The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 8, 2013

Benji Tunnell: Art of bad filmmaking is multi-layered

By Jeremiah Tucker
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I've been a movie buff my entire life.

When I was a child, I would sneak downstairs to catch whatever the late show happened to be that evening. I got my first job working in theaters, and every Thursday I would pull long nights pre-screening the coming weekend's films, often rolling them into double or triple features, all under the guise of quality control.

I've seen a lot of movies, and more specifically, a lot of bad movies. What I've found is that there is an art to bad movies. They can be broken down into specific categories:

Intentionally bad

These are the movies that the filmmakers knew would be awful, but made anyway. Many of the mainstream Hollywood bad movies fall into this category.

The main motivation behind this is, of course, money. Obviously, no right-thinking studio exec would ever cast Gerard Butler in a film if they didn't think he'd sell tickets. Likewise, the talentless Ashton Kutcher would never get a role opposite the shrill and shrewish Katherine Heigl if it wasn't believed that they would put rears in seats.

The fault for the intentionally bad movies belongs to all of us. I don't know if it is some form of Stockholm Syndrome, but we as a nation continue to turn out to bad movie after bad movie, and all we're doing is encouraging the studio system.

Yet we don't seem to learn, as "Identity Thief" has spent every weekend thus far in the top two at the box office.

Unintentionally bad

Call it the "Plan 9" effect. This is when some, if not all, involved think that they are making the next great film, but the results go horribly awry.

Much like with Ed Wood's disasterpiece, these films are approached with the best of intentions. Either the talent, the money or overall production value just isn't there, and the movie begins spiraling downward.

This isn't always a bad thing, as many times these films cross over into cult movie status. There is little doubt that something like "The Room" should have faded into a forgotten haze.

But the films are made with such passion and earnestness that they transcend bad filmmaking and achieve a whole new level of atrocious art. Sometimes, they can even inspire good, as with the "Troll 2" documentary "Best Worst Movie." And each generation seems to be able to latch on to their own awful prize, anathema to good cinema but embraced by those who love it for what it tried to be.

The crown jewel of crap for my peers and I would have to be "Showgirls," a modern parable of caution warning that if you chase your dreams you might end up as a hooker or giving lap dances to Kyle MacLachlan.

My children will someday have their own unintentionally bad touchstone, and that idea leaves me both saddened and overjoyed.


There are many, many that have sunk to these depths. This category doesn't discriminate -- big budget, shoestring, big stars, has-beens, never-weres -- all can fall victim to the irredeemable film. And each year adds more to the bottomless pit of suck that this genre has become.

Major studios ("Battleship") as well as independent film makers ("The Life of Lucky Cucumber") can fall victim to hubris or alcohol-fueled ideas, and if the good sense to say no is lacking, eventually the results are thrust upon the viewing public, hopefully to be rejected.

Yet many end up licking their wounds, regrouping and giving it another go. And herein lies the problem: If the curiosity factor is high enough, enough eyeballs see the movie and it tricks someone, somewhere, into thinking that there is a market for such atrocities.

This misplaced faith has fostered the careers of many filmmakers, big and small, including Uwe Bolle, McG, Brett Ratner and Michael Bay. This wrongful illusion has kept those behind "Date Movie," "Superhero Movie" and the like, as well as most of the Wayans family, employed.

The only fix is to stop watching the movies, but much like driving by a horrendous mangled car wreck, something compels otherwise sane people to crane their necks, often at the risk of their own safety.

Each of these groups can be dissected down to multiple layers of sub-genres, but in the end, they all end up just being bad movies with different levels of watchability. It is a rite of passage that we all must suffer through, and if there is a positive about such films, it is that, like iron sharpening iron, they help moviegoers hone their ability to discern good from bad.

It may not make us stop watching lousy movies, but it'll help us to appreciate the great ones that much more.