You might have noticed – or not – but I changed my banner from “Movie reviews by a homeschool mom” to "NO ONE TRIES TO MAKE A BAD MOVIE". Well, for one thing, now that all six of our kids are graduated from high school I’m more an emeritus homeschooler. Granted, like the Marines, once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler – as in, it’s a philosophy, not a curriculum. BUT with the advent of this minor tidal change in our family I thought I might share one of the underlying perspectives I have always had when writing reviews.
A long time ago – BC (as in before children) – I worked outside the house. The business I worked for had reason to employ a little known and independent film director/writer named Bill Kirksey to, basically, provide a seminar on film making.
To briefly digress: Every now and again someone tells me something that shifts my perception of the world just a little. One of those times was “told” to me in a book by Dorothy and Raymond Moore titled Better Late Than Early.
The first part of the book was cautionary advice on NOT rushing your child to “excellence”. NOT trying to create a super child – which we, as two Type A behavior parents were trying to do to our first child. Embracing this sage advice I continued reading the rest of the book which went on to expound the virtues of homeschooling. As soon as I read that that was a possibility it seemed so obvious: Why did I not see it before?! Why would I pay to send my child off to be taught by total strangers when I can simply continue to teach my child myself!!??
Sort of like the paper clip. You might never have thought of it yourself, but when someone explains it to you it seems so EASY!
So it was with something said by Mr. Kirksey. We were discussing the dearth of really good current movies. One explanation, of course, is that every age has bad entertainment. It is only the really good stuff that survives for later generations to partake. But, I commented, there had been recently (this was the 1980's) so MANY VERY bad movies that it seemed as though Hollywood was actually TRYING to make bad movies.
“Oh no!” he countered. “NO one TRIES to make a bad movie. Everyone is trying to make a masterpiece. It’s just that some people are not very good at it.”
And yes, all of the above pictured turkeys came out in the '80's. Though, for the record, I actually liked Ice Pirates and for reasons I will explain a bit further down I am personally fond of the truly terrible Cat People. One of the movies featured above, Heaven's Gate, was SO bad it actually tolled the demise of United Artists in 1981, a studio that had been in existence since 1919, by costing $44 million and bringing in a rousing …. $3 million.
And it hit me, as the homeschool moment would almost a decade later, that everyone is doing their dead level best to produce a work in their genre that others will want to see. And OK, maybe this was patently obvious to everyone else in the solar system except me, but this simple statement acted upon me like a light in the dark for someone trying to find a missing penny.
It made sense: every film maker – no matter how talented or crass or literate or unintelligible is attempting to contribute something profound…… or at least interesting…..or at least profitable.
That doesn’t mean the motives are necessarily lofty. It is a business – I can respect that (as long as it is not disreputable or advocating criminal or despicable acts). Most filmmakers are trying to make money. To that end they want people to watch it and if it isn’t compelling no one will bother. Even people making propaganda hit pieces, like the ridiculous mumbo jumbo from the left, are attempting to make the BEST propaganda they can, to convince as many people as they can to their opinion. And, I would say, even at the darkest end of the spectrum – those who create the most shady and disreputable films, they are trying to make the best ones they can, because they, too, seek to entice an audience into a theater.
This is why when I review even films which I do not like, or which I think poorly done – like Assassin’s Creed – I try to find some merit in them – because there is usually SOMETHING in there worthy of praise. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and sometimes you have to look REALLY REALLY hard —- but it’s usually there.
Maybe it’s because I write screenplays too and have not yet been produced so understand the frustration and obstacles which wanna be film makers face. Maybe it’s because I have read about the making of movies, lots of biographies and autobiographies. Two of my favorites are
Michael Caine’s What’s it All About
William Shatner’s Up Til Now
. And there are other tomes on film analysis –
on both successful movies, like Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log
, about the eccentric creation of Spielberg's career maker — and on disasters, like Heaven’s Gate
, about which you can read in Steven Bach’s observations of a financial and creative train wreck, titled Final Cut
. These books track the tortuous and detailed epic campaigns required to make a movie. There is an old saying – never seek to see how laws or sausage are made. The same could be said about film making. It’s an amazing business, but it’s a business. Much of it, like my Dad used to say about his experiences in the military, involves a lot of hurry up and WAIT!
I once was a crew assistant on Cat People. My job was the complex and intricately skilled responsibility of standing outside the perimeter of an area of a zoo where filming was taking place and asking passersby not to go any further…… That was it….. All day. I DID get to see Natsha Kinski as she walked by though. I wanted to say something memorable. So I wisely emoted: “You look very nice.” She seemed pleased. She was very sweet.
The POINT I’m making is that film MAKING isn’t always as exciting as WATCHING the final product. And whether the final outcome will be a blockbuster, a cult favorite, a respectable resume enhancer for the next celebrity, an art house head scratcher, a forgettable turkey, or a straight to DVD moderate success, it is a difficult, arduous process, often with all the glamor of mixing concrete. The people on the set are working hard, sometimes at sheer drudgery, in a professional capacity to do the best job they can – if for no OTHER reason than so they will get hired on the next set so they can pay their mortgage or for their kids’ orthodontic bills, just like the rest of us.
Michael Caine once was asked how on EARTH he could have been in the Oscar winning Hannah and Her Sisters in the SAME year he starred in the excruciatingly AWFUL Jaws 3. His answer (I paraphrase): “Because I had a mortgage to pay.”
No one ever looks at an ugly building and says – they must have WANTED to make an ugly building. No – they wanted it to be a safe and usable building. If that was accomplished then fine. No one ever had a meal at a restaurant and thought the chef WANTED to make it taste bad. Even if you were angry or disappointed you would understand it was an accident and know the chef was likely trying to do a good job but had a bad day or burnt something or was understaffed – whatever. But most people would never assume they WANTED to make a bad building or a bad meal. Even if you, as a consumer, did not like what was produced you would assume the creative mind behind it was trying to do their best – even if you, as a consumer did not think their best was good enough for you.
By the same token people who make movies really are trying to make the best movie they can. Even if I do not like the movie or the theme or the concepts which drove the idea behind it I understand the creative forces behind them were doing their best. So the movies I choose to review I want to respect from that point of view.
I may be harsh or even derisive but I do try to find that little bit of gold I always hope is somewhere in the mud. Maybe I’m like the kid who digs in a pile of manure sure there must be a pony if I only dig deeply enough. But knowing how difficult getting ANYTHING onto the screen is, I find myself compelled to seek out at least a seed of virtue.
To that end you ADULTS might want to put on your movie bucket list Ed Wood. It stars Johnny Depp as the man “credited” with making some of the worst movies of all time, including Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. Wood, according to the story, was really trying to make the best movie he could. He just wasn’t very good AT it. But he was NOT TRYING to make a bad movie.
So next time you see a movie that just did not ring many bells for you, remember, be kind and see if you can think of anything good about it, because the movies themselves were not bad – to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit – "They were just filmed that way."
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