by Jay Stringer
I love watching a bad film. You might not know that if you saw me; I’ll yell and twist about, I’ll correct mistakes and make noises that make a baby velociraptor sound polite.
I probably look like I’m about to die, because on more than one occasion people have asked if I need an ambulance. What they don’t know is that I’m learning.
You learn more from a bad film than you do from a good one. I’d wager that George Clooney learned more from Batman & Robin than he did from Three Kings. Watching the mistakes unfold allows you to decide how it should have been done; it gives you the room to improve next time. If you’re an actor, you get to see what line deliveries just don’t work, or which directors you shouldn’t trust. If you’re a director, editor or key grip you get to see how you can do better in the same situation. The best boy probably learns how to make a better cup of tea for the gaffer.
I’m none of those, I’m a writer. As I watch a bad film, I’m rewriting it in my head, I’m seeing what went wrong and how I could fix it. I’m much like Dr Sam Beckett, but without the comedy sidekick. You can watch the film and see which storytelling choices feel true and which don’t. You can tell which plot developments have grown naturally out of the characters, and which are forced by the plot.
Writing a story is fairly simple. Boy meets girl, they encounter a magic ruby, a hairy frog and hilarity ensues.But structuring the story? Making sure the right things happen at the right time? That things feel natural, and that nothing seems out of place? That’s the heavy lifting. That is what a writer is paid for. And believe me, when you’re looking for these things in a movie you can quickly spot which writers have earned their money.
It also helps with whatever I’m working on at the time. If I have a scene that I can’t make work, or my brain needs time to figure out what the character would do, I can watch a film. If I watch a good film, there’s always the risk I might accidentally copy it. Or it might make my job harder; because there’s nothing worse when you’re struggling than seeing somebody else do the job with ease.
But watching a bad film? I can sit and laugh, I can rewrite the film as I watch it, and that seems to grease the wheels in my brain somehow and before I know it, I’m back at my desk.
Try it. Doesn’t matter what you’re stuck on; the next great novel, homework, maybe that crossword that’s been bugging you all day. Sit and watch a bad film. Even watching a little bit of one, maybe just ten minute, and you’ll be working again.
See how I made it sound like watching a film that sucks is actually a deep and rewarding artistic endeavor? Yeah, if only I got that creative with my taxes.
The real reason, the best reason, to watch these films is because it’s fun.
Admit it. You don’t need to read yet another love letter toChinatown. You don’t need to see me asking The Dark Knight to marry me. But if I want to sit down and decide why it is that Jennifers Body just doesn’t work, or why it’s clear that Robocop 2 never saw Robocop, well, that’ll be fun.
And prepare to disagree with me. I don’t know about you, but I think the best episodes of Matinee Idles are when the panel don’t all agree on a film. I want to hear the discussion and debate. It’s all subjective, after all. I can sit here and tell you why I think a film sucks, and give examples of how badly written it is, but you might love the performance of the lead actor. Or it might have Sam Raimi’s favorite car in it, or some great direction that elevates the film above a bad script.
When I first set out to write this, I sent out a request on twitter, “Suggest bad movies for me to write about.” The replies started coming in and pretty soon I saw just how subjective this was going to be.
Tropic Thunder? City Of Angels? Okay, I can see that, I don’t like them. The Matrix sequels? Too easy. Plus, you know, I didn’t like the first film very much anyway. Jason X? Really? You people are mean. Inglorious Basterds? Do you really want to break the Internet?
I’ll be trying to avoid anything too obvious, and doing my best not to break anyone’s Internet. I’m not looking to rip films to shreds. Hopefully we can have a bit of fun, learn a little bit about films, and all agree on at least one of them. If you disagree with what I write, if you think I’ve been to harsh or too easy, let us know. Add the other side to the discussion. Likewise, if there’s a film you want to see nailed, let us know. Especially if it has some nakedness in it.
Jay Stringer is an expert of the nature of bad movies and (as you can tell) loves to watch them. Look for future Bad Movie Write-Ups in Jay’s weekly column, Bad Example