Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Too good to be bad

One of Portland’s liveliest (and most ecumenical) art blogs – entitled Art Scatter, how’s that for eponymity – recently had a fun exchange of list makings, concerning movies that have moved us. I noted with some surprise that the first three that came to mind for me were, well, I guess, perhaps, you know, shall we just say…..not very good, in terms of production values, etc. And yet they were very effective, gauging by what they set out to do with their constituencies.

The spectrum between effectiveness/affectivity of an artistic product versus its score on the art-o-meter may be cause for a different posting. But Arts Scatter made me realize there are a lot of “bad” movies out there I’m very fond of. Such as:

1. Shock Treatment. Word is that the producing studio decided to dump Richard O’Brien’s ostensible sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show by slashing its budget so drastically that the whole thing had to be shot on the same studio lot. And voila, a concept was born. You’ll have no idea what’s going on for nearly the entire film – but not to worry, ultimately it rewards you for sticking with it. BTW, in the photo? That’s Barry Humphries seated with Patricia Quinn, pre-Dame Edna.

2. Liquid Sky. Send-up of trendy new-wavers or dead-on allegory? This is the story of a spaceship full of itty bitty aliens who come to earth because they get something they need the energy emitted from human orgasms. They start hanging around a rag-tag group of libidinous junkies (now there’s an oxymoron for you), and every time an orgasm somehow happens, the climaxing human vanishes. Considering the film was made when so-called “gay cancer” was only a rumor (it wasn't released until 1983), the story is eerily prescient.

3. Brother Sun, Sister Moon. The word for this film is…………sweet. When I saw it, as a mere slip of a lad, I was seated between two strangers. Some guy on my left was laughing derisively at the pan shots of the Florentine hillsides (underscored by the exceptionally sappy Donovan song in the video below). At the same moment, a woman sitting to my right was sobbing uncontrollably, she was so transported by Zeffirelli’s vision of young sainthood. Catholic propaganda or high art? You tell me.

4. The Exorcist. If this kitschfest actually frightened you, we cannot be friends. How anyone could be scared by such uproarious fun is beyond me. Back when the movie was first-run, and was regarded by some as a kind of inverse gospel, I nearly got thrown out of a Santa Barbara movie house because I couldn’t keep my guffawing to a subvocal level. PLEASE.

5. No list like this would be complete without mention of The Bad Seed, a movie that succeeds because it knows it’s schlock and plays it straight anyway. My favorite moment of many in this film occurs when a besotted mother invades the McCormack household to accuse cute little Rhoda of murder. The woman can barely stagger around the room, but when she demands a drink, Mrs. McCormack pushes out a fully stocked drink cart and begins preparing her a cocktail!

I could go on. And on and on. But I’d rather read about your guilty pleasures. So come on. Spill it. You know you want to.


Prince Gomolvilas said...

Man, if this list were any more gay, it'd be Paul Lynde.

The Original Joe Fisher said...

What about "Forbidden Zone"? Directed by Danny Elfman's brother, music by Oingo Boingo and of course starring the amazing Hervé Villechaize with Danny Elfman himself making a cameo as "Satan". For me it's hard to get better/worse.

Steve Patterson said...

Two words: Repo Man.

Anonymous said...

Re #3, ok, only because you said "you tell me" -- here's what I remember from Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Simple joys are holy. Um, I guess that makes me more like the viewer in the seat to your right.

Brilliant list, Mr. Mead!

Anonymous said...

"Repo Man," yes! Great flick! As is "Brother From Another Planet."
I want to do a shout-out for Steve Reeves here, Mr. Hercules/Goliath/Romulus/Captain Morgan/Thief of Baghdad. Those old sword and sandal flicks are hugely entertaining, because they were awful but knew they were awful. Unlike the Brad Pitt "Troy" which was awful but thought it was arty. (Same problem with the latter-day trio of "Star Wars" movies, come to think of it.) My 10-year-old son asked me the other day if they had chariot races in the Olympics. Sadly, I couldn't explain why they don't.
Also, a vote for an old Charleton Heston western caslled "Will Penny," which struck me as profound when it came out in 1968. But then, in 1968 I was in an altered state of consciousness.

MattyZ said...

Harrumph, Mead!

I have heard you talk about the hilarity of The Exorcist before - and you're certainly not alone. But I've come to believe that in the horror genre -which is really a folk tale genre - people will often be divided between those who laugh and those who shiver, depending on the film. The Exorcist is one of my favorite films of all time - of any genre - because I think it is legitimately artful in its raw, docudrama style. It has never scared me, but it does thrill me - and it is one of my favorite investigations of confrontation of the unknown - and the arrogance of man. It also exposes the medical profession for what I think it often is: a guessing factory. That being said, I understand why people laugh at it. When it was re-released in 2000, I saw it three times in the theatre and found audiences wildly divided. I will always love it and believe Friedkin/Blatty captured the novel in a way that could never be done today.

I hope we're still friends. :)

My own good-bad movie followed on the heels of The Exorcist, and it is the 1976 version of The Omen. I bought the special addition DVD of this film and can't get over how over-the-top and sort of trashy it is. Lee Remick and Gregory Peck give hilarious performances - every line delivered as though their lives depended on it. And Billy Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock offers one of the greatest horror movie turns of all time...in the style of old style horror villains. Somehow though, it all sort of works. And the film gives us the Oscar winning Jerry Goldsmith score (his only win, which is a crime - he was so good!) - along with its hit single, "Ave Satani," a choral work that chants "Hail Satan!" over and over again in Latin. The song got beat out for the Best Original Song Oscar by Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen". HAHAHAHAHAHA! That alone makes watching this movie a hoot.

Unlike The Exorcist, The Omen does make me laugh - but I also shiver and still jump. It's a fun ride - but in no way a good film.

MightyToyCannon said...

Apropos to the upcoming Portland return of "Phantom of the Opera" at the Keller: In the mid-70s, Brian De Palma directed an amusingly bad and very loose adaptation called "The Phantom of the Paradise." The film starred singer-songwriter Paul Williams (perhaps you'll think of him the next time you spin a Carpenter's album and hear his hit "We've Only Just Begun"). Williams plays a record company owner trying to steal a brilliant composer's work. The unfortunate artist has all his teeth pulled out and replaced with metal studs, and is disfigured in a tragic accident in which his face gets stuck in a record press. I had to go to Wikipedia to remind myself of the details, and was rewarded by discovering the following ad lines:

"He sold his soul for rock n'roll"


"He's been maimed and framed, beaten, robbed and mutilated. But they still can't keep him from the woman he loves."

Mead said...

Lord-a-mercy, there's some good bad films here. We could start a whole filmfest based on this very premise.

And Prince, if you think my list here is queer, you should see what I wrote on Arts Scatter. I think I actually referred to Outrageous! But then you're too young to remember that one, you whippersnapper. But then again if you actually know from Paul Lynde, I have to say you look mighty good for your age.

Marc Acito said...

Last night Jon Kretzu of ART showed us clips from Queen Bee starring Joan Crawford. It was so deliciously bad I can't wait to see the whole thing.

Patrick Wohlmut said...

Time Bandits has always been one of my favorites. One of Terry Gilliam's early efforts, it features a band of dwarfs who have skipped out on employment with the Almighty, and stolen His map of the universe with which to discover fame and treasure. A young boy gets caught up in the fiasco, and, well... Every time I see it, I can't decide if it's a work of monumental genius, or monumental stupidity. Either way, I love love love it.

Come to think of it, I think it's been a huge influence on my writing.

Mead said...

O but Marco, now I'm itching to know WHY Mr. K was showing that film. Does it inform your upcoming production of Holidazed, peut-etre????

Mead said...

And that can change, Patrick. The first time I saw Time Bandits, I was terribly disappointed and spent an hour at Salmagundi boring my friends with and an exegesis on its defects. Then a decade later I watched it on TV and thought it was totally delightful. So between lowered expectations and (let us hope) a more refined palate, I completely changed my mind.

You don't think all the Vicodin might have....?

Patrick Wohlmut said...

Very possible, Mead. Very possible. Oxycodone has done frightful things to my brain chemistry... ;-)

Steve Patterson said...

The greatest bad movie of all time may be "Plan Nine from Outer Space," but, as far as absolutely guilty pleasures, I have to cop to "Escape from New York." I got stuck in Klamath Falls once, waiting on a train (is there a Northwest blues song in there?), and it was the only show in town. Having eight hours to kill, I sat through it twice, with a trip to a bar in between, and I have to admit enjoying the holy hell out of it. I mean, Donald Pleasance, playing the president, stitches the bad guy with a submachine gun at the climax.

C A Wohlmut said...

I love "Footloose", if it's on I'll stop what I'm doing and watch it, no matter where in the action I catch it. My love for this movie and all things Kevin Bacon (except the debacle that is "Hollow Man")led me to discover the band he and his brother have. So,now I confess to owning not one but two Bacon Brothers CD's and yes I listen to them.

And don't get me started on my husband's affection for "Big Trouble in Little China". For my money it's horrible, but he love, love loves it... no accounting for taste. :-)

Sarah said...

Amen on The Bad Seed! We did a musical camp parody in Chicago at Corn Productions which would have performed at NY Fringe, but we were cease and desisted by the literary agent who represents the estate of Maxwell Anderson. Ah, well.

My secret shame: I saw Robin Hood: Prince of Theives in the movie theatre nine times. In my defense I was 16 and had a crush on Alan Rickman, but I know that doesn't excuse it.

Mead said...

BIG TROUBLE is truly Hollywood hokum at its most egregious. I'm at a loss to explain why it actually entertains me. Unless it's just fun that it stars Kim Catrall before she was Kim Catrall. Prince, have you seen this one? It makes FLOWER DRUM SONG look like RAISIN IN THE SUN.

Patrick Wohlmut said...

Mead, I have to say that when you look at his work, stylistically; and when you see the kind of imaginative work John Carpenter does, and how well he does it; I'm pretty sure this is a bit of Hollywood Hokum that KNOWS just how crappy it really is. It's both skewering and revering an entire genre. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are too darn smart to play it otherwise.

That, and Kim Cattrall is really hot in those chinese silks and that eye shadow.

Anonymous said...

I miss Salmagundi.

E. Hunter Spreen said...

Sweet Home Alabama - guilty pleasure
Show Girls - (bad movie, but all pleasure w/no guilt)
Mars Attacks!
And yes to The Bad Seed - a friend of mine was recently in a stage version of the play. It was slapped with a cease and desist when the estate discovered that a six foot tall man was playing Rhoda.

Mead said...

Mars Attacks! has got to be one of the most underrated movies of all time. A major flop at the box office, yet this movie is a scream from start to finish. One favorite moment among many: O-Lan Jones playing a trailer trash mama prepared to take on the whole Martian fleet with just a shotgun.