Rated F: When Failed Films find Redemption


?Failure? is the new F-word. In recent years, the notion of failure has become something of an academic and media flashpoint with everyone from Malcom Gladwell to FailCon 2010, a convention celebrating entrepreneurial failures, pondering the positive possibilities of blowing it. No one, however, seems to blow it with higher entertainment value than filmmakers, resulting in many an effort justifiably rated ?F.? For some, this is something of a blessing as is the case with the legendary flop, Troll 2, which has not only found redemption as a cult film but also warranted examination in a recently released feature documentary.

Best Worst Movie, released on DVD this month by Docudrama Films, examines the ill-fated, pseudo-sequel to horror-fantasy film Troll and the cult following that has developed in the intervening 20 years. That the second Troll film is related to its predecessor only in title (thanks to canny distributors eager to capitalize on the minor success of the original) is the least of the issues facing Troll 2 and director Michael Paul Stephenson examines it with an ennobling tenderness. As well he should ??as an aspiring child actor, Stephenson played the film’s hero, a whining 10-year-old boy whose family’s house-swap is blighted by goblins (of course, no actual ?trolls? appear in the film).

The New Yorker heralded Stephenson’s work as ?hilarious and sad?priceless,? which is entirely merited. His cinematic post-mortem?presents a cogent case for why certain, truly terrible films become beloved cinematic fetish objects. The secret ingredient? Earnestness. A rotten flick produced with total sincerity and a commitment to its asinine premise stands a chance of scoring a half-life in midnight screenings and breathless approbation from movies bloggers. The only irony allowed is that brought by the audience itself. It’s an odd pas de deux between the viewer and the viewed, wherein derision and adoration begin to blur and somehow over the course of a film’s run-time, catharsis and redemption is found by both audience and artist.

In this scenario, filmmakers must come to accept that their artistic intentions are irrelevant when a cult takes ownership of their work and uses it to foment community, no matter how farcical their objectives. The audience, for its part, goes from merely enduring a work to endearing it, committing its every nuance to memory and frequently staging re-enactments of pivotal scenes, as Best Worst Movie reveals on several occasions. Then, at some point, the cult’s ironic pose melts away like a sugar coating, and the bittersweet truth that some Quixotic schmuck poured his savings and soul into a piece shit becomes distastefully evident. Too committed to turn back, the audience swallows this sad fact, eulogizing good intentions while enshrining failure.

Be assured making crappy movies (with heart) is not a recommended career move for would-be auteurs. It is, however, cause for reflection particularly since self-reflection on the part of some filmmakers seems so hard won. The Room, which, like Troll 2, has had numerous screenings (including one last week at Carnegie Mellon University no less) is a such a steaming pile of ego-aggrandizement that director Tommy Wiseau, tellingly, claims that it was his intention to create a ?black comedy,? though several cast members have steadfastly denied this (Wiseau accepted Harvard’s ?Ivory Tower? award as Filmmaker of the Year several months ago).

Director James Nguyen, whose take on avian terror, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, is differentiated from Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic The Birds by virtue of the fact that his killer birds were principally ?eagles and vultures? (as relayed during a recent interview with this columnist on KSRO) has a legion of ?fans? who have driven interest in his film to an international level with copious press (usually aligned with the ‘shock and terror? portion of the title) adding more wind beneath his wings. Interestingly, Nguyen doesn’t appear to care that his film is some kind of inside joke. The fact is, against all conceivable odds ??including his own plot line ? he made it. And therein lies the key. These guys are underdogs, and given our cultural proclivity to root for the little guy, it’s little wonder that these films find audiences to champion them. One might suspect it’s not so much the films that audiences are identifying with, as it is their makers. If that’s failure, it’s really not so bad.