The Beauty in the Bad of movies
Lewis Gibson - Share
Over the last 20 years, a trend has emerged amongst cinephiles of finding films that are of such awful quality they must be shared. Over lockdown, this became a hobby for some, bad films would be picked and subsequently torn apart.
This begs the question though: Is there something cynical in us that simply enjoys watching people fail? Or is there something quite admirable in creating something so perfectly poor? This trend is not new. Plan 9 From Outer Space, made in 1959, was a film so terrible that there has since been a plethora of books, documentaries and films all created with the purpose of dissecting just how something so awful can exist.
However, it can be argued that this phenomenon really began with Tommy Wiseau's The Room (2003), which is held as a magnum opus of bad filmmaking and essentially popularised the trend amongst millennials. The Room follows the story of a man betrayed by his best friend and fiance, leading to a tragic suicide. On paper, this is not a funny story, but the complete lack of verisimilitude and human understanding is simply staggering to see. It goes against anything you have ever seen or have been trained to see, something so uncanny that you cannot help but watch. In this sense. it is actually quite ground-breaking. It is easy to make a bad film, but to make one this terrible, you cross into another realm of entertainment
Another film that tows this line between good and bad is John Woo’s Face/Off (1997) starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. The film follows FBI agent, Sean Archer (Travolta) who swaps faces with global terrorist Castor Troy (Cage). There are numerous sources of enjoyment from the film, be it director John Woo's trademark gunplay or the typically inventive performances that both Cage and Travolta give. While it has all the traditional emotional beats to empathise with our main hero, it does not try to be anything intellectual or profound, instead, it understands its place. The viewer is enticed by the absurdity of the premise and held through the charms of its imperfection.
The Nicolas Cage Effect
This all leads into a grander point of expectations. Every other art form rewards the abstract and the surreal. In music, for instance, you think of the psychedelic and the post-rock genres, in painting, the cubist movements. Film is the only art form that demands some semblance of realism, which creates a monotonous feeling within the films that most people see. Cage personifies the alternate within acting, with acclaimed director David Lynch even going as far as to describe him as the "free jazz of the acting world."
Cage's performances are often laughed at and mocked, with numerous jokes being born out of his films. Yet if he is this apparently awful actor the mainstream labels him as, how is he such a box office success?
The simply fact is - the man is entertaining, and an Oscar winner too, don't forget.
Watch any of his (many) 'so-bad-it's-good' films and he is often surrounded by actors trying to approach their roles through a median of realism. These actors are often easily forgotten as Cage outshines them through his sheer charisma. This then makes you wonder: do wider audiences truly crave realism in acting, or is it a notion that we have tricked ourselves into believing? You must ask yourself why acting should be realistic.
On the other side of the coin are films created with the intention to be bad. Films such as Sharknado (2013) or Zombeavers (2014) were made to capitalise on this cult phenomenon, but their intentions are wholly transparent. In trying to replicate something so undefinable they lack the satisfaction that comes with these grand failures; failures that had the intention to be meaningful.
From their perspective, it is quite tragic. People have worked tirelessly on a piece of art only to have their intentions squandered entirely. Yet even in these disasters, we find joy and in a sense these filmmakers made something so difficult to capture that, where others are forgotten, their legacy lives on. The greatest offence a film can commit is to be boring and these bizarre gems are anything but, always managing to shock and delight as to what strange thing could occur next. Although The Room falls flat on its face at every attempt to be a serious work of art, it still brings joy, and can you ask for anything more?