Monday, June 14, 2010


Before I pieced together the various seedling articles that would become my book Fever Pitch, I had this “really good idea.” I wanted to pull together a collection of writings called Bad. ‘Bad’ would have collected my writings on films that most deem… well, bad. I don’t have the documents in front of me now, nor did I finish the article that would have capped off the collection (a treatise of a film that has somewhat slipped from my favor of not bad, but good: Cat People). I love “bad” films. But my fear now was that these essays would have partaken in the worst thing about bad movies: people like me who hold up these offerings as fetish objects of failure. There’s a ridicule in branding something “Camp”, which is the gesture I most loathe at rental shops. Basically, when they say camp, they really mean fail. Camp is very many things, indeed and, in part, something that does fail. But there’s something to believing in “bad” that I find much more freeing than giggling at something that falls down in front of you.

Last night I watched Boom! with my boyfriend. Boom!, for what we mean when we say it, is bad. Overly long, long winded and terrifically miscast, Boom! is a bit of a chore to sit through. Bless my boyfriend’s heart (mostly for having to live with my cinematic obsessions), but he gets bored in some of the older movies that I subject him to on a too regular basis. Not that 1968 is old compared to a Sternberg silent, but the leisure hours for which he allots “movie time” do not allow for much arduous viewing – and he makes terrifically oblique art! The true greatness of bad cinema is its offer of a counter-narrative or counter-format. Cause really, when we say “bad” we mean, something that “doesn’t align to the registers by which we define good taste.” Of course, this is problematic, too. In differing hands, Douglas Sirk is comedy to my tears. Jack Smith famously looked to Maria Montez and saw self-confidence and world-creation, where most saw bad acting and a bountiful girdle. I appreciate most films which create enough of a cinematic space (film scholars call this the diegesis) in which the traditionally “bad” elements can hold up. If there’s a sense to the nonsense, not only am I there, but I really appreciate the ride. Sometimes I get bored if the project is just “bad” as in it fails to do this, generate a new order (or chaos) but there are plenty of skilled craftsmen that forge projects too wild, too hair-brained, too contranormative to fit in the proper pecking order of things.

I got annoyed when D got bored with Boom! I was having fun. Some of that fun lies in an excitable viewer jouissance found in the excessive sets and lifestyle lavishes (monkeys, headdresses, 1968 intercom systems). These can be thrilling and add to the overall continuity of the piece, but it’s annoying to me when people forge “camp” readings solely on this kind of titillation. And so frequently, this betrays a nauseating impulse to maintain traditional ideologies (as with people who applaud a "bad" film for its abject failures). When a movie grows long and begins to feel drawn out, I hope it’s doing this for a reason, like replicating a blanched /drunk / near-death experience. It’s long and disastrous, but then, in the case of Boom!, so is the content. It’s about excess and indulgence and the lasting effects of this sort of existence, so why not let it fester and flow between scenes of tepid (and frequently pithy) dialogue. “Boom.” I give myself over to the turgid moments in the hopes that they convey something to me; my boredom is not coincidental, is, in fact, a kind of pathetic viewer feeling arrived at to correspond with the scene.

Sometimes it’s not that. But Boom! felt like a success in that way. To me.


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