Lance Duerfahrd takes a class in bad movies – which, of course, refers to films that are “so bad they’re good”. Rod Dreher’s got a point in questioning the value of the subject in the academia but, hell, I’m such a fan of these cringeworthy classics that I don’t begrudge the man the chance to watch and share them. At the least they’ll instill good humour in his students and that’s more than you could say for a lots of classes. He’s been chatting with the BBC…
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.”
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.”
He’s got a point. The formulas for efficient if uninspiring movies have grown tighter; there are special effects to plug the gaps in narratives and scripts and, as he says, there’s too much riding on the things for them to become ludicrous in the manner of, say, Battlefield Earth. Yet crummy films that bear hallmarks of sophistication – the really polished turds – can be the funniest. Take a film like Tiptoes – the touching story of a girl who realises her ideal man is from a family of dwarfs. It was competently produced and performed – Gary Oldman was a little person in what the narrator earnestly described as “the role of a lifetime” – which makes the film’s ridiculous conceit and risible script seem all the more hilarious. It’s akin to how a statesman’s trousers fallings down would be funnier than a tramp’s. The latter scenario is too pathetic to be cause for giggles but the former, which contrasts so beautifully with their stature, cynicism and pretensions is – or, well, would be – glorious; akin to the feeling that’s inspired by watching Nick Cage desperately cry “KILLING ME WON’T BRING BACK YOUR GODDAMN HONEY” as the money drains from Neil LaBute’s investors’ pockets.
There are other splendid forms of “so bad they’re good” films. The Room was a, perhaps the, classic of the amateur auteur genre: films of absolute sincerity, delivered by people of total self-belief, which offer recognisable imitations of classic movie tropes but completely fail to match their standards. It’s a bit sadistic to laugh at these, I guess, but it’s also impossible not to. They are to films what William McGonagall was to verse so many years ago. Then are the camp classics: delerious medleys of horror, farce and satire in the mould of Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Still, and with respect to Duerfahrd, a film that’s so bad it’s splendid is only appreciable once it’s been viewed. Like a hippopotamus. Or a toupée.