Why are bad films so enjoyable?
Junk Film. By Katharine Coldiron. Castle Bridge Media; 190 pages; $16.99 BAD NOVELS, bad plays and bad paintings are often swiftly forgotten, but bad films are another matter. The worst of them amass cult followings. They become the subject of podcasts and festivals. A long-running American television series, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, was devoted to them. Two all-time turkeys, Plan 9 from Outer Space (pictured) and The Room, have even spawned dramas about how they came to be: Tim Burtons Ed Wood and James Francos The Disaster Artist are good films about bad films. Junk Film, a new book by Katharine Coldiron, contains a shrewd and sardonic series of essays on this curious phenomenon. The author reflects on why her favourite bad films are so bad and why it is that she cannot resist Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, Showgirls and Staying Alive. One reason is that they upend audience expectations, careering so far from the well-signposted route followed by most Hollywood films that they become thrillingly unpredictable. Another reason is that they are instructive as what not to do guides: they get so much glaringly wrong that they help you to appreciate what other films get right. A small tip for screenwriters and viewers: Bad movies generally have many more scenes of cars driving and parking than good movies. A key point is that though bad films are unsuccessful as movies, they are successful records of attempts at making movies. That is, the faults in a truly abysmal film are so obvious that it becomes its own outtakes reel, its own behind-the-scenes documentary. Viewers stop responding to the plot and the characters, and focus instead on the wooden acting, the clunky dialogue, the wobbly scenery, the eccentric editing and countless other aspects which seem as fascinatingly strange as the alien customs of a distant country. A good film, says Ms Coldiron, would give us so much less. There is, though, an appeal to terrible films which isnt quite so high-minded: they are funny. Like a home-video clip of a banana-skin moment, they let you chuckle at someone else making a hash of things. No other art form offers this precise pleasure. Watching a play or a concert fall apart can be excruciating, because the hapless performers are right in front of you. You feel their pain, and they feel yours. But by the time a piece of cinematic dreck is on screen, there is enough of a separation between the viewer and the participants for you to laugh at them without embarrassment. Besides, the laughter is interspersed with sighs of respect. Making a bad film requires just as much time, money and effort as making a good film, and a directors bloody-minded determination to persevere with a clearly irredeemable project can be almost admirable. The Room is rightly regarded as one of the most heinous crimes against celluloid ever committed, but Tommy Wiseau, its writer-director-producer-star, is celebrated as a maverick hero whenever he attends one of its late-night screenings. After all, the thinking goes, anyone responsible for a film which is so incompetent in so many ways must be someone special. When you watch The Room and Plan 9 from Outer Space, you can tell that the auteurs were trying with all of their might to create a masterpiece. It is this quality that makes their heroic failures sweet, says Ms Coldiron, like tiny kids playing soccer is sweet. Its not the same if a bad film is made in bad faith. When a movie is cynical, when the film-makers have...put everyone to work to make something meaningless, not for pleasure or ambition but solely for profit, I never have a good time. And why watch a bad film if you dont have a good time?