What If You Made a Terrible Movie on Purpose, and Everybody Loved It?

As a fan of bad movies, I'm a little put off by all this Snakes on a Plane business. Like Avril Lavigne in a Clash t-shirt, or a $75 AC/DC hoodie at Bloomingdales, something about the whole Snakes on a Plane phenomenon is just rubbing me the wrong way. Turns out I'm in good company: Barrelhouse issue three interviewee Chuck Klosterman has an interesting article for Esquire called "The Snakes on a Plane Problem." At the same time, Salon's Aemelia Scott weighs in on the subject and takes Klosterman to task for feeling, like me, a little uncomfortable with all this fuss.

To me, the thing is this: bad movies are supposed to be bad by accident. There's something glorious about a movie that is truly terrible, that takes place in, let's say, a world in which there can be a world famous bouncer, and where Kelly Lynch is a doctor. If that movie -- which, in case you wandered into the wrong blog and don't know what I'm talking about, is, of course, Road House -- were called "World Famous Bouncer" (or if Point Break was called "Keanu Reeves as a Surfer FBI Agent" or Double Jeopardy were "Ashey Judd Tracks Down Her Husband Wearing Different Cute Outfits And Almost Dies in Every Scene Until She Meets up with Tommy Lee Jones and Then She Really Almost Dies and Then She Finally Triumphs And Couldn't Look Any Cuter While Doing It"), the beauty of the bad movie would be lost. And that beauty is the difference between what they were trying to do and what they did, and how incredibly stupid they were, how every single decision somehow went wonderfully awry.

Scott thinks differently. To her, it works like this:

This reveals the meaning of the cult classic. The C factor lies not in the shittiness of the film but in the agreement between moviemaker and moviegoer on the film's shittiness. The moviegoer goes to see a movie and thinks, "Wow, this movie is going to be terrible for X, Y and Z reasons." The bad movie delivers reasons X, Y and Z. The cult film responds, "Oh yeah? You think you know X, Y and Z? We're gonna show you some X, Y and Z!"

"Snakes on a Plane" is an agreement, but one born of an unlikely power shift. It's an agreement between moviegoer and Hollywood. It's an agreement between David and Goliath, where Goliath slips up and calls himself a knuckle-dragging retard giant.

I disagree. I think the first thing we have to do is distinguish between Cult Movies and Bad Movies. Cult movies can be good. In fact, they can be great. Spinal Tap is a cult movie. Slacker and Dazed and Confused are cult movies.

Bad movies are entirely different. And I think what Snakes on a Plane is going for is the Bad Movie kind of cult movie, the kind of movie whose predecessors are Shaft and Over the Top and Anaconda. These are movies where the shittiness is inescapable and accidental, where shittiness is the oxygen that the film breathes, the stuff it was made from, shittiness is absolutely inseparable from the film.

Man, Anaconda was one really great, terrible, shitty movie.

But can you do that on purpose? I don't think so. Watching a movie where they do that on purpose would be like watching the Mystery Science Theater TV show while they watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. It's too meta. Twice removed, something about the entire concept just doesn't work, the math doesn't add up.

I tend to agree with Klosterman, who says, of the bad movie fan:

This kind of appreciation is based on the premise that the bad movie aspired to be good. If a film never takes itself seriously and originates as satire, everything is different; its badness means something else entirely.

So as somebody who owns Road House on DVD, and who has seen Hot Dog: The Movie possibly twenty times, I'm a little nervous about all this hub-bub. Will I be watching? Probably. I mean, even with all this trepidation and meta-discussion, I'll still pay ten bucks to hear Samuel Jackson say "motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane."

But as a lover of bad movies, this all makes me nervous. I mean, where do we go from here? It might work once. Snakes on a Plane might be a hilarious, legitimately bad movie, oozing shittiness out of its every pore (after all, you can't blame the marketers for taking advantage of the Internet's random fascination w/ the film's title). But what about the next wave of bad on purpose movies? What about Really Angry Birds on a Bus? Alligators in a Cubible? What are we bad movies fans going to do with these -- watch for the moments when the filmmakers stumbled and actually created something good?


aaron said...

Dave, I must disagree. If the Wikipedia entry is accurate, then it seems that this movie was in trouble, and due to it becoming an Internet phenomenon was actually able to shift focus and while becoming more "self aware" was probably also able to improve itself as a product. Supposedly a random screenwriter, in his blog entry, wrote "get the mfing snakes off the mfing plane" and though he didn't work on the film, that line, or a variant thereof, was added to the movie. This is not a bad thing, in my opinion.

Matt said...

I'm sort of with Dave on this one (and, apparently, Klosterman, whose excellent Killing Yourself To Live I just finished about twenty minutes ago). However, I wonder if it's just me feeling left out. There have been a lot of cult movies the last few years that I liked way before anyone here in my little town did (Fight Club, Donnie Darko, Big Lebowski, etc.-- Wish I could think of a more recent one so I'd seem cooler), but this Snakes on a Plane business has completely passed me by. I don't even understand what's happened, or why it's a big deal-- All I've seen is that ridiculous title, the clip of Samuel L. Jackson, and people discussing it online or on TV like it's the next big thing.

Which is the long way to say what I've already said. I don't like it, and I think it's because I've been left out of the "cult" this time around. I wish I had a better reason, like the ones Dave outlines above (and which make perfect sense to me). I'm just not sure I do.