By Simon Augustine
Some films are legendary for bearing the imprimatur of nearly unanimous praise. Others are notorious for a less fortuitous reason - iconic because they represent almost supernatural amateurishness, ineptitude, and a lack of artistic instinct that becomes an distinct art form in itself. For every Citizen Kane there is a Plan 9 From Outer Space. The question that defines absurdum, i.e. the improbably bad, is: "how did this thing ever get made?"
As Tim Burton showed us in his bio-pic Ed Wood, however, there is an effable charm to a visionary intent on bringing her dreams to life, even if they are nightmarish in quality and merit. The worst, most self-deluded auteur is still, in some ways, more palatable than the most distinguished critic-snob. To paraphrase Woody Allen: there are those who make bad films, there are those who write about bad films, and there are those who teach gym.
Contenders for the Throne of Awful:
8. After Last Season: (Not on DVD) Merits a slot based on the trailer alone. When the preview played in theatres, audiences assumed it was a hoax. Ostensibly about a group of medical students tapping into strange scientific forces, a good deal of mystery now surrounds the film itself, as critics and fans try to figure out if it's either bizarrely sincere or a grand, elaborate joke. With a cardboard box serving as an MRI machine, brilliantly insipid dialogue, and special effects appearing to date from 1984, even the tagline brings the mundane to new heights: "The end of a season means…the beginning of a new one." No one is sure what to make of it.
7. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn: Irony of ironies! A satire about a filmmaker written by one of the hackiest and highest paid screenwriters in history (Joe Eszterhas) turns out to be a terribly written and conceived time-waster. An open tinsel-town secret is that when a writer or director is ashamed of his own work, he assumes the nom de plume "Alan Smithee." Hollywood tries to darkly poke fun at itself a la The Player and just shows us how vapid and trite it really is.
6. Myra Breckinridge: An outrageous beach reading sensation about sexual identity by Gore Vidal became an astonishingly crappy miscalculation starring Raquel Welch. What went wrong? Hollywood drains the wit, sly humor, and cultural criticism of the novel into an embarrassing mess that tries way too hard to be subversive, yet merely ends up incoherent and incredibly boring in spite of its explosive subject matter. The definition of being campy even while doing self-conscious camp.
5. The Fountain: Notable for its mixture of high expectations, creative credibility and soaring artistic ambition (given filmmaker Darren Aronofsky's previous track record as genuine talent behind Pi and Requiem for a Dream), The Fountain is the story of a scientist trying to find the cure for his beloved's terminal disease as it unfolds in the relationship between past, present, and future. It aspires to map out the evolution of human consciousness in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the production was marred by walkouts, out of control budgets, and delays. Failing to connect genuine emotion and character to its heady head trip, it never finds an anchoring heart; stiffness and boredom result. Featuring amazing visuals connecting Eastern religious practices and spage-age wizardry, and a thought-provoking and complex metaphor, The Fountain remains a puzzling "might-have-been."
4. The Thing With Two Heads: [Trailer] If you wanted to explore race relations in the post-civil rights era through sci-fi, what would you do? What. Would. You. Do? It's obvious: take Oscar-winner Ray Milland, make him a white racist, fix things so he winds up getting a black man's head transplanted next to his own, choose football great/sensitive crochet fanatic Rosie Greer as the second head, and then put them both on a motorcycle racing away from bad guys. Voila! Deserves deluxe Blu-Ray treatment, if only for extras showing how people managed to look each other in the face on the set without cracking up.
3. The Apple: I love disco and the glittering late 70s, but The Apple, despite loads of disco and glitter, is probably the most ill-conceived musical that ever played on a screen. I discovered it watching cable one night, and as it unfolded I couldn't believe how a film could be this majestically, insanely awful. It makes Xanadu look like…well, you know. Foisted by schlock producers Golan and Globus, this extended Edenic metaphor and paean to lost idealism of the 60's is unwitting camp of the most unbelievable kind.
2. Troll 2: A legend. Resurrected as a cult phenomenon due to the most hilariously wooden dialogue, ridiculous special effects and laughably phony looking Goblins (no trolls are present) ever to appear in a mainstream film, it is so spectacular that its child-star just made a documentary about Troll 2 called Best Worst Movie. Of course the doc has generated lots of acclaim. How's that for a postmodern twist?
1. The Room: The new King of the Mountain; Plan 9 From Outer Space for our generation. The brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, whose identity is shrouded in mystery. Is he from France? Probably, but no one knows for sure. Is he from a wealthy European family, given his self-financed DIY big budgets? Perhaps. Maybe he is a reverse-genius, that rare breed capable of a work not merely passively but pro-actively awful. If Scorsese, Spielberg, and Polanski got together they likely couldn't do better - er, worse - than The Room.
One of many touching moments in The Room
It is the proverb about the monkeys typing for a thousand years producing Moby Dick turned inside out: how one man with 6 million dollars managed to create an anti-masterwork of epochal proportions. This urban soap opera about a cuckold is awful in subtle ways not always detectable by the human eye: horrifying music, insensible dialogue, improperly expressed emotion, and stupefying melodrama filling a nowhere land disconnected from any recognizable human reality. Experiencing it is actually cognitively disorienting: the movie equivalent of dropping acid. A fun and unsettling trip. Take it.
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