Origins and Birth
Edited by Anna Mladentseva
Where does our love for trash movies come from?
The Room, Birdemic and other classics
The Room, Battlefield Earth and Birdemic. These movies are simply just bad, but (or precisely because of this) we still enjoy them. Are they merely our guilty pleasure or is there something more unexplainable at stake? In this article, I will inquire into the complex and paradoxical nature of our love for really bad movies, in order to discover its very origins.
12 Angry Men, Her, Reservoir Dogs, and of course, The Room. What do these movies have in common? Well, they are all part of ”the cult.” Not necessarily the same cult, but a cult nonetheless. But how?
People visit the cinema with different aims. Some people want to experience the Ancient Greek catharsis, some people want to have an easy, unsurprising rom-com, some people really want those art house, mind-boggling pieces. There is no shame in loving these, although they do not come from schools of high standards. So in terms of the rom-coms, what is it that makes them so utterly enticing for many? Why can’t we just stop watching Love Actually, Bridget Jones or Notting Hill over and over again?
For indeed, these are the types of movies where, after the first half an hour, you can guess who will kiss who and who isn’t getting the wedding ring. In fact, there is no surprise element, although after a tiring day, if you want to relax, you will still (or especially because you want to relax) choose to watch a rom-com . There is no shame in this, nonetheless, let us call these rom-coms “guilty pleasure movies.” Guilty, because you know it’s that kind of movie, yet it still turns your mind off.
From a more sophisticated perspective, these are not real art pieces, as they are copies of good movies. But they are not that bad. The actors are real actors, supported by professional directors, producers and cameramen behind the scenes. Therefore, the question is: will there be a cult around some of these? Probably not. But what about movies which are copies of other copied movies?
Yes, these movies are as far from movies as the earth is from the moon., (Exactly 384 400 km!) Thus, the following inquiry is inevitable: if these movies are so bad, then why are they known worldwide? Why do we, and how can we adore something that is so terribly “lame”?
One study found a correlation between higher intelligence and really bad movies (Sarkhosh and Menninghaus, 2016). In these cases, the audience sits in for the movie with a sarcastic attitude, which creates a really unique experience. Hence, the viewer goes into the movie with a different kind of expectation, than to a classic Hollywood film.
The experience here is something that cannot be achieved with other movies and the banality of it all is absolutely refreshing, and to be fair, hilarious. If you’ve ever taken part in a screening of The Room, you would know what I’m talking about. Shouting with Tommy Wiseau: You are tearing me apart, Lisa! is the ultimate pleasure.
The love for the exceptionally bad is a habit that exists only in the world of movies. One could argue that the same tendency is unknown to the world of music, art pieces or any other forms of entertainment. (Maybe I’m exaggerating, but just hear me out). Name an absolutely horrible but famous band? See? There isn’t. (Okay, maybe The Shaggs, check them out!) But with movies, somehow it works. If it isn’t meant to be bad, however it comes out as such, a huge number of people will still enjoy it. The social bonding around these films is unforeseen.
On the other hand we are aware of many art pieces which were originally meant to be disgusting, bad or even horrifying. Serrano’s Piss Christ photograph or Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit cans are well-known all around the world and the love for these pieces are undeniable. The difference between those imperfect movies and the mentioned art pieces is the intention of the artist. Is it a well thought through concept or is it just how it ended up being? The intention is different; however, the fanaticism of the audience is the same.
Let’s compare The Room to any other rom-com movie to see if the original intent of Tommy Wiseau — who, arguably, has more mysteries around him than the film — was to make a good movie.
The story in short (spoiler alert!): Johnny (played by the director, Tommy Wiseau), the successful banker, is engaged to Lisa. Lisa becomes dissatisfied with the relationship, so she and Mark (Johnny’s best friend) start dating without Johnny knowing it. Denny (also a friend of Johnny’s), who also has some problems that are hard to deal with, gets involved with Lisa as well. Some character development, some tense scenes, nothing out of the ordinary, right? The movie shows signs of a basic rom-com. The story — from a great distance — looks okay.
The music in the movie: out of 29 songs, 24 of them are originally written by the composer Mladen Milicevic. As almost always, the music here serves as a mood changer. Does it help? Well, I will let you decide on that. However, nothing out of the ordinary just yet. The acting? Not great, but there is something worse.
Indeed, the script. Which, surprise, surprise, is written by Tommy Wiseau. And so, this is where the fun starts. The lines in the script are so bad (good?) that I have to mention a few. Let these lines speak for themselves.
“It’s bullshit, I did not hit her. I did noooot. Oh hi, Mark!” or “Anyway, how’s your sex life?”, or even “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!”. I mean to hell with Casablanca, Reservoir Dogs or even with American Beauty. I just wonder where the Oscar for best original screenplay for H.E. Tommy Wiseau is.
Thus, the conclusion stays clear: these movies are bad. But on this note, let us revert back to the original, provocative, and highly absurd question: why do we (still!) love these movies? Because in the end, they are high-quality fun. And by that I mean, a sarcastic kind of fun, a sense of humour that cannot be enjoyed by everyone, making it even more attractive to those who understand it.
For within bad movies, the humour is not written by the scriptwriter, but is created by the audience. That’s the magic of it.
Sarkhosh, K. and Menninghaus, W. (2016). ‘Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions.’ Poetics, 57, pp.40–54.