Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interview: Gordon Maples

I found Gordon Maples through Twitter @Misantropey where we share thoughts on bad films. He reviews films on the blog "Misan(trope)y" and from there you can find a link to his podcasts, where he dissects just how celluloid atrocities get made. He's the fourth person I've found whose tried to watch all of the films in the Internet Database's Bottom 100 Films, and may be the first person to actually do it. That deserves some recognition and a few questions. This interview was done via e-mail with all questions sent at once (which is why there's a little awkwardness).

1) Others have tried to watch all the IMDB Bottom 100 films but found it a depressingly poor use of time. How have you persevered where others have not?

I've had this discussion with some people before, and I think it comes down to the way I approach bad movies. For instance, I love the guys over at the Bad Movie Fiends podcast, but we have very different philosophies: they are, like many, searching for the elusive "so bad it is good" movies. If someone goes into the IMDb Bottom 100 expecting to find those movies, they will either quit due to frustration or boredom. When I watch bad movies, I try to do it with more of an analytic eye. I usually liken the experience to performing an autopsy: I dig around in the guts of the film to figure out how it functions, and ultimately make some sort of judgment on why it failed. I find that kind of thing really interesting. I still love those "so bad its good" flicks, but that isn't what I expected to find in the IMDb Bottom 100. As it turns out, I was right in that assumption.

I think others are similarly turned off by the ranking because they don't agree with it. That comes from a misunderstanding of what the IMDb Bottom 100 is, and is something that I talk about at length in a review on "Saving Christmas": the IMDb Bottom 100 is a living democratic list, which means it is not objective in any sense. It is a popularity contest, which I don't see as an insult in this case. It is, like the Rotten Tomatoes audience score, a barometer of public opinion and perception: that's why "Saving Christmas" tanked so fast. If you appreciate it for what it is, it is pretty fascinating from a sociological perspective. You can't get hung up on the fact that "Monster A Go Go" is clearly objectively worse than "Pledge This!" or "From Justin to Kelly". The ranking just doesn't work that way.

The last thing that I am sure has discouraged many is the fact that not all of the IMDb Bottom 100 films are readily available. Because of the recent surge of international movies in the list, many of them didn't get a Region 1 release, and English-speaking watchers have to rely on non-traditional acquisition methods and fan-made subtitles to see them. That's more effort than most are willing to put into such a trivial task. Unfortunately, some of the films like "A Fox's Tale" and "Tony Blair Witch Project" barely exist at all. I had to come up with a way to make up for this, so I dug up some archives of the IMDb Bottom 100 list from 2004, and covered alumni features that have since fallen out of the ranks. It also helps that the list is constantly rotating in new movies as more new votes come in, so patience ultimately paid off in some respects. I'm still giddy that "ROTOR" made it in this year.

2) Fans of MST3K have systematically given 10's to all bad films rated lower than what they've aired. Do you think the ratings are truly democratic?

It doesn't matter what the motivation behind a vote is, the vote is still a vote. Again, the ranking is a reflection of public opinion, so it needs to be open to every Joe Anonymous out there to vote with all of their (potentially corrupt or dumb) hearts. A lot of people were furious over the "Gunday" fiasco, where a social media campaign against the movie tanked it to the bottom of the list. Again I say, a vote is a vote, and with this list no vote matters more than another, regardless of the motivations behind it. If a bunch of people feel that a few MST3K movies deserve lower scores, all they have to do is vote for their voice to be heard.

3) Do you yourself rate movies on IMDB? If so, which of the bottom 100 did you rate highest? If not, why not - you're more than qualified.

I haven't been, strangely enough. I will definitely try to come up with a personal reorder ranking of the IMDb Bottom 100 movies I have watched, and I may go back and vote on them all once I have looked at them all comparatively in that setting. I should be wrapped up with the list next week, so that'll be coming soon.

As far as quality of the movie, I think "Monster A Go Go" and "The Starfighters" have to be towards the top. However, there were plenty that were more offensive and creatively bankrupt. I think it depends on which sensibilities you rely on more to judge a movie's overall quality. I, for instance, have a personal dislike for Bollywood movies on the whole, just because I hate unnecessary musical numbers and excessive run times. So, I might be more likely to rate them lower than others would. Also, anything with blatant sexism/misogyny or racism is going to draw a little extra ire from me. It is not only lazy, but that sort of thing reinforces negative aspects of our society.

There are at least two movies that I don't think have any business being in the Bottom 100, and I personally think that they got as low as they are due to thinly veiled racism in the voting masses. They are still bad movies, but nowhere near as bad as their cohorts in the list. I'm going to talk about those at length when I wrap up the list in the next week or so.

4) Straight-to-video titles and TV movies aren't in the IMDB rankings. Should they be?

I think that requiring a theatrical release is a reasonable enough hurdle. Again, it makes more sense when you think of the IMDb Bottom 100 as a barometer of public opinion: it isn't unreasonable to say that theatrical movies are going to cast a wider net than your typical direct to video schlock.

5) There are 1000 films rated 1.0 - 1.9 that don't have 1500 votes, so they didn't make the bottom 100. I'd love to see that list, wouldn't you? Would you watch them?

I'm curious how many of them got theatrical releases. In any case, I know I have seen a few of them at least. The infamous Casper Van Dien / Tiny Lister / Coolio direct to video flick "Dracula 3000" has a 1.9 (quite deservedly), and I actually reviewed "The Legend of the Titanic", which has a 1.3. It is up to debate as to whether that is better or worse than its doppelganger "Titanic: The Legend Continues", which is in the Bottom 100 with a 2.3. Believe it or not, those Titanic animated movies have no relation whatsoever, despite the huge similarities.

I certainly would be interested to see more of these movies, but I am also a big fan of that quota for the list.  is a ranking that functions as a barometer of public opinion, so having movies with only a couple hundred votes in there wouldn't accurately reflect the zeitgeist.

6) Adam Sandler or Larry the Cable Guy?

No thanks, I'd rather watch a Tor Johnson marathon. I did cover Adam Sandler's first movie "Going Overboard" in the Bottom 100, which is a baffling little film. 

7) I learn technique from bad films (for example, blocking from "The Giant Gila Monster"). What can one learn from yet another "Date/Disaster/Epic Movie" spoof?

I think there is a lot to learn about how to write evergreen comedy when you compare something like "Epic Movie" to the old stalwart parody movies like "Airplane!". The majority of your jokes and references can't be current-event sensitive, or your film will age worse than shrimp in the back of the fridge. There is also an interesting thing to learn about staying competitive with budgetary limitations when looking at parody movies from recent years: despite the vast difference in the budgets, there isn't a huge difference between "Vampire's Suck" and "Breaking Wind". When both movies are rolling around in a comedy sewer, it doesn't much matter which one is wearing the expensive suit.

8) Name as many prolific directors worse than Ed Wood Jr. as you can in 5 minutes.

To Ed Wood's credit, his legacy is not just making bad movies, but making cost-effective bad movies. In that way, I think Uwe Boll deserves a begrudging tip of the hat, along with some of the Corman-spawn like David DeCoteau and Jim Wynorski. As far as quality of directing goes, Coleman Francis and Ulli Lommel are pretty much no-brainers. Ted V Mikels probably deserves in on that conversation as well. There are a bunch of more recent folks like Wiseau and Nguyen who have become infamous, but I hesitate to call them prolific. Despite his successes, George Lucas is not a good director, particularly when it comes to any kind of personnel management. "A New Hope" was good in spite of his directing skills, not because of them. But worse than Ed Wood? Probably not.

9) What was the best year for bad films?

I can certainly say that 2014 is going to go down as one of the best years for bad Christmas films, at least. Grumpy Cat, Larry the Cable Guy, and Kirk Cameron. Blech.

10) If someone's new to bad films, where do you suggest they start?

If possible, I would recommend trying to catch something like "The Room" or "Troll 2" in theaters. The cult atmosphere around these movies is what makes them contagious. Other than that, a couple of my personal favorites are "The Stuff" by Larry Cohen, and "The Dentist" written by Stuart Gordon. I also have a mild obsession with 1986's "Space Camp", but that is more of a hometown bias.

11) In a bad movie based on your life, what's your signature move in hip-hop kung fu?

The Stammering Fumble Maneuver. It is different every time, but always disappoints. I still come out on top somehow though.

For the record, I'm counting 6 worse directors than Wood.

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