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"Bad" Movies and the Value of Earnest Art

This is what pure dedication looks like. Tommy's acting with every fiber of his existence.

This is what pure dedication looks like. Tommy's acting with every fiber of his existence.

Given everything that's happened this week, I initially felt guilty writing this blog. But then I realized we all have to keep moving forward and, well, the show must go on. So here we go.

I love bad movies. Adore them. Crave them. Actively seek them out. Watch them over and over, pick apart the fine details, piece together the meta-narrative behind its creation in search of a Gone With the Wind-sized epic. Now, I'm not talking about generic crap like Gangster Squad or Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Those movies are so bad they're bad. They lack the manic, obtuse, esoteric qualities that enrich films such as The Room, Miami Connection, and Samurai Cop. Notice how I put "bad" in quotation marks in this post's title. I think the whole term so-bad-it's-good is a bit of a misnomer. These films aren't "bad" at all. They're brilliant in the director's earnestness--his or her dogged, all-in attempt at creating something true to their vision.

Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. The exceptions to this rule are easy to spot. Many films that turn up the camp and "bad-ness" on purpose are transparent in their attempts. The reason these kinds of films ring hollow is simple: you can't manufacture the type of zeal Tommy Wiseau brought to The Room or James Nguyen brought to Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The key aspect of a "bad" movie is rooted in auteur theory. While not as common in today's landscape littered with superhero tentpoles and franchise bait, "bad" movies are keeping the auteur tradition alive as effectively as any indie or arthouse production companies.

Auteur theory, put simply, is the idea that a director is the "author" of a film. Much like an author of a novel, who has near-complete control of the story from character and plot to punctuation, some film directors exhibit a similar level of control in their films. An easy, modern example is Wes Anderson. His style of dialogue, plot, lighting, shot selection, editing, and production design pervades every film he makes. He can truly claim authorship over his work. The same can be said for Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villeneuve, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Gaspar Noe, to name a few.

When we watch The Room, we are actually watching Tommy Wiseau's representation of the world. We see the world as he sees it, through his eyes. In Samurai Cop, there's a baffling, passionate exchange about law enforcement, due process, crime, and drugs in America. The director, an Iranian immigrant, obviously had some thoughts about his newly-adopted country after the Iranian Revolution. "Bad" movies, in their raw, go-for-broke passion, end up revealing a lot about the people who made them.

There's something so utterly fascinating about watching a train wreck, especially when the creator's dedication is obvious in every frame. Tommy Wiseau just wants to be Marlon Brando. James Nguyen just wants to be Alfred Hitchcock. Neither of them were in on the joke. Their films don't have any winking or mugging to the camera. Both play it straight as an arrow. I have nothing but admiration for their level of fervor. They put themselves 150% into their work. They didn't hold anything back. They're WENT for it. You can taste the desperation, the sweat, the sleepless nights where all they could do was lay in bed and think about their project.

Earnestness is a key part of being creative. We can't be afraid to put ourselves in front of the world. Making art is carving out a private, personal, interior piece of yourself and shoving it through the front door. Of course it's terrifying. Of course it doesn't make any sense. What we can learn from "bad" movies is this: don't be scared. Create something that is you, through and through. Create something that is indelibly yours. Your art should be your fingerprints.

I'll wrap this up by mentioning Mark Gormley. He's a singer-songwriter from Pensacola who got internet famous when his music videos went viral in 2009. Gormley is reclusive. He doesn't care about late night talk shows or playing concerts. He lives his art, damn it. He plays his music and records his videos and, frankly, doesn't give a fuck otherwise. Let's be Mark Gormley. Let's go for broke.

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