You just have to sit back with a few glasses of wine and watch “The Wedding Date” with the dog. Of course, the movie was his choice. Damn it, Charlie! I don’t need to see Debra Messing as an unlucky-in-love spinster who has to hire Durmot Mulroney as her wedding date! Oh, all right. If you insist. Another glass? Oh, I guess so. If that’s what you want. Man, Debra Messing sure is unlucky in love. When will she catch a break?
Oh, right. At the end of the movie. Well, good for her.
I love bad movies! I would rather watch Steve Guttenberg with a fake accent and hair extensions riding a motorcycle than rent Citizen Kane. It is an ongoing sickness that I have finally come to terms with—I have even begun taking pride in my dogged devotion to certain awful films, which is like flaunting your ability to look pregnant after eating a big meal.
But what’s not to love about terrible movies? They’re usually easier to understand than good movies, and watching them makes you feel smarter and more talented (and if they have small, misguided costume and makeup budgets, you also get to feel prettier). When I was in high-school, their very existence did wonders for my fragile self-esteem. “I have no date to prom,” I would think, “but at least I didn’t produce Waterworld.”
A good movie teaches you about yourself; a bad movie can also teach you about yourself, but it will be things you didn’t really want to know. Bad films also taught me just how long ninety minutes can be, and that a sequel is in trouble when the only actors retained from the original film are the high-school principal and football coach.
Still, despite my vastly impressive and socially crippling bad movie expertise, last night I was revealed as the fraud I am. For years, I have called myself a connoisseur of bad movies without having seen Xanadu. I now realize that this was equivalent of claiming to be an authority on the English language without having read Shakespeare. Also, comparing the two is a felony, or should be.
Xanadu, a ‘roller-disco musical’ from 1981, is even worse than it sounds, which I didn’t think was possible until I saw it. Critics claim that it is arguably the cornerstone of modern cinematic failure—and by ‘critics’ I mean most anyone who has seen the whole thing. Certainly it was not the first-ever movie to be bad, but it is now clear to me that it lowered the bar to a whole new basement level. Nothing else I have ever seen comes close to Xanadu’s perfect-storm-like combination of naive optimism, jaunty unselfconsciousness, and Olivia Newton John in a peasant blouse and roller skates.
Perhaps it was the constant flashing neon lights, or the dramatic, eye-twitch-inducing hairstyles that were not acceptable in any decade or dimension that has ever existed or will ever exist (trust me on this one). Maybe it was the part, early on, where the hero, a struggling artist, tore up a drawing and said, “Aw, hell, guys like me shouldn’t dream anyway.” Or the montage of dance numbers near the end that made my brain try to eat itself. Or the sudden and baffling interlude in which the romantic leads inexplicably turn into cartoon birds and fly around chasing each other. Or the fact that every time you try to forget that Gene Kelly stars in this movie, he starts dancing around and it’s like he’s dancing on your heart.
I can’t go on. I need to take my mind off of this movie. The doctors say I shouldn’t upset myself. Let me just say that I think it was the almost tragic unselfconsciousness that finally got me in the end. It was like watching Miss America flash a dazzling smile with spinach in her teeth.
If anyone else has seen Xanadu and has an opinion on it, or advice for me, I would love to hear it. Mostly, I just want to feel like I am not alone. I have landed on the other side, and I will never be able to find my way back. Nothing will ever be the same.
Maybe I need to watch it again.
I am well aware that those who produce, direct, and star in bad movies are arguably less reprehensible than the people who gather in living rooms on countless Friday nights with their friends to watch them over and over. I don’t remember exactly when I first began to cultivate an appreciation for the kinds of movies whose boxes display succinct, extremely selective quotes from nameless critics saying, “…Good…movie!” I wasn’t always a connoisseur of incompetence, a lover of the badly acted and worst written. By now though, my habits are well known, and not only by those closest to me, for I’ve accumulated miles of damaging records at the local video store. None of the clerks look me in the eye anymore. It still hurts, sometimes.
Lately, however, my love of films where the font in the opening credits announces the producer in Times New Regret has led me to ask some difficult questions. “Why not try watching a quality picture, perhaps a classic, once in awhile?” I ask myself. “A movie which, when you can’t get it to play, won’t make you suspect that your VCR is malfunctioning on purpose to save you from yourself?” I also wonder whether perhaps having a decent movie or two under my belt might finally grant me the social credibility I crave. Anyone who has ever experienced a delayed and confused response from an acquaintance at a party who is waiting for you to add, “Just kidding, who could possibly think that ‘Grease 2’ is as good as the original, ha ha,” knows my pain.
I really do feel that for sheer entertainment value, you can’t beat the ill-begotten sequel to a campy 80’s classic, a sequel that can’t decide whether it’s striving to be campy, meaningful, or watchable, but which is ultimately none of the three. “Grease 2,” where high-school students are played by thirty-year-olds with tired eyes, receding hairlines and recently fired agents. Where the leading lady, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is unaware that the lovable geek who pines for her in English class and the leather-jacketed, motorcycling bad ass who has been courting her with his cool riding, are one and the same man, because the bad ass always wears motorcycle goggles. A movie in which one of the liveliest musical numbers takes place in a bowling alley with dancing nuns as extras. You have to wonder how many of those involved mention this movie on their resumes. I wouldn’t be surprised if even the Key Grip let this one slide.
Perhaps my taste in movies is an indication of a more serious personality disorder. Rather than spending my time on intelligent, well-made movies that allow me to sit back and appreciate the art of filmmaking, I prefer to watch movies that, although I have no experience in the field of lighting, costumes, or set design, invariably have scenes that make me roll my eyes and sniff, “Look at that back-lighting. You can barely see his face. And the bathrobe Shelley Long is wearing is completely inappropriate considering her character’s insecurity with her own wealth and status. Shameful.” The feelings of superiority one experiences upon watching a Bad movie remain heady and potent; even when the movie is one in which Steve Guttenberg woos and finally wins a feisty journalist with a heart of gold by pretending to be a sexy, mysterious motorcycling stranger from New Zealand. Note how the theme of motorcycling appears to be particularly prevalent in Bad movies. The social implications are staggering.
Toward the end of the summer I took an aluminum baseball bat on a Trailways bus and no one, including the driver, gave either of us a second glance. I took that as an indication of how far this country has come and then gone back again in terms of heightened security for travelers. I can remember a time late last fall when my fellow passengers and I had our baggage searched and were questioned fiercely by security before we were permitted to board a Peter Pan bus out of Albany. They demanded to know whether I had any guns or knives. “No? Razors? No? Well, what about fingernail clippers?” This last one surprised me. I didn’t in fact have any, but even if I had, what sort of damage could I possibly have done with them? How do you threaten someone with fingernail clippers? “Pull this bus over. Don’t mess with me, I’ll clip you.” Certainly you could injure someone with them, but only…very…slowly. The in-bus movie that trip was My Father the Hero, a romantic comedy starring Gerard Depardieu as a father who must play the part of his underage daughter’s lover so she can impress a boy (although the boy who would be impressed by anyone’s dating Gerard Depardieu I certainly wouldn’t go near). It was halfway through this lighthearted, overtly incest-tinged romp-which was inescapably played on the bus’s speaker system, so that even those passengers who hadn’t brought headphones or rented them from the driver could enjoy the show-that I realized why security was so strict about passengers not having access to any sorts of harmful or sharp objects. They were only trying to protect us from ourselves. Had I had access to fingernail clippers, I could have inflicted much more bodily harm on myself in my efforts to distract myself from the movie. My only other explanation for the fact that no one batted an eye at me as I clutched my menacing travel accessory is to take it as further
proof that, as far as appearance goes, I am about as non-threatening as it gets. On the threatening scale, I am ranked just below yogurt. And not the kind with active cultures, either. The kind with listless, inactive ones. The state of being congenitally nonthreatening (cases are also referred to as having a high “wuss-factor”) does have its plus sides. My ability to do well in card games where looking innocent helps you do well is slightly increased, although when that slight increase is coupled with my incompetence at card games, I just about break even. Perhaps this is why running has become my sport of choice; it works with my wussy appearance, rather than against it. As a person who naturally looks intimidated, I appear much more in my element when running away than I do standing firm, clutching a bat and staring straight ahead, my knees defiantly touching.