Let me be more specific: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) or 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)?
I know which one I’d prefer. And it’s the sad state of crummy filmmaking that validates my decision.
Once upon a time, there were “so bad they’re good” flicks. Pictures that didn’t have a shred of skill behind them, cobbled together on budgets that would make The Blair Witch Project (1999) look dear. Sets were flimsy. Cinematography was poor. Acting was wooden. And yet, people watched them because they were so awful. Films like these made audiences laugh. Groan. Lampoon them on Facebook.
Fine, Facebook didn’t exist way back then, in the heyday of bad movies. But you know what I’m saying. There was a kind of cinema in the past that viewers liked for its low quality. Some of these lemons had camp value. Others had no value at all. Yet they had one thing in common: They were made by folks without talent—individuals who couldn’t fashion a compelling scene to save their lives. And that was just fine with those who went to see them.
Bear in mind I’m not suggesting untalented filmmakers are some kind of extinct species, like dinosaurs or penny candy. It’s actually quite the opposite. We get more lousy movies showered upon us than ever before, and the supply may be infinite. The cinema’s rich as Midas when it comes to utter crap.
Unfortunately, most of this crap can’t be viewed with any masochistic pleasure … and that’s because the people crafting these pieces of cruduloid are often highly trained, with the result being that their flicks are godawful but technically sound—and there’s no way to enjoy that.
Take 300: Rise of an Empire, for instance. Its raison d’être seems to be providing its core audience (which may be 18 to 30-year-old men or sadistic, maniacal gore-hounds or both) with as much computer-generated bloodshed as possible. Most of this hemo-letting is gratuitous, yet it’s clear that the team behind these “special” effects had enough training and experience to devise some pretty realistic spurts and spatters. Meanwhile, the movie’s comic-book-like cinematography and posturing performances, while not involving, spoke to the skills of the artists involved in developing them; stars such as Eva Green and David Wenham have done strong work in the past, and they definitely have acting ability.
Clunkily stated—I realise that. But what I’m trying to express is that there’s a difference between technical skill and talent … and that the bad movies of today, while dealing with a surplus of the latter, ofter enough of the former behind and in front of the camera to preclude them from being lumped together with the “real” bad movies of old, the Manoses, the Robot Monsters (1953). Flicks that look like they were made in someone’s living room, that are as technically adept as a paper airplane. Those are the poor pictures that bring joy to viewers’ hearts. Those are the ones with merit.
OK, I realise almost anyone can go out and buy a camera, then make a junky film and put it on YouTube. Still, that’s a bit different from having a flick distributed to theatres nationwide, on the big screen, where bad movies were made to be seen. Plus, not everyone can gather the funds needed to finance a bad operation; not everyone has the resources. And although Joe Aspiring Untalented Filmmaker can recruit his friend to work the camera, chances are it’ll be a whole lot better than any frame in Manos.
Frankly, I think it’s up to the big studios to churn out the real rubbish—and they’re just not doing their job. Duds such as Gigli (2003) and Showgirls (1995) don’t have a lot going for them, but they’re just plain unwatchable … not the laughably all-too-low caliber of an Ed Wood or Bert I. Gordon travesty. They’re just too slickly made, despite their abysmal quality, and are consequently hard to sit through.
Yes, I’m perhaps making unfair comparisons: films with big budgets and stars versus poverty-row stinkers. Yet I think that’s the issue. “So bad they’re good” movies are a lot harder to come by these days, and in their place are “so bad they’re … well, bad” flicks. I can’t get into those and long for the garbage of old.
Call me Miniver Cheevy, then—aching for something in the past I can’t attain. Maybe I am a little like that, though I relish the present and its possibilities just as much. I just want to stress that there’s a difference between a bad movie and a bad movie; they’re not all alike, and they’ve had varied impacts on the cinema, as well as on our lives. We live in a time where dreck can be all it should be but usually falls short. Don’t we want our dross to transcend every boundary? Make us as happy as something good, something high quality, an actual classic?
I’m gonna avoid watching 300: Rise of an Empire, in the future, thank you very much. But when Manos comes on, I may tune in for a few laughs—to remember the good old days when cheap and lousy went together, when bad movies had character.
We need those times back; we need those kinds of pictures. Without them, we’re at a loss, and no amount of CGI blood can make up for it.