Sunday, August 30, 2009
The complexities of badness
I saw my 2800th movie this week.
You won't be surprised to learn that I observe such milestones. This blog has made my love of milestones abundantly clear. Every time I hit the next multiple of 100, I bold the movie title in my running chronological list. On the off chance you care, number 2700 was Role Models.
Of course, I know when I'm about to hit the milestone, so I have the ability to guide what I see to make it more significant. Like when I decided to make Casablanca my 2000th movie. (Finally putting to rest my shame at not having seen it before age 31).
But I like to see how these things turn out randomly, so I usually avoid doing that. The way things were shaping up, #2800 looked like it was going to be The Wages of Fear, the 1953 French classic that is among the favorite all-time movies of one of my friends. Upon his recommendation, I pushed it to the top of my queue, and it was shipped to me sometime in July. It was finally ready to make it onto our viewing schedule this week, but I got sick, and decided that in my weakened condition, I didn't have the stamina for 138 minutes of black and white and subtitles.
So when I finished my workday on Thursday, a day I was allowed to work from home while trying to kick my illness, I was ready for something light and relatively short. And was sitting on 2799. So randomness wasn't going to enter into it -- I would be directly choosing my milestone movie from all the available titles OnDemand. Those that fit my criteria, that is.
What did I choose? The art accompanying this post has removed all suspense.
That's right, I finally watched Freddy Got Fingered.
I say "finally" because I have been using Freddy Got Fingered as one of my primary examples of cinematic awfulness for years. Any time I need a prototypical example of a terrible movie, I go to that well. In this blog alone, I've already made two references to it, both times placing it on the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum from Citizen Kane. Once, when talking about the 300-word guidelines for my reviews, I said you should be able to stick to that limit whether reviewing Citizen Kane or Freddy Got Fingered. Another time I mentioned receiving an incorrect title from your online rental purveyor, and the fact that you could probably switch out the copy of Citizen Kane they sent you for your own copy of Freddy Got Fingered, and successfully claim it was their mistake.
So, I figured, if I'm going to keep using this film as my whipping boy, at least I owed it a viewing. And, as an extra service to it, why not make it one of my "personal milestones"? Especially since Thursday was the last day it would be available.
It was a calculated risk, because laughing was something I was trying to avoid. Anytime I laughed, it brought on a coughing fit, and those coughing fits usually ended in hiccups. It was a disturbing cycle that had already wearied me.
Then again, I also knew I probably wouldn't be laughing very much during Freddy Got Fingered.
In fact, I think I laughed once. Maybe it was twice.
But Freddy Got Fingered also made me think.
How so, you ask?
Well, it's true that Freddy Got Fingered is, in many ways, a morally reprehensible film, and difficult to endure. There are scenes that are so gross, they violate the sensibilities of even those who don't usually grant filmmakers the power to shock them with cheap stimuli. And certainly, part of what biased most people against the film is that Tom Green was such a shameless fame whore, you didn't want to grant him a smidgen of credit for contributing anything noteworthy to the world. His shtick was so annoying that no one wanted to provide the smallest reward to his avant-garde stunts. If you did, you were essentially saying that doing the most random thing imaginable was some kind of talent.
But I must admit that since finishing the film, I have returned in my mind to various scenes. I do think of Green wearing a suit backwards, and walking toward and away from a mirror, and muttering some ditty about him being the Backwards Man who walks as fast as you can. I do think about him playing some contraption that involves an untuned keyboard and sausages on pullies, singing "Daddy would you like some sausage?" I do think of him wearing a moose carcass on his back, and I do think of him spinning around a newborn infant on the end of an umbilical cord, which he just severed with his own teeth.
But is thinking about them the same as liking them? Or am I just replaying their weirdness in my mind in order to mentally shake my head at them again?
To be clear, I give Freddy Got Fingered a thumbs down. In fact, if I were reviewing it, I would reserve some of my choicest negative language for it.
But I can't deny the fact that it also serves me in a way most movies don't. I am on record as saying I'm interested in any movie that shows me something I've never seen before. That alone certainly doesn't guarantee that I like the film in question, but it does mean that it potentially interests me more than a run-of-the-mill genre film with no distinguishing elements. Even though that film may be ten times more competent than a film like Freddy Got Fingered.
My distinguished colleague who did review the film put it in a very interesting way: "Freddy Got Fingered is in no way a conventionally good film. Nearly unanimous bad reviews found that it was not conventionally well-directed, written, shot, or acted. While this makes the film off-putting for many, it does feel like the movie Tom Green intended to make."
This observation made me realize that there are three reasons we generally hate a movie:
1) The filmmakers failed in their attempt to make a good idea;
2) The filmmakers succeeded in their attempt to make a bad idea;
3) The filmmakers failed in their attempt to make a bad idea.
If #1 is the best and #3 is the worst, Green at least gets credit for being in the middle, for achieving #2. We may dislike his intentions, but no one can say he didn't do exactly what he wanted to do with this film. I bet Tom Green is extremely proud of Freddy Got Fingered. If all he really wanted to do was make us hate his film, it's an unqualified success. If you are really interested in trying to frustrate him, your only choice is to like the film -- but then he's got you there too.
And I'll be honest -- there is something captivating about stuff that is weird just for weird's sake. Green wouldn't be famous at all if there weren't some truth to that. I think the second time I laughed was when he's on a date with his love interest, an amateur rocket scientist confined to a wheelchair, who works in a hospital, loves having her paralyzed legs whacked with a cane, and enjoys giving blow jobs. (Leave it to Green to be subtle). Green's Gord Brody is trying to pretend he's some big-time guy in the finance world, so he plays a phone ringing on a tape recorder, and answers the clunky wireless landline from his dad's kitchen, pretending it's a cellular device. Then screams at some imaginary financial world flunky over some imaginary mistake, ultimately firing him with eyes bulging and spittle flying. Yes, it amused me.
I imagine I will keep processing my feelings toward Freddy Got Fingered for awhile. My distaste for Green's persona still stands. I still think a person should not receive credit for a disjointed story composed of disconnected "shocking" vignettes. I still think a person needs to do more to earn fame.
But, I'm also strangely glad I saw the movie.
So, will I continue to use Freddy Got Fingered as my prototypical terrible movie, in all examples that require such a movie?
And I bet Tom Green would be extremely proud of that.