“Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”– Pauline Kael
This quote has always stuck with me. In some way, it’s safe to say that it shaped me has a moviegoer, and as a critic. Five years ago, Elvira’s Movie Macabre was on public access every Saturday night, and it was the highlight of my week. These movies were bad, some even fucking grotesque ie Lady Frankenstein.
Over the years I got a lot of shit from people over how I can enjoy such horrible movies; laugh at them, even be entertained by them. And then Kael’s quote always pops into my head. No matter how clearly I can explain it, people just can’t fathom the concept of a good-bad movie, or as she referred to it, “Great Trash”.
The prime example of great trash is The Room. This is a fucking masterpiece in shitty filmmaking. Think about everything that makes a movie great: the acting, directing, writing, editing, cinematography, etc, and imagine a movie failing on every fundamental level. That is The Room. I’m not even kidding. Yet, the sheer incompetence of the movie makes it fucking hilarious to watch. The fact that after every day of shooting the director went, “Yeah, that was really good”. Someone thought that. Think about it.
Unintentional hilarity is the key to appreciating great trash, but it’s not a prerequisite. When I got around to seeing The Need for Speed, I was getting ready to dismiss it due to all the reviews that popped up. I was surprised that I found myself enjoying it despite the shoddy writing, contrived plotting, and cringe worthy dialogue. It’s really like any car movie, where the stars and focus are the cars. What struck me was the fact that this one was entertaining. Despite all my misgivings about the film, I was being entertained. Or to put it more succinctly: I wasn’t bored.
Earlier this year, I saw Jupiter Ascending, a film that audiences enjoyed if they bothered seeing the fucking thing. At first I’m thinking, “Good Lord, what a piece of shit”, but then I started to notice some of the performances were so straight laced and serious, with such a convoluted plot that I thought we should have gotten cliff notes, that I started to smile and admire it’s tenacity to be the next great space opera. It was so entertainingly bad… Well, you’re getting the picture.
My interest in great trash came from two places: the film Ed Wood, and the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first being a movie about the greatest worst director in the history of cinema, and the other the classic series about a man and two robots talking shit about the bad movies they’re watching. The former introduced me to the masterpiece that is Plan 9 from Outer Space, a marvel in the sheer incompetence of the basic rules in filmmaking. Continuity does not exist in this dojo, or proper set pieces for that matter. The latter introduced me to Manos: The Hands of Fate, a “film” that terrified me the first time I watched it because it looked like a snuff film. If you can get through it without killing yourself, then you’re stronger than you could ever realize.
This brings to mind the time I watched the Friday the 13th film series with a friend of mine, and he told me he wouldn’t even come close to enjoying them if he saw them alone. And that right there is the key to the whole thing. Great trash is best enjoyed with your friends and loved ones. It’s the shared, social experience of enduring something awful that brings people together. So the next time you see Great Trash, appreciate who you’re with, the experience, and the joy of it. It’s better to see an entertaining bad movie, than a well made, boring one.