movies so bad they’re good

Jabootu Lives!

I am a sucker for movies of the so-bad-they’re good variety (die-hard MST3K fan here).  Given all the doom and gloom in financial markets recently I was excited to discover Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension is still alive and kicking. A point of light in the darkness, as it were.

To encourage you to check out this site (“Devoted to savoring films at the bottom of the cinematic bell curve since 1997”) I now present an excerpt by editor Ken Begg, describing Steven Seagal directing Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground:

The audience, on the other hand, is chagrined when Jennings opens the other door of the helicopter and reveals that he’s being portrayed by a slumming Michael Caine. Jennings remains such a stock cartoon villain that one concludes that Caine was only hired after both Bluto and Snidely Whiplash were found to be busy on other projects. In the end, it’s somewhat of a surprise that he never ties heroine Joan Chen (using the Hollywood “exotic actor” law to play an Eskimo here) to some railroad tracks. Caine’s hair is dyed a very weird oil-slick black, except for a few scenes when it inexplicably turns dark brown instead. He also wears a bolo tie throughout, apparently to help look like an “oil man”. Jennings pretty much proves to be the worst performance in Caine’s long and busy career (and he’s been in The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, The Holcroft Covenant, Jaws IV, etc.). I’ve no doubt that this is entirely due to Seagal’s direction. I’ve always pictured this scene in my mind:

Director Seagal: “OK, Michael, you’re the Bad Guy. So act really, like, Evil here.”

Caine: “But look, Steven. You know that, in my character’s mind, he’s not the bad guy. To him, he’s the hero, see. He believes totally in what he’s doing, and in his right to do it. In fact, to him, your character is the bad guy, not he.”

Director Seagal, after staring at Caine for a very long time without changing expression: “OK, Michael, you’re the Bad Guy. So act really Evil here. Oh, and more Awe when he sees me enter the room.”

In addition to being very funny (at least in my own humble opinion), many reviews feature pretty insightful commentary on effective plotting and characterization. I’ve always felt you don’t learn much in terms of “craft” from great books and movies. They’re inspiring, but for me they exist on another plane from what mere mortals such as myself can produce (I am reminded of Hunter S. Thompson typing out sentences from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books to see how it felt putting those sentences together).

In terms of creative education, it’s the crappy stuff you learn from: books and movies that lack polish and run with important bits missing and sparking wires exposed. The least talented decile of your local writing group serves much the same purpose. In fact, an interesting creative exercise is to try and FIX a terrible book or movie. There’s no better way to hone your editorial instincts.

May The Great Jabootu smile on all your endeavors!