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In defense of bad art

perhaps all art is worthy of our love

In Defense of Shitty Movies
In Defense of Shitty Movies

In the distant past, when presented with the chance to watch a bad movie, I may have said something along the lines of, “I don’t have time to watch shitty things, etc., etc.” You may have had similar feelings when your friends told you they were going to the theatre to watch The Room or when browsing shark attack movies on that streaming service everyone uses.

Of course everyone should still see Miller’s Crossing and Breathless; but to understand a thing one should encounter the full range of what is offered. To truly appreciate film, one must watch the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is why for every Aguirre or Do The Right Thing we watch, one must endeavour to watch a Rhinestone or Malibu Shark Attack.

The year is probably 1983. America is in love with upstart actor-writer Sylvester Stallone and actor-singer Dolly Parton. A coked-out studio executive decides that these two should be Hollywood’s new comedy duo, launching the era of Western history known as the Parton-Sylvester Age.

Obviously, this did not come to pass and Rhinestone was somewhat of a flop. Based on Glen Campbell’s hit 1975 track Rhinestone Cowboy, Rhinestone is the typical Western plot transplanted into 1980s New York City. Parton takes Stallone to the frontier where he abandons the trappings of civilization and adopts the mannerisms of the people of the frontier.

Have you ever heard of the Deer Hunter? What about Michael Cimino’s second film, Heaven’s Gate? Heaven’s Gate is a Western epic spanning over four hours, whose delays and cost overruns are said to have marked the official death of creator-control in Hollywood. If you don’t have time for Heaven’s Gate, there is a documentary available titled Final Cut that discusses how Cimino’s practices ended an era of film and almost killed United Artists as a film studio.

Heaven’s Gate is not necessarily a shitty film. It looks beautiful and fulfills many criteria fulfilled by “good” epic film – Reds, Gandhi, Dr. Zhivago. Where it fails is in Cimino’s attention to detail. Every scene and shot looks like a classic painting as a result of this dedication to detail. It is said that Cimino directed even extras in an individual manner, the result is a beautiful, if mechanistic train wreck culminating in a 45 minute Western siege.

Artistic success is rarely found in the artist’s lifetime. While not universally true of film, the second life granted by the proliferation of first home video and now streaming websites to films is almost more important than its initial release. Imagine the cult favourites that would be languishing in obscurity without a means of preservation and home viewing: The Grand Lebowski and Mr. Marijuana to name but a pair. This offers the current-day viewer almost unlimited access to film, both high and low. Are you interested in film? Do you enjoy watching movies? Watching awkward films such as the above may even function as a means of illustrating the labour required to produce even bad art, giving a new sense of perspective when watching “good” movies.

About John Kapp