to make something memorable than something forgettable, even when it’s memorable for the wrong reasons? The geniuses involved in Plan 9 and The Room weren’t trying to create venerably silly movies, but today there are plenty of other less innocent filmmakers who want a piece of that action.

Look at the consciously silly Sharknado franchise, in which people are terrified of tornadoes filled with a diverse range of aquatic predators. It’s not a show too concerned with the demands of physics, but it does have a keen sense of what its audience might find astonishing. Sharknado 3 ended with series regular Tara Reid seemingly crushed by flying debris, and then ran a Twitter marketing campaign where fans could decide their fate. Fans could tweet #AprilLives or #AprilDies, with the results revealed in the fourth Sharknado movie. It turned out that April would live to face more sharks in the air … as a resurrected cyborg. The Sharknado movies are kind enough, but they lack the magic associated with movies that don’t try as hard to achieve cult status.

Saw a shark ... Sharknado 2.
Saw a shark … Sharknado 2: The second. Photograph: The Asylum / Kobal / Rex / Shutterstock

And they are not just monster movies. No one behind Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014) was casting a famous cat for a meme because they believed the movie would just be good. They hoped to create a cult movie. By the end of 2013, the company that managed the image of Grumpy Cat was valued at around $ 1 million; his movie aired on Lifetime, and #WorstChristmasEver was trending for the first half of the movie. Everyone knew on entering him what his defects were; everything was integrated into the marketing proposition.

Maybe it’s something about the season – there’s a thriving cottage industry dedicated to producing cheesy holiday movies, with Hallmark, Lifetime, Netflix, and many more all proud to produce variations on a theme (see: Wreath for Christmas, The Mistletoe Promise, The Christmas Train, Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber). It is primarily about a struggling pastry chef who falls thickly in love at Christmas time with a member of European royalty disguised for complex reasons as a humble greeting card designer; and they’re enough to temporarily unfreeze the heart of even this staunch anti-monarchical Grinch.

Whether it is legitimately good or good or bad has never mattered less to the success of a movie or television show. Now it is possible to attract millions of views from people who laugh at something bad or good, and that’s a game changer. A midnight screening of Troll 2 at an independent theater isn’t going to take Captain America off the top of the box office charts, but on a streaming service it’s an entirely different ball game – you, the viewer, have unlimited options to choose from. nobody. extra money, so it costs nothing to try something you’ve heard is outrageous. You gasp, you tell others, who then check it to see if it’s possible that it’s true.

But deciding that you love a cultural phenomenon despite its imperfections can seem hollow when those imperfections seem openly designed according to business imperatives. Appreciating genuine artistic failure requires an appreciation of human effort and human fallibility. That disappears when you look at people who are intentionally trying to be so bad that it is good; it’s like seeing a mistake on stage in You’ve Been Framed, or Jimmy Fallon deliberately performing on Saturday Night Live. You don’t have to be a Sharknado movie to jump the shark.

That’s why Tom Hooper’s recent Cats is such an enjoyable movie. Not really! There are many reasons why Cats turned out the way he did, most of which weren’t very flattering to anyone involved, but he can’t be accused of trying to secure some sort of empty cult status through a deliberate attempt at evil. Cats is a prestigious adaptation of one of the most successful musicals ever performed, with a cast of world-class stars and the world’s leading dancers and choreographers. This is a movie that was trying to get Academy Awards; a movie that hoped Jennifer Hudson’s tremulous, ugly version of Memory would potentially hit the same spot among Oscar voters as Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of I Dreamed a Dream in Les Misérables.

Instead, from the moment the first trailer was released, audiences responded in surprise. Everything glowed with amazing energy. Cats had fur, but they were shaped like humans, with human hands, but cat ears and tails. There was a sense of dancers gliding down the floor instead of being located in an actual physical space, as if everything was happening in some kind of DayGlo limbo, and clearly none of their extraordinary weirdness was part of the plan. It was meant to be a festive gift for the family. Marketing insisted, with a hint of impressive Stockholm syndrome energy: “This Christmas, be Believe. “If a global pandemic hadn’t gotten in the way, its status as a howling element on the midnight movie circuit would have already been confirmed.

These kinds of movies, where the gap between intention and effect is so stark, so dramatic, are rare, and in a post-irony era where everyone is desperate to be perceived as “in on the joke”, they are every rare time. These precious gems are what Susan Sontag referred to in her classic Notes on Camp essay as “failed seriousness” – cultural artifacts made with sincerity, really going for it, doing everything possible, and absolutely stacking them. Think Madonna in Swept Away, Naomi Watts as Princess Diana, Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dehest. Charming, involuntary, camp. That’s what we lose when a Sharknado comes to town: camping in its purest form.

Catherine Bray is a documentary maker; his BBC Four movie Guiltless pleasures is in the iPlayer now

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