Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An unlucky year for famous flops

When I started my last two recurring monthly features on The Audient, it was to answer a specific need. I felt I wasn't making enough room in my viewing schedule for films that were released before 1980, despite having more of an interest in them than your average person. So I launched Decades and then Getting Acquainted, both of which were designed to give me a structured reason to watch these films.

In unlucky year '13, I have a different need I'm trying to address now: I'm trying to see more bad movies.

Why would someone set such a goal, you might ask?

Well, I've always thought that watching movies should be a balance between watching great examples of cinema and watching schlock. Not an even balance, mind you -- but for at least every five movies that show you the best way to do things, you should have one to show you what not to do. My high school film teacher, who might otherwise strike someone as a snob, always touted the benefits of seeing schlock. (That was the actual word he used, and I'm appropriating it here.)

When I was reviewing movies for All Movie, I was fed a steady diet of not-very-good to downright bad movies. But that gig ended in late 2011, and since then, the balance has tipped -- unsurprisingly -- in favor of movies I actually want to see.

I know this because I keep a spreadsheet of all the movies I've ever seen, and because it's a spreadsheet, it's possible to apply formulas to the data I'm keeping. One such formula tells me the percentage of movies I've seen that I've liked. I keep a running tally of thumbs ups and thumbs downs, and add to that number each time I see something new.

For quite some time, the percentage of movies I'd seen that I liked was hovering around 64%. I don't know if that seems good or bad to you, but most people might think it's a shame to spend over a third of your time watching movies you don't care for. Me, I was comfortable with it.

In recent years, though, that number has been creeping upward. Now it's over 67%. And whether it's rational or not, I have been rooting for it to go back down. Every time I see a bad movie and the percentage creeps downward by a couple hundredths of a percent (more than it creeps upward when I see a good movie, since I've seen more good movies), I silently cheer the result. Not so much as to falsify the results, but enough that it makes me feel like I'm keeping a certain equilibrium.

You might logically say "Vance, even 67% is nowhere near the one out of six bad movies ratio you advocated earlier. You'd have to get up around 84% before you'd be at that level."

True, but that's assuming I was starting from scratch. I can't change my past viewings, I can only control what I'm seeing now. And these days, it's probably more like one in ten bad movies.

Plus, there are degrees of badness as well. The truly instructional bad films are the truly terrible ones, and they are also usually the most fun. Most bad movies I see these days are only a marginal thumbs down, what one might describe as worthwhile failures. And while worthwhile failures always contain plenty of instructional moments, they aren't the cautionary tales that I may be looking for.

So, this is a very long way of saying that my new series is called Famous Flops, and starting in February, I'll be concentrating on the worst of the worst, one per month, and then writing about them here.

That's right, I am going to identify movies that are famous for being terrible that I have not yet had the (dis)pleasure of watching. I'll laugh, I'll cry, I'll wince, and maybe sometimes I'll actually like them better than their reputation, which will be an interesting result in its own right. (Hey, if I haven't told you already, I describe Gigli -- which would have been a perfect candidate for this series, had I not already seen it -- as "not that bad.")

My goal will be to watch this movie at any point during the month that I can fit it in, and then write about it close to the end of the month so you have a chance to watch it too. Okay, okay, you may not want to play along. But if you do, it's just one movie, and you may share my fascination with gawking at cinematic car wrecks.

And if you do, here's my first title: Ishtar. In February, I'll be watching the Elaine May film known primarily for being a flop, even though it starred Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. Seems like a perfect place to start.

I'll see you back here around the end of February to discuss.


Don Handsome said...

I'm playing. I always wanted to see Ishtar...but guess what, its not yet available through Netflix. Where do you plan on finding it?

Vancetastic said...

What is that line about assuming make an ass out of u and me?

So you're right of course. I went to canistreamit.com and saw that it's available on Crackle, which I always hear the SVU guys talking about but which I've never tried myself. I'll have to look into what it costs to be part of that service and whether watching Ishtar is worth the cost.

Vancetastic said...


Don Handsome said...

OK. Let me know what you find out. I've never tried Crackle, but I'm willing to see what that's all about. It looks like its totally out of print - I can buy a region 2 DVD on Amazon for $99. That's worth it, right?

Jandy Hardesty said...

In general, I find your fascination with watching bad films fascinating. :) I mean, I totally get the draw to watching famous flops like Ishtar or Zardoz or Heaven's Gate, or even so-bad-they're-good stuff like Troll 2 or The Room. There's a ton of fun in watching movies like that, plus a lot of times the famous flops turn out to be not that bad after all (such is the case, I hear, with Heaven's Gate).

But the idea of wanting to watch randomly bad movies to get to a certain good/bad ratio - I don't really get that at all. If I had unlimited time on earth to watch movies, sure, I'd want to watch everything. But I don't, so every bad movie I watch is a good movie I may potentially never get to. I still don't usually begrudge watching bad movies if I enjoy them, and like I said, the super-bad movies are often enjoyable, but, like, there's no way I'm putting myself through Movie 43 just because I know it'd up my quota of movies I don't like.

Maybe that's the difference - stuff like Troll 2 I genuinely like, even though they're shitty. I think Troll 2 is in the top half of my Flickchart. Sounds like you're all for watching stuff you know you won't like on any level. Or am I misreading?

Vancetastic said...

Jandy, you are not misreading. I am probably misspeaking. I do mean (or intend to mean) that I'm interested in the epically bad movies, the ones that would fall into the Troll 2 category. Watching ordinarily unskilled offensively bad cinema is definitely not how I want to spend my time.

However, I do still think that seeing SOME movies like that helps me in the following way: It makes my total filmography better resemble that of a working critic's. Although I myself am not working now, I still consider myself a critic (forget "consider" -- I *am* a critic), so I still yearn to feel that kinship with each other critics must feel when they groan over some terrible movie they were both forced to watch. This is where the ratio comes in. Certainly, I want most of the movies I see to be good. But with the ones that aren't good, I'd prefer them to be absolutely terrible or really misguided noble failures than the types of movies that I consider the biggest wastes of time: the purely mediocre.

Jandy Hardesty said...

Ah, that makes more sense, then. I can get into the epically bad mindset as well, no problem.

I think I used to have more of a desire to do the "working critic" thing and see everything, or at least a cross-section of everything. I don't have it anymore. Maybe because I've stepped back from reviewing new releases in general. Now I have little interest in seeing anything I'm not likely to like. I'll still see stuff that most people would say is bad (we went to Hansel & Gretel last week), but I often end up enjoying those anyway, since they're attuned to my tastes.

I think I've just grown less critical, but as part of that, I'd much rather watch, discuss, write about really good films rather than mediocre to bad ones. Unless, of course, I feel like championing a film I think is unjustly maligned. ;) I just no longer enjoy writing about films I didn't like. I never would've made a good weekly reviewer anyway. :)