All right, clarity right from the start; what the hell do I mean by “ruin bad movies”? I consider myself to be a member of an ill-defined yet easily recognizable clan – the enthusiasts of bad movies. This is a highly specialized and often disparaged group of cineastes who have cultivated a predilection for poor cinematic offerings. And as a member of such I have noted something that has crept into the unorganized fold in recent years; namely, the hipsters.
In order to make this study I need to express what is meant by “hipster”, as many know intuitively what the term means but cannot succinctly define it. For the sake of this discussion “hipster” will come to mean those who have an over cultivated sense of self-aggrandizement while employing an over-reliance on irony. They subsist on a mixture of camp and arrogance, displaying snobbery while they dress in fashions from Goodwill Industries.
I came to note this invasion into the realm of putrid cinema when I had one of these neo-pundits take a rather challenging stance with me during a discussion on bad movies. I was told flatly by him that I had no voice in the discussion based on my ignorance to a particular movie title. Here I was being faced by pretentiousness, while talking about crap. I just looked at the person with dismay, and one of my friends calmed him down and quietly explained that I in fact had years of experience writing reviews, columns, and articles on this very subject.
Never before had I heard this type of attitude among those of us who crave bad films. Confrontation and attitude is not a component in these groups. That was when it hit me. This infusion of condescension and regimented parameters is a recent development; and for that I blame the hipsters. This change has been taking place for a few years, and while I was vaguely aware of it I had not studied it in earnest. I was always of the mind that those who reveled in bad films were brethren, and while I may not share an opinion we at the least share a mindset. But that has changed recently.
I mostly noted the change with the uprising of popularity of a particular film title some years back. Troll 2 is a movie that has become beloved by a legion of fans, and in rather swift fashion it has come to be known as the undeniably “Worst Movie Ever Made”. Now I freely admit at this stage that I may come off sounding like one of those old-school types — like a Bob Costas, declaring you cannot herald one particular baseball player as the “greatest of all time”. My stance is simply that making such a concrete decree is counter-intuitive to the bad-movie experience. I approach it more from the standpoint of a collector; you try to gather as many bad titles into your experience with the acceptance that you may never view all of them.
The thing that had me pausing about the Troll 2 uprising was the extremely impulsive pronouncement that this was indeed the most awful film ever. It seemed as if suddenly a movie hardly anyone had knowledge about was being elevated by everyone as the top of the dung-heap. I had been aware of the film prior to the lionization, but it was easily dismissed as just another DVD creature feature that failed miserably. (The minds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 have covered numerous titles of similar dreck.) The movie had been released into the rental market in 1990 and it quickly was bypassed and forgotten. Years had gone by with hardly a mention. But then a wave of cult support began to rise up, sparked by the basement dwelling ratings it had received on IMDB.com. This was the catalyst. In short order the movie became recognized as a garbage classic and an endeared title, heralded as the worst thing to ever grace a movie screen. Except of course it hardly had graced a screen. It was shopped to a few regional film festivals before being dumped onto the VHS market.
Now, am I in a position to dispute that this is in fact “The Worst Film Ever”? No, of course I am not. But I also feel that others are not in a similar position to christen the film as such. Instead it smacks of a trendy attachment to a movement of sorts, one that the hipster crowd has made its own. There is just something less genuine in the manner that Troll 2 went from a forgotten, bottom shelf has-been onward to this overnight conqueror of all things garbage which had preceded it. The announcement is a little too bold, the insistence is a little too empty, and the fondness strikes me as a little unhealthy.
Compare it instead to another modern classic of bad cinema, Tommy Wisau’s The Room. This delicious misbegotten offering is by every measure an archetypal bad movie. The difference is that while it has risen up to similar heights it had been tabbed very early on as a must-see among those who orbit bad cinema. As word spread it was rightfully canonized and it has become a staple on the midnight movie circuit. The difference is that this had been an organic process. Fans found the title, they shared the experience with friends, and a groundswell built in the hearts and minds of the bad movie set. It became a moderate hit for all the wrong reasons and the misguided director has even since tried to pass it off as an intentional gag (although such a claim follows his years of rabid defense of his art.)
This differs from the hipster love that had been showered on Troll 2. That uprising has more of a cultural movement feel, where groups have come together to declare the movie as something more than it is; having the popularity become more of a focus than the film itself. There have been cast reunions, multiple public gatherings, clubs, and numerous internet groups and even video games all based on this lone title. The difference is there is so little modulation in the adulation. For this crowd it is Troll 2 alone, and nothing else is worth a mention. It is with that attitude in mind that I see a need to show the difference between the longtime fans of bad cinema and the scourge that threatens our demented class. So here is a comparison of the mindset of Bad Movie Afficianados (BMAs) and hipsters.
Reaction to Hearing You Have Not Viewed a Particular Title
Hipster Scorn, ridicule, and pompous condemnation. You are viewed as beneath them, and they will let you know such.
BMAs Surprise possibly, soon followed by enthusiastic explanations as to why it is worth your time.
Reaction to Hearing Someone Else Has Not a Title You Adore
Hipster You lecture the individual that they are missing out on a crucial experience and that their viewing of this film is compulsory. You may even dictate that they will not be invited into your fold until completion of this task.
BMAs Pleasure is felt at the opportunity to share this content and you make arrangements to join them in their initial viewing. You feel a sense of honor being the person to expose this individual to the merits of the film.
Discussions of a Particular Title
Hipster Proclamations are made as to how many times they have viewed a particular title in order to rise in stature. Time is spent declaring a specific element of the film as the most glaring example of the awfulness of the film. There is a need here to be the authority on a particular movie.
BMAs Everyone takes turns pointing out portions they found particularly noteworthy and you endeavor to find elements others may have missed to appreciate with you. Laughter is the primary goal.
Recitation of Content
Hipster When cued to a segment of the movie they begin quoting not just lines but extensive scenes of dialogue they consider relevant and pithy, sapping all humor and enjoyment from the experience.
BMAs They work an arcane detail from a film into a non sequitur moment of discussion, sparking recognition and smiles from the others. When serving drinks, for example, to a group of known Showgirls fans you approach and say, “Ice cubes, girls!”
Private Viewing Gatherings
Hipsters An exclusive club atmosphere exists with a pecking order established based on who is the “biggest fan” of the title. Newcomers are relegated and made to feel as if they need to “earn” their place in the crowd.
BMAs Invites go out to both fans and newcomers, with the freshman members usually placed closest to the screen to enjoy the carnage.
Hipsters They arrive early, dressed either in character or with film specific/ironic attire. They work the crowd to let as many as possible know how devoted to the project they are that night. Sometimes they will make derisive comments about the need to make a better event for “the true fans” of the film. Acting out entire scenes of the film is not out of the question.
BMAs Arriving in a group and mostly seated in the rear; this is so their running commentary and quips do not disturb the majority of the audience. After the credits there is likely a wide discussion in the lobby where others are included and new friends are likely invited to future viewings.
Hipster They will have anything from props, a framed poster, or signed memorabilia from cast members displayed prominently in their home. If you do not verbally acknowledge these objects soon enough you will be introduced to them, and expected to fawn over the obsessive efforts of the fan.
BMA They may have a subtle object, such as a ball cap that says OFFICIAL CREW MEMBER from a production, and it is only noted by someone with knowledge of the film. If you happen to indicate knowing the title there is a good chance they would offer the item to you.
I can say most of this with some certainty, because as it turned out Troll 2 is the title that earned me the venom from the individual I mentioned above. As noted, I have seen this title, as well as the documentary made by a cast member, “The Best Worst Movie”. However in that discussion when this person brought up Troll 2 I feigned ignorance, not wanting to wallow again in the merits. This was followed by my attempted ouster from the discussion.
This is the biggest flaw in the hipster appropriation of horrible films. The bad-movie crowd is about gathering and enjoying a film as a group; learning from others and broadening your enjoyment of insufferable trash is the pleasant byproduct. In their desire to be heralded as the preeminent mind of a particular title the hipster becomes exclusionary and distancing. They limit their realm; their experience is truncated.
This need to stand out in a crowd ultimately means they become distanced from that crowd. The end result is their fervent ardor for a lone title means they may miss out on the next I Know Who Killed Me, or Pluto Nash. Worst of all, they also miss out on watching these films with an intelligent and funny crowd of people. This was shown in the movie High Fidelity, after Jack Black’s character berated a customer’s music tastes and chased him out of the store. A friend of the employees had this exchange:
Louis: You guys are snobs.
Dick: No, we’re not.
Louis: Yeah, seriously, you’re totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit onto people who know lesser than you.
Rob, Barry, Dick: No!
Louis: Which is everybody…
Rob, Barry, Dick: Yeah…
Louis: That’s so sad.