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.