Archive | July, 2018

Worst. Movie. Ever.

2 Jul

Willard: “You won’t get any dancing here, it’s illegal.”

Ren: “Jump back!”

That ridiculous pair of quotes is from the 1984 film, Footloose. 100% of the one person I surveyed agrees that it is, without hyperbole, the worst movie ever made. “But Mike,” I hear you say. “Each of the Transformers movies is the cinematic equivalent of a flaming bag of dog shit. Are you really saying Footloose is worse than that?” Yes, and I will explain. Before I do, a brief aside: if the title of this post is giving a few of you longtime readers a sense of paranoid deja vu, no, you are not insane. Waaaay back in 2012, in the days before the Mayan apocalypse (the Y2K of this decade), I wrote a 100% factual, completely objective post on the Worst. Song. Ever. This is the companion piece to that. Again, what follows is completely objective fact. No hyperbole!

How many of you have movies that you consider to be a guilty pleasure? Let’s see: one, two, three — all of you. Me too. I’m a cinephile (Hi. Feel free to punch me in the face for that one). I love all kinds of movies. I can have a spirited discussion with you about movies from as far back as the 1920s all the way through today; silents to talkies (I’m like a superfan of talkies); black and white to color to shitty 3D conversions. I can name every single Best Picture Academy Award winner — in order no less — from 1969 through 2017 (and almost all of the others). I can even count among some of my favorite directors fancy pants foreign names like Kurosawa, Truffaut, and Bergman. And yet nearly every movie I love, choose to own, and watch over and over again falls into that guilty pleasure category.

I am particularly fond of so-bad-they’re-good movies. This is a film genre accidentally created by Ed Wood. Ed Wood is, of course, the standard bearer for terrible filmmakers. Maybe you’ve seen such cinematic atrocities as Glen or Glenda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, or more likely, his magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space. His movies are, without exception, objectively terrible. And yet, there is something about them that makes them watchable, loveable even. I love them in spite or because of their awfulness and could never figure out why. Tim Burton’s film about Ed Wood called, uh, Ed Wood does a really good job explaining what it is about him and his films that is so charming. And it won awards. They made a movie about the worst director in film history and won awards. Is that ironic? Someone ask Alanis.

More recently, Tommy Wiseau gifted us with The Room. This movie, my God, this movie. Here, watch some clips:

I mean, do I even need to say anything? It’s just the best and that’s only a handful of scenes! Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. And of course, they also made a movie about the making of it called The Disaster Artist. And it too won awards! Crazy, right?

And there are so many others to love for being bad. So what is it that makes these movies so-bad-they’re-good and other movies, including Footloose, so motherfucking-godawful? Experts in this field have identified four Hallmarks of a so-bad-its-good film:

1. A completely ridiculous plot approached with absolute deadly seriousness.

2. Generally not competently made, but it’s not intentional. See, there’s this whole OTHER genre spawned by the so-bad-they’re-good movies: I call it Hipster Bad. These are the types of intentionally ridiculous movies made by the SyFy network, most famously the Sharknado movies. While these movies can be fun, they don’t transcend into awful greatness. You just can’t force it. These movies are beloved by hipsters who claim an ironic fondness for them. But there’s something missing.

3. They’re charming. You can see the filmmaker’s passion up on the screen. This is particularly true of Ed Wood. In his mind, he never made a bad movie. He believed 100% in what he was doing. You can’t fake passion.

4. Longevity. These movies linger in the public consciousness for years and years.

So how does Footloose hold up when measured against these four hallmarks. Glad you asked, gentle reader.

1. A completely ridiculous plot approached with absolute deadly seriousness. In fairness, Footloose absolutely nails this one. The plot: in a small town, two couples on prom night get into a drunk driving accident and die…INCLUDING THE REVEREND’s SON!!!! The town leaps into action and enacts the only logical solution: rock music and dancing are banned. And everything unbelievably seems to work out just fine…that is until Kevin Bacon moves into town. For you see, Kevin Bacon must dance. And no laws of God or man are going to stop him.

So this is absolutely a point in Footloose’s favor. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention two gloriously atrocious scenes that almost — ALMOST — make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Scene 1: Early on in the film, Kevin Bacon engages in a game of chicken over a girl. You may remember the really famous and dramatic game of chicken played in Rebel Without a Cause. In that film, James Dean and Corey Allen steal a couple of cars and race them towards a cliff to see who jumps out first. There are real stakes. For example, Corey Allen’s character, Buzz, FUCKING DIES in a fiery car crash after he gets stuck when his jacket hooks on the door handle. This doesn’t happen in Footloose. Instead, Kevin Bacon and Jim Youngs (yeah, I had to really dig for that name) play the game on a local farm. Instead of fast moving cars, they “race” towards each other on the slowest moving vehicles on earth: tractors. It is played up for the utmost suspense, complete with overly dramatic Bonnie Tyler pop song. It even echoes the Rebel scene when Kevin Bacon’s shoelace gets stuck and he can’t jump from the tractor. Only instead of fiery death, this mishap wins him the game. It is a phenomenally awful scene.

Scene 2: Just. Fucking. Watch. This. Shit.

I didn’t link the tractor scene because I didn’t want to detract from this gloriousness. No amount of words can do it justice. If you didn’t watch it, this is the scene where Kevin Bacon (and his stunt double), just absolutely fucking distraught about the illegality of dancing, drives to an abandoned warehouse, angry puffs a cigarette, angry drinks a beer, angry jams a cassette into the stereo, angry cranks the volume, and then angry dances his fucking ass off (and also does some sweet gymnastics) to the most 1980s song ever recorded. Seriously, it is just lousy with synthesizer and goddamn sax. The ripping sax riff is the unsung, cheesy staple of far too many an ’80s song. Thank God it didn’t survive the decade.

These two scenes are transcendently dreadful, but alas, the rest of the movie fails to live up to their unintentionally hilarious greatness.

2. Generally not competently made, but it’s not intentional. Footloose is a major studio film. Money was spent on it. Legitimate actors were hired. A soundtrack album was compiled. The seams aren’t showing. In short, it’s too competent. John Lithgow is in this movie and they don’t allow him to do John Lithgow things. That is a goddamn travesty.

3. Charming. 100% of the person I surveyed also agrees that this is a cold to tepid film at best. It is almost entirely bereft of charm. Kevin Bacon seems to be acting in an entirely different film. It’s like they let him in on the joke, but not anyone else. He was charming and there are genuine moments of cheese and camp, but it just isn’t enough. You may disagree. You may think Chris Penn’s goofy character learning to dance is cute. You may think that Lori Singer’s over the top performance disproves my point. You would be wrong. Sorry. Moving on.

4. Longevity. I would argue that the only reason people remember this film is because of its soundtrack. That album was huge in the mid-’80s. Hell, it even knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller from #1 on the Billboard charts when it seemed it might stay there forever. But listen to Thriller today. It holds up. It’s still objectively great and it would be just as popular if you released it tomorrow. Listen to Footloose today. Ugh. Every song on that album is embarrassing to the ear. No one is blasting the Footloose soundtrack at a party or in the club. The only people listening to it are those goddamn hipsters from earlier and again, solely for the irony. It is a relic of and forever trapped in 1984. You know, a horror movie about the Footloose soundtrack breaking free from time prison and wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting populace would have been pretty kickass. Instead, we got a remake of the original in 2011. The less said about that the better.

The most vexing thing about this film, the whole reason I wrote this, and the primary reason I consider Footloose to be so bad-bad is that it comes *this* close to so-bad-its-greatness. Had they just leaned into the more ridiculous aspects, made the whole movie like those scenes I discussed earlier, it could have been legendarily bad-great. Instead, it falls into the deadly mehness of mediocrity. For a piece of art, being mediocre is the absolute worst thing you can be. People don’t remember mediocrity; they remember extremes. The whole purpose of art is to create something that lives forever. If you can’t be a success, be a spectacular failure. You will achieve immortality. Just ask Ed Wood. Or your local Highlander.

Thank you for coming on this journey of discovery with me. I hope you’ve now joined the 100% and agree that Footloose is just the fucking worst. Join me next time when I explain why Top Gun is the second worst movie ever made.

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