Sunday, March 30, 2008

Terribly Terrible

The ceaselessly charming Mr. Queenan has an article in The Guardian about his search for the worst movie ever. I for the most part agree with him; however I like the idea that the worst movies can be found by the same means as the best ones.

I agree that a truly terrible movie, first and foremost, must start life as an attempt at being a good movie. This is what makes Showgirls so app(e)a(l)ling: genuinely, every step of the way, Showgirls quite plainly thinks it is being a good movie. And the harder it tries, the better it isn't. Points two and three are variations upon this theme: the movie cannot be ridiculously obscure[1] and it cannot be a deliberate attempt at making the worst movie ever. This is basically a restatement of point 1, but Queenan fails to touch upon why this is a philosophically satisfying set of criteria.

The best way I know of for judging a movie is to gage the nobility of its intention, then ask how fully it realises this intention. Groundhog Day is a genuinely great movie because it aims to explore Nietzchean principles of eternality through Buddhist ideals of Enlightenment and Christian tenets of selflessness; but it also aims to make you laugh at Bill Murray stepping in a puddle repeatedly, and it does all these things very ably[2].

The reason Meet the Spartans was not embraced as an all-time terrible movie - and the reason Troma pictures are never as celebrated as, say, I Know Who Killed Me or Catwoman - is that, perversely, according to this simple means of judgement, they're actually perfectly okay movies. They set out to be bad movies, and then arrive as bad movies. Their intention is supremely lazy, but in fulfilling it, they exempt themselves from the canon of truly agelessly abysmal movies. Nobody is going to champion Scary Movie 2 as king of the heap of cinematic excrement, because that's exactly what it wants, and so fuck it.

My own nomination for Worst Movie Ever has long been Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion. This beats out other contenders for reasons both Queenan's and my own: while I don't know whether I would rather watch Crimes of Passion again than The Fellowship of the Ring or King Kong, I would sit through the former with a dumbfounded amazement that someone would make this movie and nobody would stop them; whereas the latter movies also provoke in me Queenan's "sense of dread .. a fear that [I] may one day be forced to watch the film again" only because they are so powerfully, life-alteringly boring[3].

Neither Crimes of Passion nor Tears of the Sun (another contender) generated the powerful prerelease dread mandated by Queenan, but I wonder about this one. Who can forget the negative hype generated by New Zealand's least favourite movie ever, a movie that I will fight tooth-and-nail against my countryman to defend as Perfectly Good? But my own opinions notwithstanding, this is also a movie that catapulted its makers and stars into a stratosphere that, in some cases, may have been almost as harmful for their careers as the oubliette to which Michael Cimino was banished.

(Cimino, auteur of Queenan's pick for Worst Movie Ever, had another movie released - a movie to which perfectly hot properties Mickey Rourke and Oliver Stone were also attached - a mere five years after Heaven's Gate. The director of New Zealand's Least Favourite Movie Ever has only just finished shooting his next movie, slated for release twelve years after becoming king of the world with the movie everyone said would sink him. Also, he shot the picture in New Zealand, so apparently we like him okay as long as he brings the moneys).

I would argue for Tears of the Sun on the inclusion of any bottom-hundred list, though, because it fails so dismally at articulating its vile message - a fairly repulsive 80s-throwback White Man's Burden vision of foreign policy elucidated much more skilfully by Sylvester Stallone of late - while also consistently failing to be in the least bit entertaining or artistically interesting. There is nothing at which it succeeds, and if it did succeed at anything it tries to do, it would still only be as good as Meet the Spartans, because everything it tries to do (with the possible exception of putting Tom Skerritt back on screen) is repugnant.

But you don't walk out of Tears of the Sun wanting to kill it. My brother and I have a long-standing agreement, actually, to just agree that Tears of the Sun never happened. You walk out of Tears of the Sun feeling like a bit of a chump for having given it your time and money.

Whereas you walk out of Crimes of Passion deeply, passionately wanting to find everyone who did anything on it, and slap them about the face, and ask them, "What will you do? How will you erase the unspeakably twee theme music of this movie from my head; how will you stop me hearing it, and remembering the scene in which a man straps buoys to his feet and jumps up and down and spurts milk from his mouth, proclaiming himself The Human Penis? If you cannot allow me to unsee your movie, how on God's green earth will you make it alright for you and I to live in the same world, after what you've made me watch?"

It involves real people. It aims to do something. It fails so dismally at that something, and after all's said and done, its aims aren't even particularly noble or, hell, particularly difficult to reach. Any number of Shannon Tweed movies achieve every day anything Crimes of Passion could reasonably have hoped to do, and everything Shannon Tweed has been in is fairly unmitigated crap.

It fails in every way Showgirls fails, and then a few dozen ways besides. It hits notes every bit as low as Alvin and the Chipmunks, and makes that movie look accomplished. In the gap between expectation and result, Crimes of Passion makes the year's worst movie, Jumper, look like The fucking Matrix.

So don't watch it then.

[1] The Shirt is by far and away the worst movie I have ever seen in every technical category; however it could never seriously be the worst movie ever made because, as my friend Patrick pointed out over the end credits, it was a movie so poor that one would need neither resources nor technical acumen to improve upon it. Which is to say, it's clearly a movie made by retards, and as such, to criticise it would be like mocking a child for not painting as well as a Real Artist.

[2] And Now For Something A Little Axe-Grindier: This, I believe, is something that can be used to separate the true classics from the mere Fucking Good Movies. Two exemplary Fucking Good Movies that are not classics are Run Lola Run and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. These are
very good movies because they aim to say something true while doing
shit-hot things within the art, and they do these things.

This is to
say that Run Lola Run and Eternal Sunshine are not, under cold analysis, as "good" as Groundhog Day (or The Shawshank Redemption or Heat), because while all these movies fulfil their aims (which is good), Lola and Sunshine's
primary aims (I would argue) are inseparable from the notion of doing
neat shit within the art, which is not as good as doing neat shit
within the species.

[3] Caveat to prevent my immediate extradition: ain't nothing wrong with Return of the King.

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