Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Ariel Schudson ""

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Ariel Schudson

Ariel Schudson is the president of the student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists over at UCLA. She is currently in the middle of her studies to become a film archivist at this very moment. She is a huge fan of all forms of cinema and writes about them at her site - Sinamatic-Salve-ation. 
She also runs a monthly film series at the New Beverly Cinema called "Something Old, Something New" which I highly recommend you check out! 

I believe that the term “bad movie” requires a great deal of unpacking. Tragically, when I was first in film school, * mumblemumble * years ago, it did not. “Bad” simply meant the opposite of good. It meant that you did not like the film. It was a poor choice at the video store or the box office, you wouldn’t do it again, you had to go off and knock back a bunch of beers with pals to wash out that “bad movie taste” and that was that. No recommendations for that cinematic failure. The movie sucked.
Somehow, in the last 15 or so years, “bad” has taken on all sorts of different meanings to people. Now we all remember what Michael Jackson meant when he asked, “Who’s bad?” but that’s not exactly what I mean. Although, in a way, it is. When we go around to look at people’s collections at their houses and we agonize that they have the most “amazing VHS collection evAr” because it has a few dozen films starring your favorite wrestling stars, what does that mean? Does it mean those are good films or does it mean those are good films to you? Please note that I do not use the term “bad” here. I do not believe that it comes into play. I absolutely hate when people use the “so bad its good” descriptor. That, to me, is like saying “but he only hits me because he loves me.” IT MAKES NO SENSE ON A LOGICAL LEVEL. 

 So let’s get a few things clear right now:
1)    There is no such thing as SO BAD IT’S GOOD.
2)    Very few films are ever perfect. Sometimes, it is in their imperfections and in their relentless references to time, place and cultural objects that you can find absolute glory.
3)    Polarizing terms applied to art (which, by its nature, exists in a gray area) are likely to change in time. How many films can you think of that were once completely shunned and are now considered “masterpieces”? Be careful of hyperbole. It’ll bite you in the ass.

All that said, when Jesse Hawthorne Ficks (of the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS film series at the Castro Theater in San Francisco) came down to L.A. one night to present ROCKULA, he spoke about a thing called neo-sincerity, and that hit home. He said that we don’t watch these movies because we want to make fun of them, or because we think that they are stupid or so that we can, somehow, feel more superior by knowing that we dress “better” or some such. We watch these films because something in them actually appeals to us and we do actually dig them. So, with that, I give you a few films that other people may index underneath the genre of “bad movie” but I love the HELL out of.

1)    NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE – Gil Bettman – 1986 – I found this randomly when I was 19/20 years old, working at my first videostore job. I saw the words: John Stamos, Vanity, Gene Simmons and a picture of Gene Simmons in drag on the back. I WAS SOLD. Years later, I bought the VHS at a Tower outlet and kept forcing people to watch it with me. I bribed them. I may have talked myself out of a few boyfriends that way. “But the guy who plays Freddy Krueger’s in it too!” I pleaded, “Vanity gets all sexytime!” It worked…oh…about half the time. Then the wonderful Phil Blankenship came out of the woodwork, bearing a 35mm print like a god on a filmic chariot, and I was gifted the ability to see it on a big screen. YEAH. I like this film. You should too.

 2)    1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS – Enzo Castellari – 1982 – This was something I picked up when I was working at Amoeba, I think, and I got the full PAL DVD version, which is totally uncut and includes a really awesome dance number from one of the gangs. I don’t remember whether that same bit was in the American version (which I did get a chance to see at the New Beverly on 35mm at one point, I believe) or not but…it stands out. I picked it up because it was a whacked-out, post-apocalyptic version of THE WARRIORS only…done by an Italian. Which makes everything special. Since Castellari has seen some recognition in the last few years, this hasn’t really been in the “mistreated” camp, but it wasn’t always a loved film and not everybody digs it. But hey- motorcycles, glitter, Fred Williamson- what’s not to love?

 3)    WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU – Marc Rocco – 1992 – There’s nothing kitschy about this movie, nothing that anyone might think was “ironic” or cute. It’s not really a fun romp, unless you like downward spiraling tales about Hollywood squatters in the early ‘90’s. Of course, the squatters happen to be Dermot Mulroney, Lara Flynn Boyle, Will Smith and other assorted miscreants. I love this film. I very likely saw it when it came out on Hollywood blvd., since I saw a good chunk of my movies there before they took away the movie theaters. In any case, I remember watching this film a lot in high school and having the dire need to own the Melissa Etheridge songs that went with the saddest parts of the film. I can still sing those songs, word. For. Word.

 4)    ROCK STAR – Stephen Herek – 2001 – Yeah, I know. Too new, right? Whatever. Everyone seems to hate this movie to death and I adore it. So maybe I hung out on the Sunset Strip when I was 13 years old. What of it? Maybe I’ve seen Queensryche do the entirety of Operation: Mindcrime live. And maybe someone told me once that Rob Halford auditioned for Judas Priest with a Doris Day song and that endeared him to me even more. I really do love this film. I don’t like Jennifer Aniston that much. I think I’ve like her in three things: this, THE GOOD GIRL (but I kinda dig Miguel Arteta, as uncomfortable as he makes me sometimes), and she was fine in WANDERLUST. But for some reason, this film, with its exploration of rock in its idiocy and splendor, where it goes wrong in gender relations, and how this story just really would never happen…I like the fairy tale. I’m a hook-line-and-sinker chick sometimes (well, most of the time actually, shh, don’t tell!). On the other hand, it should be mentioned here that director Stephen Herek had many other things under his belt before arriving at Wahlberg-turned-rocker. Responsible for both Critters (1986) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Herek did have some flair for the unusual and quirky!

 5)    SUDDEN DEATH – Peter Hyams – 1995 – Um, I knew that I liked this film until there was a fight scene with the Hockey Team mascot. He doesn’t take off the COSTUME. That was when I knew that I loved this film. This is one of the happiest TV accidents I have ever had. I caught it on cable one night, and was mesmerized. At first I thought it was the hockey. I dig Slapshot and I love me some Van Damme, so put ‘em together and yeah, baby! But this movie has more to offer. Like, I dunno, Powers Boothe for example? I hope that someday I get to see this on the big screen. I have been lucky enough (again, mostly thanks to the amazing work of Phil Blankenship) to see some great action stuff like this, but I’m still waiting to get to see this on 35mm….

 6)    ALIEN NATION – Graham Baker – 1988 – So, confession time: I totally watched this after I watched the TV show. I was a huge “Alien Nation” junkie. My two favorite shows when I was a kid came on right after each other on Monday nights- “Misfits of Science” and “Alien Nation.” Then “Misfits” got cancelled (suuuuper bummed!), but I never stopped watching “Alien Nation.” However, it wasn’t until my adult years that I saw the film. It’s actually quite good and far more adult and hardcore than the TV show ever got. It’s an entirely different thing. I still love it because I still love the TV show (yes, I watch that regularly too). Plus, how can you not love anything that pairs up Mandy mf’n Patinkin with James Caan?? I mean, seriously? ‘nuff said.

 7)    SHANKS – William Castle – 1974 – Apparently there are a good many people out there who consider this film to be bad. I, however, am not within that population. I will admit to being able to find something valuable in every Castle work I have ever seen and I will ready stand amongst the Castle-addicts of the world, but when it comes to SHANKS, I fear that it may also be my adoration of marionette and puppet culture mixed in with my affinity for things of a rather dark nature that makes me love this film. At the end of the day, I actually do love this film an inordinate amount. Marcel Marceau is wonderful in it and I feel lucky that I did get to see it once on a big screen.

 8)    HOWARD THE DUCK – Willard Huyck – 1986 – Sorry kids, I genuinely like this picture. Or at least I did the last time I saw it, which was on a big screen, in 35mm, at the New Beverly. I know people have really mixed views on it but I get a kick out of it. It’s fun. I like the cast. I liked the comic. And, while I know that there was very little adaptation from the comic, I still thought it was fun. 

 9)    JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS – Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan – 2001 – I love this film, without reservation. I was finishing my first Master’s and taking a class on women and music. I was looking to do a paper on rock & roll films. I didn’t end up writing about this one, but the self-reflexivity and awareness that may bother some folks really amused the hell out of me. I thought it was one of the first girl-rock films that acknowledged some agency and was very smart about all the things going on, including the falsehoods and corporate nonsense. I still enjoy the film.

 10)     CLIFFHANGER – Renny Harlin – 1993 – Who knew I could love a film about climbing rocks so damn much?? I guess Phil Blankenship did. Once again, I saw this due to his magical film curation powers, on 35mm. All I can say is that it is tense at just the right moments, it’s awesome ALL THE WAY THROUGH (isn’t that in Sly’s contract or something? The film “must be awesome 100% of the time”?), and has a cast that won’t quit. Not only does it feature Michael Rooker (now of Walking Dead-fame but formerly known as, oh, ya know, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, stuff like that?) and the indomitably gorgeous Janine Turner (who I will always worship from “Northern Exposure”!!), but, lo and behold, the man who gave Harry of Harry and the Hendersons a whatfor, John Lithgow! This is a great great film. Renny Harlin, a fantastic director in his own right, really rocked my world with this one. Anytime anyone brings this up, I always get so excited that I have actually gotten to see it in a theater on 35mm. One of my favorite experiences!

Honorable Mentions:

    GHOULIES 2 (1988)





laird said...

Cool list! I feel the same way about "so bad it's good" and wrote about that in the final paragraphs of my Deadly Prey review here:

I also love this passage from the introduction to the book Sleazoid Express (which if you haven't read, you should):

"A special kind of alchemy happens when unintended effects become aesthetically trasnscendent. Owing to economics, or to an inexperienced yet inventive performer or director, a scene can turn out more hilariously funny or powerfully shocking than if it were made by the best cast and crew money can buy."


Rupert Pupkin said...

Laird-that is a really great passage! Really encapsulates this phenomenon well!

Franco Macabro said...

Cool list in deed, I've been doing a series of articles on "bad movies" but truth is a lot the lot of them, well, most of them anyways. They are fun times in my book. Finally, somebody who appreciates Howard the Duck! So damn quoatable that movie! Also, I also love that Alien Nation movie, it's actually quite good as a cop and fish out of water movie. And an alien invasion flick.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful list. Thought-provoking preamble.

And, anyone who lists Sudden Death *and* Cliffhanger is a winner in my book.