When I was a teenager, I used to get ill every year around Good Friday. It was like having stigmata, but in the form of tonsillitis or earache, and in retrospect, I think I may have been doing it for the attention. One year, I got a virus that manifested itself in about 60 simultaneous mouth ulcers. I had to paint my mouth with some vile antibiotic glue which tasted of boiled cow, and couldn't eat at all, but only lie sadly on the sofa with my giant swollen face in my hands, so my brother decided to cheer me up with a film fest.
He introduced me to what is still my favourite movie, The Princess Bride, and then put on The Tall Guy starring Emma Thompson and Jeff Goldblum. It contains, perhaps, the least generous spoof of those super-serious Les Mis musicals ever made. Goldblum's character wins the lead role in a musical about the Elephant Man, the final number of which is set after the title character's death. And as the chorus sang, "Somewhere up in heaven there's an angel with big ears," I laughed so hard my mouth started bleeding from, let's say, 60 places. It was then that I realised that bad musicals, bad films, or bad telly were occasionally more fun than good ones.
It was a theory we went on to test with perhaps too many examples. By the time I left school, I had never seen The Godfather, but had a working knowledge of the output of Troma, from The Toxic Avenger Part II to Class of Nuke 'Em High. It took me years of working in a video store to catch up on the "proper" films I'd missed. Even now, when I review about 100 films a year, I feel vaguely unqualified, because I've never got round to watching Metropolis, but I do know the plot to the long-forgotten Hell Comes to Frogtown, a movie that addressed burgeoning fears about declining fertility and nuclear war in a story about radioactive frog-mutants and a harem. Like Margaret Atwood's seminal feminist novel The Handmaid's Tale, in other words, but with less feminism. And more frogs.
So while I'm willing to accept that everyone else may not be looking forward to The Governator, the new cartoon series and movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, following his unlikely adventures to save the world since he stood down from gubernatorial duties in California, I am delighted. In the first trailer, released at Cannes this week, he's riding what looks suspiciously like Batman's bike, he's fighting Transformers, plus he has green laser vision. And it's Arnie. He was Conan the Barbarian, the Terminator, John Matrix (in Commando). The man was elected to public office on the strength of having once said, "Hasta la vista, baby", which frankly undersells his rather better, "He had to split" (said after slicing a villain in two with, if I haven't entirely misremembered, a chainsaw).
Now, I know you could spend Saturday night watching a worthy Stephen Poliakoff drama and you'd probably be better informed about the world, but think how much more fun you'd have if you asked friends round, dialled a pizza, cracked open the medicinal brandy from under the sink and watched cartoon Arnie on the rampage. Because this is the real distinction between properly good entertainment and so-bad-it's-good entertainment. If you watch something brilliant, it will move you even when you're alone.
When Rip Torn refers to a network executive in The Larry Sanders Show with the words, "I'm sure I killed her in Korea", I will laugh even if I'm the only person watching. The West Wing or M*A*S*H can always make me cry. But I wouldn't dream of watching M Night Shyamalan's The Happening alone, because the story (evil trees make us kill ourselves using only the power of their tree pheromones) is one that needs to be shared if it is to be properly enjoyed. I say this as someone who laughed so hard at the press screening for it years ago that the New York Times reviewer got in a huff with me, which sadly made it funnier still. I occasionally rewatch it with friends in a tree-centric double bill with either The Guardian (nanny feeds babies to evil tree) or From Hell It Came (evil tree stump terrorises island community).
And the communal power of the bad film has reached its zenith with Tommy Wiseau's The Room. On 16 April, the Prince Charles cinema in London will give this legendary film its monthly outing. Fans turn up to watch a movie which mesmerises with the sheer molten awfulness of its script, its acting and even its set design. If you want to go along, don't forget to take plastic spoons with you. Then, when the audience shouts "Spooooon" and begins hurling cutlery at the screen, you won't feel left out.
Wiseau plays the lead role, Johnny, and the film is made up of scenes such as the one where he stands in front of a shop assistant, talking to her for several seconds before she randomly delivers the line, "Oh hey, Johnny, I didn't know it was you". Or where a girl working at a coffee shop, clearly improvising while having only a limited knowledge of baked goods, starts frantically offering every customer a piece of cheesecake. In case you're wondering, the spoons are because of the picture frames on the walls of Johnny's house. Rather than bothering to find pictures to put in them, the set designers have simply left in place the pictures that were clearly in the frames when they bought them – all of cutlery. The screening sells out every month, as a room full of people enjoy the shared experience of a cripplingly bad plot enlivened with truly awful sex scenes – and spoons.
So while I wouldn't recommend that you watch The Governator every night, I think it has its place. Despite the occasional handwringing that television is all formulaic nowadays, and that all the films are for teenage boys, in fact we live in a golden age of pop culture: OK, Mad Men won't return until 2012, but Aaron Sorkin is writing a new pilot for HBO, and the second season of The Killing is due in autumn. Sometimes we need a night away from the good stuff to remind us how lucky we are. With the reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman (featuring everyone's favourite chubby martial-arts expert looking at a broken taillight), suspended pending investigations into its star's private life, it looks like Arnie is stepping up. So I'm glad that he'll be back.
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