Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 'B' in B-Movie Doesn't Mean Bad: A Rant.

As you can probably tell from just the briefest glance at this blog, I watch a lot of what would commonly be called ‘bad films’. Before we go any further, it should be made clear that this is a misleading and unfair label for these films. Films today tend to break down into depressingly few categories. They are either Big Budget, Independent, ‘Art-house’ or Foreign. Anything else tends to get labelled as bad. What’s even more disappointing is that, in the vast majority of cases ‘independent’, ‘art-house’ and ‘foreign’ often run together. So we’re left with: Big-Budget-Small-Brain-Blockbusters (the kind you eat popcorn with), Arty/Weird/Intellectual/Foreign/Independent (the kind you sip red wine with) and ‘the rest’ (the kind you drink lots of beer with).

This ‘the rest’ category has a bad image nowadays. Once-upon-a-time, in the days of the b-movie, these films were important. They didn’t have the cash of the Hollywood hits, nor the intellectual/pretentious (delete as appropriate) element of the indie/arty/weird/foreign film. No. They were made on tight budgets, with tight time-limits and tight resources. They were made to be enjoyed. This is pulp cinema. Nowadays we associate the term ‘b-movie’ and perhaps even ‘pulp’ with ‘bad’. This is simply not (necessarily) the case.

Compare film to literature. Again, we find the blockbusters (your Dan Browns etc), an appreciation for ‘classics’, an appreciation for the experimental/philosophical/foreign/intellectual but you also find an considerable about (albeit way less than there used to be) of pulp literature. Whilst you might very well want to label Dan Brown as pulp (and are probably correct…), there is a difference. By pulp I’m talking about the books that are churned out at an astonishing rate. The detective stories and murder mysteries that fill shelves in bookshops and libraries and lie discarded on trains, benches and café tables.

These are not high-art. Nevertheless, they are also – to put it simply – not bad. The most essential thing whilst writing genre-fiction to be sold, read and forgotten about is obviously not to be inventive, challenging or weird – that’s not what your readers (or perhaps better, customers) want – but the author is required to at least write a cracking story. It’s got to be exciting. It’s got to be mysterious. It’s got to keep you turning the pages. They might not be books you’d recommend to a friend, see reviewed in the newspaper or ever want to read again, but they should be books that are gripping reads.

The same applies to film, or at least used to.

Most of the films I prefer to watch do not have brilliant special effects. They don’t have exquisite cinematography. They don’t have big name stars neither in front of nor behind the camera. They don’t have challenging dialogue, open-ended ambiguity, subtleties or philosophical concerns. They are simply good fun.

Sadly it seems that nowadays many people can’t help but sneer a little at the thought of watching Hammer Horror, Toho Godzilla films or anything that wasn’t made by James Cameron or Michael Bay. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are those that sit and smirk at everyone else, whilst claiming there is no such thing as cinema outside of the masterpieces of Michael Haneke, Kurosawa et al.

What confuses me still more is that we seem perfectly content to watch the same kind of material on TV. We watch hours of detective shows, crime dramas etc, many of which are feature length and produced with no greater budget nor skills than the films we have been content to ignore. Is it simply the element of laziness? Is it just because we can sit down on the sofa, sip our mug of coffee and let it all wash over us? The answer, sadly, is probably yes.

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