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THE WORST OF THE WORST

Some of the worst movies ever made are great in their own way

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BAD GIRL: Elizabeth Berkley in the epically bad "Showgirls." (Photofest)
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By Rex W. Huppke
Sunday, March 7, 2010

How would we know a fine wine if we had never tasted a bad one? How could success be measured without failure? And how could films like "Avatar" or "The Hurt Locker" be appreciated if the world had never been exposed to, say, "A Night to Dismember" or "Samurai Cop"?

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On the eve of the Academy Awards, let's take a moment to applaud the bad films that give us perspective, the zero-star efforts that put four-star masterpieces in context, the campy, mistake-riddled, poorly acted celluloid train wrecks we laugh at yet watch intently.

"Bad films are awesome in their own way," said Lance Duerfahrd, an assistant professor of visual culture at Purdue University who teaches a class called "Bad Films." "Traditionally, people say you have to study the bad films to know how good films are made. But I think watching a bad movie is a qualitatively different experience than watching a good movie. I think we enjoy bad films more intensively than we enjoy good ones."

Duerfahrd recently brought his 29 students to the Music Box Theatre in Chicago for a special screening of the 2003 film "The Room," widely reviled as the "Citizen Kane" of bad cinema.

"Everyone was talking during the movie and throwing things at it and chanting things at it and responding to it," Duerfahrd said. "It was a beautiful event."

Tommy Wiseau, director of the now cult-classic movie, was even on hand.

"The students all wanted to meet the man to blame for the movie," Duerfahrd said. "It was more like a pilgrimage. Twenty-nine students wouldn't have gone to see Spielberg or a successful director. They wanted to see Wiseau, this guy who made this horrible film."

And that's the heart of the professor's respect for rotten movie making.

Dave Jennings, general manager of Music Box Theatre, said more than 1,500 people came to see "The Room" on that weekend.

"Sometimes it's not necessarily the quality of the film but the presentation of the film and the shared experience," Jennings said. "With regard to 'The Room,' even though it's not a good movie, there's something about it that's so entrancing. There's an accessibility to it."

Perhaps that's the key to our affinity for bearing witness to abject failure -- it makes us feel better about our own foibles.

"Most of the things that go on in our own life look like they're out of a bad movie," Duerfahrd said. "Forgotten lines, dropped engagement rings, poor acting. That's what makes the bad movies so much like the life we lead."

-- Chicago Tribune


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