Storytelling has been an integral part of the human experience for as long as mankind has had the ability to communicate ideas. Between cave drawings and group hunts, it is easy to imagine humans constructing fledgling monomyths about self-improvement and good versus evil. But we would be remiss if we didn't also consider that bad storytelling has been an equally integral part of our narrative past. Somewhere, sometime ago, there was an ancient tribal leader holding court around a campfire of eager listeners and telling a really, really terrible story. Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan didn't merely pass through an interdimensional membranethey evolved from shitty raconteurs of times past who should have been sacrificed to an angry autumnal god.
"Maybe the bad movies from the '80s didn't age well, or maybe it was just easier to get funding when the cocaine trade was booming."
So what is it about bad movies that people find so entertaining? Is there some undetectable quality in Pearl Harbor and The Happening that forgives their blatant egregiousness? Gelf demands answers to these serious questions in the following interview with Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh, creators and editors of biyearly essay anthology I Love Bad Movies. Since its debut in spring 2009, the collection has seen its contributor rolls grow to include dozens of writers and artists from around the country. The third issue of I Love Bad Movies, themed "Visions of the Future," will be released on October 15. (The interview was conducted by email and has been edited for clarity.)Gelf Magazine: Why do you love bad movies?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: We love bad movies because we hate mediocrity. The kinds we like are over the top, messy, and trying their best to be something much more serious/meaningful/beautiful than they are. Most of them fail miserably, but man do we enjoy exploring the wreckage.
Gelf Magazine: What would you consider to be the quintessential bad movie?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: Gigli. Whereas crowd-pleasing bad movies like The Room and Birdemic are the ultimate mistakes of a single delusional person, Gigli was made by a bunch of otherwise talented people who should have known better. There were four Oscar winners involvedBen Affleck, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and cinematographer Robert Elswitand none bothered to put any effort into it. The resulting film is overblown, baffling, and wrong in almost every aspect. Most bad movies are made by people who have no idea how to make one. It seems like everyone involved with Gigli had forgotten what movies even are.
Gelf Magazine: What do you think people specifically refer to about a movie when they say it's "bad"?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: It really depends on the movie and the person. Bad acting and subpar special effects are two obvious standouts, but it's really just a failure to connect with the audience. If a viewer spends more time questioning the constructs of a movie than they do passively watching it, then the film has failed as a piece of entertainment.
Gelf Magazine: How much of a role does the viewer play in a movie's badness versus the failure of the filmmakers to create a good film?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: None, or at least very little. With the exception of Armond White, none of us have the power to turn a good film bad.
Gelf Magazine: Can filmmakers do anything to avoid creating a bad movie or is it ultimately out of their control?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: Film is a collaborative art form wholly dependent on each person in the process. This should mean that every participant has a voice; but since film production is also a hierarchy made up of people who want to be hired again, it can be hard for more level-headed people to speak up. If the emperor has no clothes, then the movie is going to be a naked mess.
Gelf Magazine: Are there any movies you can think of that are generally accepted or excused from being bad when they should really be considered terrible?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: We recently watched 2012 because we were in the mood for some disaster porn, but it was far more disastrous than we could've anticipated. It’s incredibly mean-spirited. Bit characters are routinely introduced with the sole intention of violently killing them off three scenes later. Human suffering, which we now know the depths of after sitting through this movie, is reduced to tiny violin-scored bites, and a huge cast of respectable people are turned into sad, attention-seeking clowns. Roland Emmerich makes terrible, irredeemable films. People keep paying to watch his movies, but he should be jailed for his hate crimes.
Gelf Magazine: If the ultimate point of a movie is to be entertaining, then are certain "bad" movies, such as Plan 9 from Outer Space or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, redeemed by the fact that people are entertained by how bad it is?
Gelf Magazine: Every decade has its share of shitty movies. Which decade would you say produced the absolute worst?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: We’re not sure exactly why, but I Love Bad Movies writers have covered films from the 1980s more than any other decade. Maybe it's because these are the films a lot of us grew up watching on TV, or because they've aged less well than bad movies from the '70s or '90s, or maybe it was just easier to get funding when the cocaine trade was booming. We don't know.
Gelf Magazine: What do you think can be learned from a movie such as Star Wars, which arguably had all the makings of a bad movie but resulted in a greatif not the greatestmovie?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: You’re right about Star Wars; it had cheesy dialogue, cornball supporting characters, and occasional tortilla-flat delivery. But there's a special magic about the film that continues to make it one of the most enjoyable of all time. We think this shows that if a movie has a heart, and if the people making it are passionate about what they're creating, then it will be able to overcome its individual faults. Take Bratz: The Movie, which was recommended by bad-movie podcast The Flop House. It could have been a feature-length commercial, but ended up as a surprisingly fun take on standing by your beliefs. It's like Spartacus, but with more brattitude.
Gelf Magazine: Do you feel that parody outlets such as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax do a service or disservice by breathing new life into terrible films? Should these movies be lost to time or are they redeemed by their camp value?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: A service, of course. They expose otherwise little-seen movies to wider audiences, and can be a kind of economic stimulus if that translates into sales and rentals. And they help create and maintain a secondary market of bad-movie podcasts, books, and other publications. I Love Bad Movies is definitely an indirect beneficiary of the MST3K phenomenon.
Gelf Magazine: Suppose you were granted the salvific power to rescue a film from ignominy. Are there any films you think must be redeemed for the good of mankind? And if so, is Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 one of those films?
Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh: We were disappointed by the commercial failures of Step Up 3-D and the Piranha remake. They’re both silly, but honestly very well-made. Piranha in particular is incredibly aware of its job: to thrill, gross out, and entertain us the way movies used to. And Step Up 3-D has a kind of old-fashioned sensibility about it; conflicts are solved not with violence but with elaborate dance-offs, and characters seem to actually like each other. Any movie as genuinely fun as these two deserves more attention.