Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bad Movies versus Bad Books

I really enjoy a painfully bad movie--you know, Ed-Wood goodies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, or baffling, incompetent curiosities such as Robot Monster (see picture to left). If you can manage a ludicrous script, clumsy acting, poor directing, and bad production values simultaneously, I'm all yours.

One of my friends, who can't understand how I can bear to watch these disasters, said, "I just don't get it. What's the point in watching bad movies? You don't enjoy reading bad books!"

That's not entirely true. As I made clear in an earlier post, I am a big fan of Atlanta Nights, the worst book ever written. But, then, Atlanta Nights was composed by a team of professional writers with the stated intent of writing a horrifically bad novel. (They succeeded. You could teach novel writing by having pupils study Atlanta Nights and figure out what's wrong with it. It's brilliant.)

The famed novella The Eye of Argon is in that class as well, but I've always thought the attention devoted to it was rather mean-spirited. Yes, the little I've read of it was awful--but it was written by a 16-year-old. Hounding him about it forever seems wrong. I wrote a few things in my adolescence (that is, a couple of years ago), and I wouldn't want them following me around for decades. Or at all.

There are upper limits on the incompetence in a book. If the language skills are below a certain level, you can't make enough sense out of it to tell it is a bad story. Fiction is a participatory medium, and in the face of the incomprehensible the reader just stops.

But film--ah, film is a passive medium, and you can sit back and let it roll by. Unless someone had their hand over the lens of the camera, there are images. one after another. It may not make sense; it may even be painful. But on and on it flows. While a bad book is usually unreadable, a bad movie can be compulsively watchable. And you can experience it with friends!

The wonderful thing is that movies are costly and collaborative. Even a cheap bad movie requires significant sums of money and the commitment of dozens of people. All this energy raises a truly bad movie from merely inept and uninteresting to a full-on fiasco, the artistic equivalent of the destruction of Pompeii. How can you look away from that?

Any fool can write a bad book. But to create a bad movie...well, as Hillary says, It Takes a Village.


Jen Ster said...

And sometimes it takes a pop band. I reference of course "Arena, an Absurd Notion," starring Milo O'Shea as the bad guy, a gang of roller skating dwarves and the members of Duran Duran. Should not be watched while stone cold sober because, under the influence of certain substances, it's actually funny.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Not sure if I ought to be intrigued or frightened. Either way, I promise not to go near it sober.

Aliya Whiteley said...

There's a Steven Seagal film where Steven says, 'So is this the behaviour of a normal serial killer, or is something more sinister at work?'

I love the fact that it took a team of writers to come up with that.

Tim Stretton said...

A bad movie is usually fun in some way--usually more than one.

A bad book is just irritating, at best. For some reason there's no pleasure in reading one (Atlanta Nights, which sets out to be bad, can be seen as a parody--so not, in fact, bad at all, but accomplished literary criticism).

David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya--

That's marvellous!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Atlanta Nights started out as a prank on a vanity publisher, but the Muse decided to touch it anyhow. It's genius...and not in a nice way.

Neil said...

Worst/best film I've seen is The Howling VII. You think you're getting a werewolf film, but no, you're getting a country and western laden with non-actors making chilli.

Having said that, I haven't seen Robot Monster.

David Isaak said...

Any film involving Chili (such as Costa-Gavras' "Missing') sounds good to me.

But will I need to see The Howling II-VI to follow the storyline?

Neil said...

Not at all. It is a stand-alone masterpiece. Ahem.