Friday, February 15, 2013

B's For Me

In my previous entry, I made a reference to film director of many pseudonyms Godfrey Ho.  I linked to his IMDb page because I figured a lot of people had never heard of him.  If you've ever watched a b-movie (or more accurately a "z-movie") made in Hong Kong that seemed to be cut and pasted together from other films, if the film made no sense, and it was the worst (yet oddly enjoyable) film you've ever seen, you're probably familiar with his work.  Between 1973 and 2000 the man directed over 100 films.  Sometimes he put out over 10 a year!  It's insane, and I admire the hell out of him for it.

Look, I have a problem.  I own hundreds of b-movies.  I collect them, catalog them for footage and music, and use them in my own film projects (since most of them are in the public domain).  It's not really a problem when you just look at the benefits: I enjoy watching cheap schlock (and sometimes you find a lost gem that's actually good), my bride-to-be (bride-to-B?) loves to watch them with me, and I have a unique catalog of stock footage that nobody else has access to (unless they coincidentally watched and cataloged all of the same stuff I have somehow).  Those are some of the good points.

One of the negative aspects is that I occasionally spend a whole night watching footage on fast forward, stopping it as I go to type down a description of some footage that I think I can use.  This aids me later while I'm editing a film, because if I need some images of a UFO landing or some tropical birds I can search for them and find some sources to pull the footage from.  But the day after pouring over movie after movie my eyes are weird and buggy.  It's been pointed out to me before.  It's like they keep rapidly looking around, as if everything in my life was part of one great big b-movie for me to cut apart.  This might make me look crazy to people who don't know me.  The explanation may be just as damning.

Another drawback has to do with a personal pet peeve of mine.  I've always lamented when people ask if I've seen a movie, and when I haven't they respond with "You've NEVER seen My Giant!!!???"  My retort to that, up to a certain point in my life, was usually "Look, dude, there's like forty million movies.  I can't possibly have seen them all."  I'll admit though, as a film-lover there's a lot of classic films that I'm embarrassed to have yet to watch.  The Godfather Trilogy (or at least the first two).  Raging Bull.  Casablanca.  My Giant.

With that in mind, my usual response to the outrage at not having seen a particular film these days is "I haven't gotten around to it yet.  I was busy watching The Galaxy Invader and The Crater Lake Monster."  (That's two films right there, not an awesome buddy comedy.  Though that does give me an idea for an awesome buddy comedy.)  And it's true.  The Galaxy Invader is awful, yet I've watched it at least four times already.  The same goes for Twister's Revenge, which is about a super-intelligent monster truck, and The Manster, in which a man is injected with a serum that makes him grow a second head (as well as act like a roaring douche).

This all started while I was in college.  I was at Border's (a bookstore where I used to go to buy movies, CDs, and sometimes even a book), and I noticed an odd selection of cheapo DVDs with intriguing titles like Eegah! and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.  I was hooked before I'd even finished watching Richard Kiel, dressed as a caveman, chase after a living pompadour in a dune buggy.  By the time I had witnessed the meeting of Jesse James and Frankenstein's Daughter (which is really the mad doctor's granddaughter in the film) it was a full-fledged addiction.

Part of the charm of these movies is that they usually take themselves pretty seriously despite their typically crazy plots.  It's as if the makers of my beloved B's were blissfully unaware that a giant turtle that eats fire and can convert itself into a flying saucer is ludicrous.  This lack of irony in the content may be what really draws me to these films.

The current state of pop culture is something I find myself at odds with.  It has become like a dragon with an extremely long body that, having run out of a food source (food being original ideas in this analogy), has started to eat it's own tail.  So much 'new' art seems to just reference other entities of pop culture.  If I catch an episode of Family Guy I sometimes feel like I should have brought a pop culture handbook with me.  A well-written joke, even if based on a reference, should be able to stand on its own.  Family Guy is capable of accomplishing this, but many times I haven't seen the "hilarious" youtube video the show is referencing, and the writers must have been feeling lazy when they crafted the script, because the joke in that case doesn't seem to be anything other than the fact that they're referencing what some stupid asshole got videotaped doing.  That, in my opinion, is shoddy writing.

And nowadays everything is so damned ironic.  I like this because I don't really like it.  I'm wearing this Bon Jovi t-shirt because I think Bon Jovi is terrible.  This suit is in style because of how out of style it is.  When did society transform into one giant hipster wearing a massive, ironic baseball cap?  Can we go back to digging things just because we actually dig them?

This phenomenon has leaked into Hollywood, where it seems a current trend is sticking zombies or vampires into every possible genre just because it's, like, whaaaa?  Those things don't go together!

We also now have movies that feature once-mighty stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger spouting lines of dialog that reference not only his previous films, but the fact that he hasn't been making films in quite a long time because he was Governor of California.  I'm referring to The Expendables 2, of course, and I know this film series is supposed to be a fun 'throw-back' to older action movies, but the filmmakers have fallen into that same trap of too much tongue-in-cheek, too much referencing other films.  I like the concept of the films, but they should be able to exist and stand up on their own as films without relying on regurgitated nostalgia.  If a kid 20 years from now picks up the film, will he understand why Arnold saying "I'm back!!!" is supposed to be funny?  This is just from the trailer; I haven't seen the film, so could somebody tell me if Arnold then turns to the camera and winks really hard after delivering the line?

Also from the trailer for the same film: Jason Statham is disguised as a priest, and he quips the most painfully awful quip, possibly in the history of quips, "I now pronounce you man and knife!", before producing a knife to kill the groom with.  I'll admit that I laughed at how terribly cheesy the line was when I saw the trailer (made even funnier by his raspy British voice).  It was like something from a McBain movie on The Simpsons, for crying out loud!  But therein lies the problem.  Either the film was made by so many hacks that somebody wrote the line and everybody else thought it was good, or, more likely, the corny line was included on purpose to reference/mock older action movies that were often chock full of bad dialog.  But that begs the question: if Hollywood is purposely making their movies bad (because that makes them ironically good) then why are they spending tens of millions of dollars a piece to make the damn things?

Perhaps worst of all, while we're being inundated with movies that homage but also laugh at films from the not-so-distant past, the new movies rely on the same old assembly line brain garbage techniques of 'satisfying' the audience by not challenging them at all.  The good guy has to succeed and get the girl and make everything explode at the end, or the focus groups won't like the film, and the studio heads won't understand the film.  The film industry seems to be at a point where they're dumbing everything down to the lowest possible denominator to ensure the most profit, forgetting that in 50 years the name of the studio and everybody else involved will still appear on a thoughtless, quick cash-in, horribly dated film that doesn't hold up as time goes on.

The b-movies I love were just as bad 30 or 40 years ago as they are now, and they'll still be bad another 30 or 40 years into the future.  The difference is that they can always be admired, no matter how lame the acting is or how ridiculous the special effects are, because they were made by people like Ed Wood and Ray Dennis Steckler who had a passion to create movies, and they succeeded in at least finishing them by scraping together what little budget they could.  Also, without the shackles of working for a major studio, the filmmakers were free from making the movies with a cliched mold.  The aliens could win in the end, the film could end abruptly with an atomic explosion, or the main characters could escape from a police chase only to randomly drive off a cliff into a river.

All of the preceding reasoning, and adding in that I'm weirdly proud to own movies with titles like Robo Vampire and Escape From Galaxy 3, is why I'll just as often, if not more often, choose a b-movie over a Hollywood hit.

Eventually I'll get around to watching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  And My Giant.

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