Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stephen Romei, ponce literary posing and the worst film of all time

(Above: Showgirls, with tits and corn galore)

Over at the ALR Blog A Pair of Ragged Claws, Stephen Romei has been trying to whip up a little fun by getting a game going to name the worst film of all time.

But really he's trolling because he puts 2001: A Space Odyssey on the list. Now the show's nowhere the best of Kubrick's films - what could beat Dr. Strangelove - but really in its day it was revolutionary and evolutionary, and it's a fair bet that young pup Romei never saw it on a big curved screen in 70mm with blaring sound from the third row, as nature and Kubrick intended. It didn't hurt to be stoned out of your gourd either. As for his contention that it's worse than Eyes Wide Shut, sure, and I'll bet he plays pinball at full tilt all the time.

Speaking of being stoned, Romei also has the cheek to list The Big Lebowski as one of his top contenders. Now that's just idle provocation because while it's a stoner classic, but nowhere up to the class of say Fargo or Blood Simple, it's also nowhere as bad as the hideous remake of The Ladykillers - and that's just sticking to the Coen brothers oeuvre.

Ditto his attempt to bring Donnie Darko into his list, when he doesn't even bother to distinguish between the truly abysmal director's cut, and the shorter original theatrical release of Donnie which deserved its cult status, and worst of all, he doesn't mention the same director's Southland Tales, a work which is truly bizarre and deserving of constant celebration.

Throw in a cheap shot attempt to drag Malice into the equation - presumably because it stars Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin - and yet he leaves out director Harold Becker's glorious Sea of Love, the incredible Mercury Rising, Kidman's valiant efforts in The Invasion, The Stepford Wives, Dogville, Bewitched, and Days of Thunder, or Alec Baldwin's sterling work in Pearl Harbor or his uncredited attempt to save The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and we quickly realize that we're dealing with the worst of all fiends - a literary snob afloat in a sargasso sea of pulp where he simply hasn't done the hard yards.

Even his attempt to enrage Gerard Depardieu fans with Le colonel Chabert fails to recognize the stout hearted work of the French master in such clunkers as 1492: Conquest of Paradise or his work on the telephone calling it in for a handsome paycheck in Babylon A.D. (and so many more that we forebear from mentioning them, such is our love for craggy Frenchmen).

And then he caps it off by citing The Blair Witch Project as the worst film of all time, as if - accepting horror films are a rich field of endeavor -  William Castle had never made The Old Dark House, The Tingler, or his true masterpiece, House on Haunted Hill.

The truth is, there are so many rich pickings out there in bad movie land - and I can boast of having seen thousands of them - that selecting the creme de la creme requires the finesse, subtlety and nuance of a wine judge confronted with a two dollar bottle of Dan Murphy's finest cleanskin two dollar vin rouge.

It's not something to be tossed off lightly. First you have to go down the Sontagian path - do you want camp bad movies, movies that can actually be enjoyed for their badness (think any sand and sandal and sword flick ever made), which allows you to step into the realm of Italian spaghetti westerns, as well as the world of Steve Reeves. 

Or do you want cult movies which are so bad that they're just vile and unwatchable and these days inhabit community television because nobody thought they were worth copyrighting (like some of Roger Corman's early efforts, such as the immortal Wasp Woman, in contrast to the superior charms of watching Warren Oates ham it up in that poignant tale of dueling chooks in Monte Hellman's Cockfighter).

It is of course cheating to include any work by Ed Woods, because he was starting off such a low base he was always destined to make the worst kind of cheese. No, you really need a spectacular failure, a Cleopatra of corniness to take the title. But of course who could take a stand against the wonderful Liz Taylor, or her consort Richard Burton, or hapless bystander Rex Harrison.

Even more amazing, Romei doesn't mention one Australian film, as if The Book of Revelation had never come into existence, or Irresistible or Hey Hey It's Esther Blumberger! Or countless others, funded by the Australian taxpayer for a world that doesn't care, and won't even put them in a contest for prize turkey in the chook raffle of government finance (oh yes, and there are so many more, from Gino to Street Hero to the lost masterpiece Backstage starring Laura Branigan. And we haven't even mentioned one Boulevard Films' film yet!)

Well I suppose he's the editor of The Australian Literary Review, and therefore must have his fill of bad literature, but personal prejudice isn't enough when it comes to a competition for worst film of all time. 

Why only this week I tossed down Samuel Fuller's Forty Guns, and rolled it around the mouth as Barbara Stanwyck's portrait of a woman with a whip resonated in the taste buds, and I marveled once again at the heroic work the French auteur theory had done for discerning film criticism (not to mention Sam babe providing a good model for the singing duo in Cat Ballou - but once you mention Jane Fonda, why on earth is there no mention of Roger Vadim's Barbarella?)

You know I think it's best if we keep this never ending quest to ourselves, and rule out any competition from literary types. They don't have a clue.

Humph. An entire column and not one mention of Paul Verhoeven's epic Showgirls. Clearly Romei hasn't lived, doesn't know how to live, and must escape his books forthwith if he's ever to live in the future. And what about Howard the Duck, if you want to be clever about George Lucas's master stroke as executive producer as a way of avoiding the utter tedium of his second lot of Star Wars films which were supposedly the first part of the story (who can remember?)

Nuances and riches beyond the imagination of the literary world lie before you in the dvd store. And a two dollar red is your best guide and companion. Sure you'll be brain dead by the end of it, but that surely qualifies you for a job as a right wing commentariat columnist on a Murdoch rag ...

(Below: Howard the Duck, few tits, but interspecies love, plenty of corn and cigars and fowl language, the Jar Jar Binks of duckdom)


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Cleopatra, why not films that broke (or almost broke) the Studio, like Waterworld, Ishtar or Heaven's Gate. And while I'm on the Warren Beatty riff, why no mention of Shampoo?

dorothy parker said...

ah arsegropper wise beyond wisdom, and I didn't mention the films of the recently late and lamented David Carradine, or David Hasselhoff, or David Soul or David Essex, or Kevin Costner, Kevin Spacey or Kevin Bacon and the six degrees of separation theory, or even Steven Spielberg (1941, Armistad, AI), Steven Soderbergh (every film?) and Steven Seagal. So much low hanging fruit, so little time.