SBIG: Mothra and Florence Foster Jenkins

20160831 FFJ historyvshollywood

I don’t know where my childhood went wrong. I was exposed frequently to art museums and the best music – both classical and jazz. The shelves were full of Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Faulkner, and Plato; the walls were covered with Bruegel and Pollock.  My mother had no sense of humor. (Technically, that’s not true, she thought Bertolt Brecht and Edward Albee were hil-arious!)  My father had no appreciation for Star Wars or Steven Spielberg, and took us as children to see West Side Story and Rashomon instead. Yet, somehow, since I was a wee bit of a thing, I have always loved bad art.

Bad movies, bad music, bad theater, bad painting, bad poetry. There is a whole subgenre of the arts within each of these categories. Performances that were fiercely bad, sleep-inducing, screechy, ridiculous, and downright dreadful. In the Kaj household, we even labelled it in our classification system as SBIG – So Bad, It’s Good.

April showered me today
And got me kinda wet.
I wasn’t looking for the rain.
Glub, I’m a rivulet!
–From Spectrum, Author’s name withheld to avoid public shaming

What Makes The Performance Bad?
There is a fine line between dull and wretched, and we have to examine wretched just a bit, to understand where that line is drawn. Bad can take on many forms – maudlin, boring, insipid, confusing, blurry, not believable, or overly predictable – when it comes to films. This is tricky when it comes to comedy, because comedy can be highly subjective. You like the Hangover or Jim Carrey; I detest them. Yet vulgarity or farce on its own is not necessarily bad, but subject to personal taste.  You don’t “get” Monty Python; in our house, it is considered to be part of the genius canon.  Does that make any of these bad or good? Probably not.

The heaviest disagreement comes over whether something is “great” or one of the “greatest.” We will come to blows over whether to include Borat or Dumb and Dumber on a Best list. There is less disagreement about whether something is universally bad. Don’t believe me? Gigli. Howard the Duck. Fifty Shades of Black. Need I go further?

Music is easier to identify as bad. Off-key, strange lyrics, poor phrasing, off-key, off rhythm, constantly changing key, mispronouncing words, did I mention off-key? Is the song really only a chorus repeated over and over? Can the band play the instruments? A theme starts to emerge, that transfers to painting, poetry and so forth. Did the artist fail at what they were trying to achieve?  Do the mountains in a landscape really look more like ice cream cones? Does the interpretive dance consist mostly of hair flinging? Is the poem so cloying that it makes you cringe?

What Makes it So Fiercely Bad It’s Good?
The common theme to the best of the worst seems to do with pain. Painfully bad. Cringing, wincing, covering the ears or eyes (or nose!!!!), the performance takes entertainment which might just be mediocre into another realm entirely.

Boring, on its own, is not sufficient. A little flat in pitch isn’t really funny. A dumb script is fairly common; we need to have wooden acting, stupefyingly bad special effects, inappropriate product placement, and maybe the sound boom showing, to crank a bad performance up to that mythical level eleven.

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The World Must Be Peopled!

Can you fall in love under duress? If you lived in a world that required you to mate for life OR ELSE – could you do it? How would you do it? Would you try to fake it? Could you be convincing? What if you had to fool the Spousal Police?

Now the fact that you will turn into an animal if you fail to fall in love with someone during your stay here is not something that should upset you or get you down.
– Hotel Manager, The Lobster

There is something intriguing and dare I say it? fun about a movie in the alternate world, dystopian as the critics call it, the world that seems like our own but is just Off. The Lobster, a 2015 movie now making the arthouse cinema rounds is one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in a long time. It takes place in a society like our own, with modern dress, skyscrapers, freeways, and hotel swimming pools very much like our own. But it becomes quickly obvious that there is something different going on.  In that sense it’s more like a puzzle, like The Sixth Sense or Fahrenheit 451 or the Memento. Something is different.

20160524lOBSTER3The first part has to establish that difference and to give it shape. We don’t need to know why the rules are this way, not at the outset, but we need to know what they are. The setup in The Lobster is that the adults without mates are required to become “guests” at a hotel. They must couple up within 45 days or they will be transformed – surgically, and the less said about those gory details the better– into the animal of their choice. The couples must be validated to the satisfaction of the authorities, so you can’t just pick somebody. Tests must be passed. When the guests are given shotguns to help reinforce the rules, the consequences of failure are clarified. Continue reading “The World Must Be Peopled!”

The Idea of Waterloo

I don’t know why I find Waterloo so fascinating; the Belgians don’t really seem to. It was the last of the planned highlights of our trip for me, and I had read about it and thought about it for months.  Yet compared with other tourist sites we visited, it had minimal infrastructure and sparse attendance. It left a lot to the imagination.

Typically Belgian
T4Lions Mound
Granted, they have a nifty little museum underneath the site, as well as a “4D” movie experience that really makes you feel the smoke of the soldiers’ campfires and the charge of the horses over the ridge. But apparently this museum was built only last year for the bicentennial, and prior to that there was only this high, oddly designed “Lion’s Mound” that had a small observation deck, with an old map and a couple pay telescopes. You have to climb up and down 225 steps to get there, which would be difficult for a lot of people and downright awful in any weather that had the slightest wind, rain or worse.  When we were there, there were a handful of Germans and maybe a few locals at the top, even though it was a beautiful day and a holiday to boot. The signs on where to enter the museum and observation deck itself were confusing, causing you to walk around a long fence, only to be redirected back and down these other steps that turned out to be right off the parking lot. (Why not have a sign when you come out of the lot, “MUSEUM THIS WAY”?)  Margot, a friend who agreed to guide us, told us that was typically Belgian. She said that often while she was driving.

Lest you think I am just throwing shade on Belgium, I will say Margot took us to one of the best lunch places (Stoemp and Sausage) of the trip, and we spent several hours enjoying the sunny Grand Place at a cafe. But, to be fair, the day before we also had one of the worst dinners I’ve ever eaten, found the museums and gardens we wanted to visit were closed, and couldn’t find a single market to buy a soda after 8 pm. This was all after Karin lost her phone right between the metro station and the two blocks to the hotel. And there are no T Mobile stores in Brussels.  I’m not throwing shade, this is just what happened. We got off to a rocky start.

Still, we were in a good mood embarking out to the Waterloo site the following day. I was particularly happy that Margot had agreed to take us because frankly the directions to get there were fairly obscure. The website for tourism for Waterloo and the little town, Braine l’Alleud is not particularly robust. There are buses that go out there, but they stop at various places that are miles apart, and most of the logistical explanations were in French. There are no guided tours other than private ones you could plan in advance for several hundred dollars. This was in marked contrast to the other sites, like Keukenhof, which had dedicated buses packed full of sightseers, or the museum with multiple exhibits at the Nobel Peace Center, or even the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was mobbed by cameras. In contrast, Waterloo didn’t seem to have the same draw. Continue reading “The Idea of Waterloo”

Uncle Oscar’s Birthday

Well, that didn’t go exactly like I thought it would. I had this entry half drafted Sunday afternoon, speculating on the culturally tragic implications of The Revenant winning Best Picture and sweeping most of the Academy Awards, but there were quite a few surprises, weren’t there?

8uncleoscarIt was Uncle Oscar’s birthday, and like going to that family dinner, you love it and dread it simultaneously. You love Aunt Sadie’s meatballs, but her inappropriate comments make you cringe. Your cousin corners you about some business venture or cause that bores you to tears or requires a donation. It will go on too long with too much bland food, and you know you’re going to fight with your spouse on the drive there and on the way home. And yet you’d never miss it.

Results notwithstanding, my original question is worth asking: Is it a crime against humanity or a travesty of justice if the Best Picture of the year is a movie you didn’t particularly like? Or one which, from the moment you saw the trailer, you had no interest in seeing? Is the Best Picture the “best picture” artistically or popularly, or sometimes one and sometimes the other?

As the 88th Academy Awards unfolded, I wondered if the movies I happen to like would get the recognition they so clearly deserve in the World According to ME or if those cretinous voters would demonstrate that they were drugged out of their mind or kidnapped by Moonies. My answer, as with most years, is probably a little of both.

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An Opera Lesson

How ‘bout that Super Bowl and those ____? Wasn’t that play amazing when _______ the ball and then ______ took it in the end zone for the touchdown? Of course, the commercial by _________ was kind of stupid and offensive, but I sure liked the one about the dog ____. [Note to self: remember to fill in blanks after the game is over.]

Speaking of grand and potentially ridiculous spectacles, I’ve been studying opera this month. This is the time of year when the NY Metropolitan Opera provides live showings in local movie theaters, and they are a huge treat. Not only is the singing the world’s best, but the sets and costumes are fabulous, and the intermission interviews very entertaining. Think of it like boxing pay per view. It’s not exactly like being in person, but you can see a lot better and it’s much less expensive (especially excluding the Vegas flight and hotel).

Now, if anyone actually knows something about opera (which means you probably know far more than I), please correct me gently as I share my recently learned wiki-facts. For the few of you who might consider it but have shied away due to lack of knowledge; let me see if I can spark interest. And if you still detest the thought, I can at least give you a few buzz words and factoids to sprinkle in conversations. Continue reading “An Opera Lesson”