On the Genealogy of Crap


REBECCA: This is so bad, it's almost good
ENID: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.
-Ghost World

I'm trying to develop a theory of why some bad movies are entertaining in their badness, while others are just plain unwatchable. That is, some movies are campy and cheesy and it's actually fun to watch them. Other movies utterly drain you and cannot be enjoyed on any level whatsoever.

I'm having a tough time putting things together for movies, but I can perhaps draw some examples from music. To me, the absolute best bad song of all time is Funky Town. It's great because it's absolutely the least funky song you've ever heard. It's all synthesized, it's high-pitched, it has a pathetic bass line. Everything about it is wrong, right down to the robot voice at the end. It's hilarious to listen to, and it was made in complete earnest; Lipps, Inc. actually believed they were making a serious song, and moreover this song was apparently popular.

On the other hand, you have songs that have something or other blatantly wrong and annoying about them that makes them unlistenable. MacArthur Park is far too long and has inane lyrics. Timothy is utterly abhorrent in content. All of these songs have some specific aspect that mars any enjoyment by offending some basic sense of taste. Funky Town is offensive to taste, certainly, but nothing stands out that makes it grating, an utter chore to even sit through.

I don't have anything specific with respect to movies, yet, but I think data would be helpful. What's the worst movie you've ever seen? Here I'm talking about a soul-crushingly bad movie. Perhaps you turned it off or walked out mid-way. Perhaps you soldiered it out but didn't think you'd survive. Question 2: What's the best bad movie you've ever seen? This would be a movie that you actually really enjoy despite the fact that it is bad, and you know and accept that it is bad, and you appreciate it for its badness. This is distinct from a "guilty pleasure" movie, which is a movie you know, on an intellectual level, is bad, but which you actually enjoy on its own terms, not as an example of kitsch.

For myself, the absolute worst movie I've ever seen is Manos: The Hands of Fate. Best bad movie is tough; I tend to like the movies of Rick Sloane, of Vice Academy fame, but I'd have to go with Time Chasers as the most consistently entertaining bad movie I've ever seen.


I hate Funky Town. I hate it so much that even just thinking about it makes me angry. For me it's a perfect example of what you specifically said it wasn't.

My family once melted a vinyl record of that song and then played the warped, destroyed version. That was still too good for it.

Movies, though... hmm. Dune might be my best recently-viewed example of "so bad it isn't good at all". I sat through the whole damn thing with my teeth gritted, scowling, thinking of terrible things to do to David Lynch. I know there was something else that I saw recently that had a similar effect on me, but for the life of me I can't think what. I'll work on it.

This is not so much off-topic as it is in direct contradiction of the topic. I have a recommendation to make very vehemently. Rent and watch an independent, extremely low-budget sci-fi movie called Primer. I should really write a Sci-Fi Anti-Canon review for it, since it's pretty much the opposite of everything I've reviewed so far. It's just plain excellent. See that you see it.


The GreenCine synopsis is kind of spoiler-full. It won't ruin the movie for you, but there are more cool surprises if you see it without reading that synopsis.

Primer... Did that get a theatrical release earlier this year/late last year? Or was that something else? I associated the theatrical Primer with Japanese-style horror, but it could just be two movies with the same name.

You know what song I really hate? Like absolutely can't stand even though everyone seems to love it? Crimson and fucking Clover. God, that song goes on forever, yet goes nowhere. It's the mobius strip of music. Every time somebody would call into an oldies station and request it, which was surprisingly often, I assumed they were just jackasses screwing with the network. Then I found out that, no, people like that song. I've even heard scary rumors that there are covers of it out there. Why, in God's name, why?

No, it definitely isn't Japanese-style horror. Maybe it's just the poster (which you can see here without any spoilers) that looks that way?

I tend to get the title confused with Returner, but that one isn't really horror either.

In any case, I've put up a review on my page if you want to read it.

I've never heard Crimson and Clover, or at least, if I have, I don't know it by name. The closest I've come is a line in a Jimmy Eat World song that says, "crimson and clover, over and over...". Sounds like the line is fairly appropriate, then?

Huh. Well, scroll up to the top of that page to see the poster, anyway. Damn my wrong links.

Ah, yes, that is the Primer that was in theaters some months ago. I had thought it was more mainstream than it was; it's quite plausible that I had it confused with a similar-sounding Japanese-style horror movie that was also in release at the time, like The Grudge or some such. All I can remember was thinking at the time that it was J-Horror, but now I have no rational basis for why I would have thought that. In any case, I'm adding it to my queue for Netflix.

Looking at the lyrics to the Jimmy Eat World song you mentioned, the chorus is borrowed from Crimson and Clover, though the rest of the song isn't. Crimson and Clover is just sort of long and meandering and spacey. I think it may be one of the early "songs you can appreciate a lot more when you're high," but I don't think that excuses it. I tend to like the genre of "songs you can appreciate a lot more when you're high," despite my general sobriety when listening to them. Plus, the excuse that a song can only be appreciated when high is fundamentally cheating. It's like Woody Allen said, laughs you get out of a high person don't count because they're laughing all the time anyways.

Gosh, looking it up it's only 5:30 minutes with a one-minute reprise. Longish for its time, but not unreasonably so. Yet I've never listened to it withough drifting off at some point, only to snap back to attention some minutes later and say, "Is this STILL Crimson and Clover?"

I probably have no business discussing music. My iPod is a disturbing mix of video game music, Japanese Pop, Progressive Rock, and Blugrass. And They Might Be Giants.

You know, five and a half minutes for only three verses is pretty inordinate. Tommy James and the Shondells... weren't they the ones who did "I Think We're Alone Now"? I recall that being fairly repetitive also.

That is a disturbing mix, if only because video game music generally has the same effect on me as Funkytown. *shudder*

Ah. See, I lived a deprived childhood, music-wise. I'm sort of a living example of all those television ads and posters and whatnot by the arts council of what kids grow up to become when they aren't exposed to enough art.

The only music I can recall listening to prior to high school was 1. bad 80s synth-pop, which I heard when I was in the basement while my dad was working out. Think "Sweet Dreams" and "Don't Get Caught in Beverly Hills." 2. Opera/Classical, which I heard very rarely. We had a lot around, but it was seldom played. 3. Christmas Music, between my birthday (October 22) and New Years, boundaries I believe established to prevent my mom playing Christmas music all year long. 4. Music from my video games, mostly original Nintendo Entertainment System games. This, by bulk, is the majority of my musical exposure in my formative years. And that's it.

In High School I started listening to Classic Rock stations, since that's about the only music my parents would let me listen to other than Classical, for fear of the corrupting influence of other genres. I also heard a lot of current pop on the bus to and from school. By the time I started college, I'd learned to loathe both genres (Classic Rock not as blanketly; I tend to have a strong distaste for the sugary, up-beat "At the Hop" style of mediocre pablum that is the bread and butter of Classic Rock stations. I like rock music of the 50s and 60s, provided it's not the sort likely to show up on a Classic Rock station's play-list.) To give you a sense of my musical deprivation, I owned 3 CDs when I enrolled at Berkeley, 2 Beatles CDs and a CD of Monty Python novelty songs. I didn't bother bringing any to school.

In college, thanks to Napster, I acquired a lot of video game music, and then expanded, thanks to video game music's Japanese bent, into J-Pop (which is execrable) and into the missing link between Classical and Video Game music, 70s Prog Rock.

So now here I am. I'm really trying hard to develop decent musical taste, but at this point it's not just that everyone else my age has had a head start in their listening, it's that everyone's run the race, taken the victory lap, and the crowds are starting to head home, and I've just gotten off the starting block.

Ah. That was a very long-winded comment that never actually got to the point. My point is: video game music is the absolute foundation of my musical tastes. This is problematic because, whereas about 90% of the human race hates video game music, I'm utterly incapable of adjusting my tastes so as to understand why anyone wouldn't like video game music. This fundamental chasm between myself and others presents an intractable problem when discussing music.

I had a friend in college who majored in musical composition. His senior "thesis" was creating the music to a video game that another friend of his wrote in a CS Programming class.

Your comments about your musically-deprived childhood surprise me. In the short period of time I lived withing driving distance of the Sharpe household, I seem to remember your parents taking your siblings to the Opera quite regularly, and Brittany was not prevented to listening to any kind of music - in fact, she often had it on hip-hop and gangsta rap as we drove to the nickel arcade.

In fact, I think she mentioned once that your Dad liked to listen to one particular rap song because he liked the beat, but Brette indicated that he must be losing his hearing, because if he knew the lyrics it would certainly be forbidden!

My parents have loosened up a lot as they've gotten older. I remember it was a huge deal when I could see an R-rated movie. Kelsey, on the other hand, had seen the entire Kevin Smith ouvre before she entered middle school. It's not neccessarily that they don't mind my sisters listening to that stuff, it's that they don't seem to care to police them.

But yeah, I believe technically our house still has a "No MTV/No VH1" policy, though it has long been unenforced. It wasn't until I was a junior in High School that I was allowed to watch The Simpsons. I'm not sure if my parents have gotten lazy or made a conscious decision that strict media control isn't neccessary to raise kids, but in any case my sisters get away with a lot more than I did.

Yeah, we tend to get away with stuff. As for the movie thing, the worst movie I've ever seen that was really truly painful was that awful Master of Disguise movie with Martin Short. It doesn't help that everytime it's on tv, Brette puts it on. The worst movie I've seen that is still fun to watch is probably They Live. 15 minute beating sessions are what it's all about.

Yeah, They Live is pretty awesome. It's hard to go wrong with Rowdy Roddy Pipper. c.f. Hell Comes to Frogtown; That one Goonies music video.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 20, 2005 2:21 PM.

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