For this reason Hume strikes us—correctly—as a snob
November 24, 2019 6:41 PM   Subscribe

To a child, the adult world is oppressive in part because of its apparent competence, its air of knowing what ought to be done and when and what to call everything. The unending, dogged, elaborate, even painstaking failure of Plan 9—the way it seems to go out of its way to fail—was tonic to the imagination, a kind of carnivalesque reversal. I needed to see adult inadvertence, and name it as such; I needed to observe the little hole it made in the world.
This is a treat, thank you.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:47 PM on November 24, 2019 [15 favorites]

And having finished it, it stays impressive and well-written and well-observed and affecting to the end. Quite the final couple of paragraphs.

Also reading it has helped me come to terms with the orchestral stab on the title card for the word “Tuesday” in The Shining, which I can’t help but find unintentionally hilarious in a movie that’s anything but.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:04 PM on November 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

this is a fantastic essay, at once rich and accessible, as much about its subject as it is about everything else in the universe, as is the way with a particularly good piece of writing.

thanks so much for sharing.
posted by Kybard at 9:25 PM on November 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

It is a really thoughtful essay which I've been thinking about since it appeared. I used to be a big fan of "so bad they're good" movies when I was younger, but eventually changed how I thought about those kinds of movies, giving up the very idea of "good bad" movies entirely. I don't think there's any use to the differentiation other than, perhaps, in how it makes you think about your appreciation of movies, or any art really, more generally. There is, for me, no "so bad it's good" just movies that provide a meaningful experiential effect and those that don't, with any sense of qualitative assessment being more in trying to determine what the nature of that experience is and where it comes from in relation to other movies and the world. I still like many of those same "good bad" movies but don't think of them in those terms anymore.

In similar fashion, I've come to rather strongly dislike the "laughing at" movies for any sense of superiority to others or the films in favor of accepting that there are movies that defy conventions in ways that provide an aesthetic pleasure for how they violate norms, which isn't really all that different between "bad" and "good" movies viewed from a little more distance. My appreciation of movies comes down to what I'm able to take away from the experience and give some vague sense of name to and what remains unnameable but still potent. Most movies aren't that interesting, they provide minor variations on conventions and pleasures, tweaking them just enough to maybe be tolerable or something a bit more or a good bit less. It's the movies that are "strange" that are the more interesting and that sense of "strangeness" can come from a variety aspects to the films in ways that all can provide a sense of resonant dissonance that sparks a stronger emotional response. I started to go on at length about that, but I'll leave it there instead since no one needs a gigantic essay on the subject from me.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:17 AM on November 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

It is an interesting essay that is probably too much for my brain. I think of art more from the appreciation side. It's not a quality of construction but a quality of appreciation. There's different modes and ways to appreciate things, and people can fight over what's more prestigious and worthwhile modes of appreciating which things.

Still, I had a friend who was really into found footage festival stuff. I have liked a lot of bad things, I don't consider my taste to be refined or anything, but I could not hack that stuff. I became keenly aware of how short my life was, and discovered this feeling that there has to be SOME minimum of intention and quality to the things I choose to put into my eye- and earballs. I felt really distressed because I couldn't figure out why my friend *loved* it. How was I supposed to feel at the end of it. "Yep that sure was some dumb and ugly garbage."

on fake preview, maybe exactly what gusottertrout said lol
posted by fleacircus at 1:36 AM on November 25, 2019

"...and that Iron Man 2 is “objectively the worst” Marvel movie."

By my own little analysis The Incredible Hulk has the lowest IMDb score, while Thor: The Dark World has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, Iron Man 2 is bottom three, but if you look at duration then Avengers: Endgame breaks the Hitchcockian maxim of bladder metric by some margin, while Iron Man 2 is more manageable.
posted by Molesome at 2:34 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

That essay is amazing. Loved the boffo ending. Thanks, Chrysostom!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:01 AM on November 25, 2019

I will retain my right to laugh at bad movies, but I also recognize that some bad movies offer something lacking elsewhere in film. A bad movie can contain sights you would never see elsewhere: floor polishers in a warehoouse/space ship engaging in a supposedly thrilling chase; a Native American ghost directing his ghost-eagle to claw out the eyes of a hunter; a talking chimp whose pronouncements are not interesting but horribly mundane; the disturbing apparatus with which Santa Claus surveils the whole world, and much more. But more than that, people talk, act and think in ways, in these movies, that they don't anywhere else. There is something about that, that remove from reality, that makes them fascinating.
posted by JHarris at 5:54 AM on November 25, 2019 [14 favorites]

I enjoy bad movies, but I only enjoy bad movies that aren't bad on purpose. There's something about a movie that aspires to something so far out of its creator's grasp that is compelling in a way that a movie that is deliberately bad is not. Give me Manos over Sharknado any day.
posted by SansPoint at 7:10 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I loved this essay and would like to mention American Movie which is another fantastic example of a movie about movies and the gap between bad and good. I come back to that one regularly and empathise with Mark Borchard more and more the older I get. I'm coming to realize that life is so much like making Coven - you do the best with what you've got.
posted by Dmenet at 7:28 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've come to rather strongly dislike the "laughing at" movies for any sense of superiority to others or the films

I think MST3K had it right. Bad movies made by people who were trying their best and failing catastrophically should be treasured, but some movies are bad because they are treating their audience with contempt. Overuse of stock footage, out of focus cameras, etc. At such shoddy work, Joel stops laughing and starts getting angry. Phoned-in movies are morally bad, indifferent to quality in much the same way that bullshit is indifferent to truth, and anger is an appropriately human response. We ought to be superior to them.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:41 AM on November 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

I really love this essay, and could almost adopt it as a personal manifesto.

One sidelined academic observation... he writes:
We will say, if we have been to graduate school, that an artist’s intention and biography do not matter, while focusing obsessively on the personal lives, choices, and sociopolitical commitments of artists.
and, having done undergrad studying lit but then bounced to art history for grad school, it's fascinating to me that in my experience the lit world absolutely lines up with what he's saying here, but any time I tried to assert the death of the author/maker in art history, people looked at me like I'd grown a second head and started babbling. So I guess the humanities aren't monolithic.

Anyway, time to go think about Roadhouse some more.
posted by COBRA! at 8:01 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anyway, time to go think about Roadhouse some more.

It is not. We should wait to open up our hearts and let the Patrick Swayze Christmas in until after Thanksgiving.
posted by asperity at 8:06 AM on November 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Liked the essay, but I think the author, after arguing for some standards and canon instead of relativism and chaos, bailed on actually defining what is bad - and good.

I don’t think inadvertence is right term for bad movies, at least not all. The creators of some bad movies tried and succeeded in putting their vision on film - only it sucked. Nothing inadvertent about it. Other bad movies were flawed by market-driven compromises, rushed production, poor techniques (writing or cinematography), poor acting, and so on. The studio and creator knew they were creating a crappy movie but ‘money is money amirite?’ (see Frozen 2 as a current example). Inadvertence may better apply to the other side of the coin; a movie, formulaic at its base, rapidly produced, rushed to market which achieves brilliance, like Casablanca, Painted Desert, or The Big Sleep. Or some doomed vision, a wreckage of production that captures lightning in a bottle, like Apocalypse Now.
posted by sudogeek at 8:08 AM on November 25, 2019

We don’t laugh at bad movies out of a sense of superiority; we laugh at the gap between what the artist want to achieve and what actually happens. A lot of laughter in general is on that basis.

If I’m going to have to take bad movies seriously I’m outta here.
posted by argybarg at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I used to be a BIG MST3k fan, from the Comedy Channel days, and even ponied up some money for Joel to bring it back, but for the past few years, I have been drifting toward the "let's show these movies some love for what they were trying to do, instead of making fun of them for what they failed to do."
It was a big reason I started my one man podcast, and I hope that folks will see that I share their stories with heart and love and not with scorn.
I tend to stick to the Atomic Age (1950's) movies, with some drifting into the Sixties and the made for TV movies of the 70's on the slate for future shows.
I feel that these days, in this climate, we need more love and kindness and B movies.
Thank you SO MUCH for this article.
I'm putting it in my Pocket to reread when I get discouraged.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 8:26 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

... At such shoddy work, Joel stops laughing and starts getting angry.

As a longtime MST3k/Rifftrax fan, I like this the best. One of my favorite bits in Rifftrax is during an interminable fight scene in Revenge of the Sith, when Mike stops attempting to riff and starts making roasted red pepper dip. Of course, he's not actually making it, but he cheerfully gives the recipe and technique, and it sounds very nice. It's just a refusal to go along with the bloated Lucas enterprise for one moment longer.

Anyway, I really liked the essay; it explained the case better than I have seen, although I thought the take on A Wrinkle in Time was kind of hard and maybe a bit of projection.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:26 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Not to start a Joel/Mike thing, but one reason I don't care for late period Mike (say, season 10 and Rifftrax) is that he seems to be getting angrier and more cutting.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:54 AM on November 25, 2019

Good post and I really enjoyed the essay.

Is it possible Hume was being descriptive, not prescriptive?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:10 AM on November 25, 2019

Phoned-in movies are morally bad, indifferent to quality in much the same way that bullshit is indifferent to truth, and anger is an appropriately human response. We ought to be superior to them.

Perhaps, but the focus here is on bad movies you like, the good bad movie. There are of course movies people just don't like at all, which are a somewhat different thing. I mean part of the issue involved in this is simply that "good" and "bad" are summary judgments that don't have any stable point of reference save what one holds as an arbitrary constant used as measure, with movies that tends to have something to do with conventions and budgets for standard Hollywood product. Those kinds of movies aren't an actual measure of anything save convention and because of that are often the ones that are the most forgettable, neither the "best" nor the "worst" liked for being so damned familiar that you pretty much know what the movie will be like from beginning to end before you walk in the door. In so called good bad movies that sense of familiarity is violated by some form of excess, sometimes for adhering too tightly to artificial rules and thus making apparent how silly those rules themselves are. Like, say, Gymkata in relation to other eighties-like action movies. Gymkata does everything those movies do, but just a bit more than was expected which makes the "rules" stand out from the movie in vivid relief.

If instead of saying "so bad its good" one tried to better quantify what that meant more precisely, something like so raw or so unrefined its good, then it makes the seeming contradiction between good/bad disappear and better places the movie with other arts that have accepted that refinement isn't a necessity for good art. People who like punk rock don't generally say its so bad its good even when there is the same kind of lack of refinement in craft. Movies are just expected to be more conventional because the most popular ones are studio products with budgets and crew to provide a consistent product.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

In good-bad movies you feel the creator hoping they can make something the audience will love. In bad-bad movies they’re making shit they think they know the audience will eat up.
posted by argybarg at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Good gracious that was well written.
posted by Harry Caul at 12:07 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been discussing "Good bad" movies with people for some time, but never this eloquently, and certainly without nearly the same deep thought.

I mean, sure, They Live, Role Models and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes have varying levels of distinction within the pantheon, but I don't think I ever got that meta about why they do...

It's almost hipster in its, "I used to like bad movies before they were cool." Great read.
posted by Chuffy at 12:25 PM on November 25, 2019

His article from the Fall 2017 issue on the Midwest is also fantastic.
posted by hototogisu at 11:38 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

That was an interesting article and manages to capture the slipperiness of the idea of "good bad" movies.

Like Gusottertrout above I try not to think in terms of "so bad its good". As illustrated in the essay and in these comments it can mean very different things to different people. I think English is too imprecise in this situation. I like Gus' suggestion of describing this type of cinema as "so raw" or "so unrefined" its good. However even those are imperfect takes too (especially with the raw label as that ties it into the fine art notion of l'art brut which comes with an additional set of baggage). I tend to think in terms of "mediocre vs interesting" or "engaging vs. Tedious" or more generally whether it works for me or doesn’t rather than making more vague value judgments (like good or bad) or falling back to "is it art" arguments. For me even the perceived bottom of the barrel cinema (in terms of quality of the craft and/or the intention that went into it) can elicit some engaging ideas and even valuable insights about culture and history. But how do you get there when your understanding of cinema is shaped by solely by conventional studio products? That product doesn't really prepare an audience to deal with say the oeuvre of Ray Dennis Steckler or Don Dohler or even something like Bollywood or other regional cinema. Perhaps what's necessary to engage with something "weird" on an even playing field with more conventional product, in a way, is that you need to readjust your understanding of film grammar to be better able to make sense of the funhouse image.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:58 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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