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Razzies vs Oscars: Can bad movies ever be good?

  • 29 February 2012
  • From the section Magazine
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promotional still from Bucky Larson
Will Bucky Larson be recognised by the Razzies?

Truly bad movies can sometimes be more entertaining, and enlightening, than high art. But are their days numbered?

There are two types of bad movies: boring films with lacklustre scripts and ho-hum acting, or outlandish, offensive bombs with over-the-top performances, awful jokes and unbelievable plot lines.

The former are instantly forgettable. The Music Never Stopped, Terri and Priest, all flops from 2011, won't ring many bells.

But the latter incite anger in some fans and enthusiasm in others, drawn to the size and scale of the cinematic disaster.

Take Human Centipede II, which takes grossout horror to a new level. Or Jack and Jill, in which Adam Sandler plays his own twin sister, and Al Pacino plays himself, madly in love with the female Adam Sandler.

It's these films that are recognised by the Golden Raspberry Foundation, otherwise known as the Razzies, which announced its nominees for the worst films of 2011 during the flurry of pre-Oscar excitement last weekend.

Human Centipede II and Jack and Jill are both in the running for worst picture. Adam Sandler received a record 11 nominations, including some for his work on another worst-picture nominee, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.

Sandler helped write and produce Bucky Larson, the tale of a Midwestern farm boy who moves to LA to pursue a career in pornography.One critic calledit "a weirdly sour, hermetic and ragingly misanthropic bit of juvenilia and an enduring embarrassment for everyone involved".

It was instantly reviled. But will it live on in bad movie infamy?

After all, some films are so terrible that they gain a cult of devoted followers. It's those films that fans say can enhance our understanding and enjoyment of all movies, and provide some much-needed relief from the predictability of the film industry.

They're also, aficionados worry, a dying breed.

'Unexpected delights'

In his Purdue University class on bad films, assistant professor Lance Duerfahrd screens old science fiction movies, 1950s health-and-hygiene films and other poorly produced films. They come complete with bad special effects, actors forgetting their lines and props missing from one scene to the next.

These obvious flaws can provide viewers with a different experience from that of a well-made movie.

"There's some room for play and room for unexpected delights," Mr Duerfahrd says. "Most films force-feed us."

He recalls a scene from the 1950s sci-fi film Robot Monster, in which the titular character - an actor in a gorilla suit wearing a deep-sea diver's mask - grabs the heroine. Caught off guard, the actress breaks character and yells "Oh, my!"

"Nothing we see in a good film is as real as this surprise," he says. "He breathes air into the room."

Watching bad films also helps viewers think critically about cinema.

"I think a bad film makes you think: 'I could have done a better job, I could make a better movie.' A bad film makes you creative," he says.

Bad films also allow for more discussion and a greater sense of community.

"With good movies there's a competition. People fight over whether The Godfather was the single best movie of all time, or Citizen Kane," he says. On the other end of the spectrum, there is room for all opinions.

"There's a generosity in discussing bad movies," he says.

Madness rewarded

For bad movies to be discussion-worthy, they need to aspire to be good films, says Kyle Buchanan, film editor for New York Magazine's Vulture website.

"You have to be a lunatic to get a movie made, that's for damn sure. When you see that lunacy on screen, even when it's not in the service of the dialogue, or the script, or the acting, it sticks with you," says Mr Buchanan.

He cites the cult hit Showgirls - universally panned by the critics - as an example of this daring. "Showgirls was made with a lot of technique, and with a lot of people giving their all. It's incredibly watchable," he says.

Yet despite great potential to be over-the-top fun, the film Cowboys and Aliens failed to deliver either cinematic brilliance or camp enjoyment, Buchanan says.

"It's almost as if they were afraid of their title," and the resulting film was too boring to be either an exciting piece of good cinema or a fun few hours.

That is one reason he's looking forward to the forthcoming film John Carter, about a US Civil War veteran who travels to Mars and takes part in an inter-alien war for survival. The film also features a fleshy oblong Martian guard dog, Woola, whohas become a Vulture favourite.

Mr Buchanan can't tell if John Carter will be a good or bad movie, but he's certain it will be interesting.

"The willingness to go over the top to do something strange or odd is so welcome in a big budget movie," Mr Buchanan says.

'Boring failures'

It's this trend towards "cookie-cutter" cinema that has fans of bad movies worried.

"The saddest thing is that over the 32 years that we've been doing the Razzies, original bad, like original good, has just fallen by the wayside," says John Wilson, founder of the Razzies.

The problem appears to be endemic in the movie industry, with several best picture nominees failing to connect with the audience. Saloncalled The Descendants"the Oscar film that nobody likes." Fewer thanhalf of the critics warmedto Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Mr Duerfahrd worries that the pressure to make box-office hits with a wide appeal is taking a toll on both bad and good movies.

"Ambition is being dimmed by the effort to conform," he says. "We're not getting ecstatic bad movies very often, just boring failures."

Still, some films can still surprise and delight.

"I get why people awarding at the other end of the spectrum are all delighted with The Artist," says Mr Wilson. "That was a brave, risky movie to make.

"By the same token, Bucky Larson is a brave, unusual risky movie to be made," he says.

Whether those risks will be rewarded with a Golden Raspberry award and a place in the canon of memorably bad films remains to be seen.