SOME of the worst films ever made have earned a special place in cinema history by being brilliantly awful, says Euan McColm.
The very idea of the thing is so deliciously preposterous as to be irresistible.
International football’s worldwide governing body, FIFA, has spent £17 million on a blockbuster movie that tells of its many wonders, its charity, its overwhelming decency and nobility. That this hagiography’s release coincides with the implosion of the organisation’s upper echelon amidst accusations of corruption on an industrial scale simply adds to the pleasure we might take from it.
On its opening weekend in the USA, United Passions made just £397 at cinemas. Not even the presence of the highly-regarded actor Tim Roth (54) in the role of FIFA’s (now departed) president Sepp Blatter (79), characterised as a campaigner against corruption, could draw in the crowds. The flick opened in just ten cinemas, one of which reported selling just a single ticket.
Everything about United Passions – from its vainglorious conception to the completed work, which has been described as “proof of corporate insanity” – would appear to be wrong. And this is why I am so looking forward to seeing it.
Like many movie-goers, I love truly terrible films. There is such joy to be had from watching a real mis-fire.
Spare me your bog-standard crap films; your Love Actuallys and your Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrelses. Those are just charmless and manipulative and formulaic; there is no fun to be gleaned from the experience of watching them unless, of course, you are an idiot (Though if those rank among your favourite films, it’s clear my thesis is wrong and I’m very sorry and we should all forget what I wrote just then. I was just showing off). What I relish is the collision of wrongness-on-every-level that creates something hilariously compelling.
United Passions promises to be such a film.
Last week, I was chatting to a woman of my recent acquaintance about a movie we’d both seen. Obviously, because I have a huge and fragile ego and because I was keen to impress her, I was relieved that what I liked about A Girl Walked Home Alone at Night tallied with what she liked. We agreed that the cinematography was beautiful, the story touching and funny, and the crackle of a character’s cigarette upon inhalation spine-tingling.
We’ve all walked that tightrope; trying to keep up with someone smarter, hoping they don’t notice we’re idiots. Having made it to the other side on that occasion, I mentioned my fondness for lesser films.
My recommendation to her – and it’s my recommendation to you, too – was the “erotic thriller” (which manages to be neither erotic nor thrilling) Killing Me Softly. Directed by Chen Kaige and starring Joseph Fiennes and Heather Graham, Killing Me Softly is a classic of the terrible movie genre.
It concerns a young woman (Graham) who meets a brooding mountain-climber (Fiennes). Fiennes, character is exciting, what with all the mountain climbing, and he has stubble, so Graham’s character immediately dumps her clean-shaven boyfriend (the Welsh one out of BBC2’s This Life) and they embark on a passionate affair, which involves improbably gymnastic afternoons spent in his flat.
But two people jumping about on a bed does not a compelling narrative make so into the mix is thrown the mystery of the disappearance of one of the mountain-climber’s ex-girlfriends.
We are directed to believe that he’d almost certainly done this old-flame in and Graham’s character is heading for a similar fate. Among the clues that the mountain-climber might be a psychopath is a scene where he clutches a goldfish until the poor thing looks uncomfortable.
In the end – and I’m sorry if you were planning to watch it later and I’ve ruined things – the mountain-climber’s sister is revealed to be the wrong ’un.
This is hardly surprising for two reasons. For one thing, she is the only other character of any real note in the film and, for another, there’s a beautifully awful shot about halfway through proceedings when the camera lingers on a book, lying on a table in the mountain-climber’s flat. It’s Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. Geddit?
If you do decide to watch Killing Me Softly, then I recommend the addition of Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven’s appalling thriller set amid the sleaze of Las Vegas, to complete the perfect double bill. Those two, back-to-back, accompanied by carb-coma inducing amounts of pizza make for quite the Saturday night, let me tell you.
It may seem cheap and easy to laugh at the artistic efforts of others; after all, no matter how inept the completed work, at least some of those involved must have given their all to make something great. Nobody sets out to make a terrible move, do they?
And, it has to be conceded, that what is sometimes dismissed as awful is later re-evaluated and finds its audience.
Perhaps the most famous example of critics and punters getting it wrong is the case of the British actor Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Upon its release in 1955, Laughton’s adaptation of Davis Grubb’s novel, was dismissed by reviewers and shunned by the public. It is said that the adverse reaction to his work was the reason Laughton never directed another film.
Now, of course, we recognise Night of the Hunter as one of the classics of cinema. As serial-killing preacher Harry Powell, Robert Mitchum gives a performance of such menace that even repeated viewings cannot dilute it. Every frame is like a painting, rich and deep, and the score with its dark orchestration scratching against the sweetest songs adds considerably to the tension.
My cherished Killing Me Softly, I confidently predict, will never undergo the sort of re-examination that Night of the Hunter did. It is, instead, destined to remain a turkey.
But with its wooden acting and its knuckle-headed direction, it will always be the most marvellous mess to me. I have high hopes that the FIFA movie will be, at the very least, as bad. I await its UK release with trembling anticipation. And when (if) it does find its way to a screen near me, I’ll be there – possibly alone – revelling in every terrible, hubristic minute.