Favorite Worst Movie: Nothing But Trouble

The Morning News published a list of Favorite Worst Movies last Sunday, and I felt the need to throw my two cents in: Nothing But Trouble is my favorite bad movie of all time.

The 1991 film stars Chevy Chase and Demi Moore as go-go ’80s Wall Street types who wander off of their GPS map while driving through New Jersey, and are arrested in the town of Valkenvania by the local police officer, played by John Candy. Taken to appear before the judge, played by Aykroyd, things get weirder and weirder, driving Chase and Moore to attempt an escape from the law.

On the DVD commentary track for Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis & Joe Medjuck tell the story of how Dan Aykroyd turned in an unfilmable 600-page script set in the far future, and of how Harold Ramis helped him rework the material as the very funny, broadly accessible comedy it became.

By contrast, Aykroyd directed, co-wrote, and produced Nothing But Trouble. In other words, nobody existed who could have said “no” to him, or to help him rework his rough ideas into a form that others could appreciate. The resulting film is more or less a tour of the mind of Dan Aykroyd, and it’s an extremely unusual place to be.

But the badness of the film depends not only on Aykroyd’s fevered imagination: Demi Moore’s outfits might best be described as “catastrophe in white,” and what she lacks in comic timing she amplifies by taking her role far too seriously. The Digital Underground appears as another group of detainees, mostly so that Aykroyd can jam with them as they play.

Finally, the film contains repeated endings, one after another. More than once, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and think that the worst is over, and the credits are about to roll. Then the next scene begins, eliciting another round of groans from the audience.

Boing Boing, Violet Blue, and Web Collage

Now that The New York Times has weighed in on the Boing Boing versus Violet Blue imbroglio, a topic where I didn’t realize I had much to say, I realized that I did have a couple of words.

I think it’s really very good when people reconsider the things they’ve said in conversation. My goodness, you can still find things I wrote on the Internet ten or fifteen years ago, and I certainly don’t think all of the same things now. I think that the evolution of personal viewpoints is normal, and healthy, and should be welcome.

However, I think it’s really bad when you pretend not to have said the things that you previously did. To enforce this kind of ex post facto internal consistency is dishonest. Maybe not to-the-core dishonest, but certainly untrustworthy, and in general not the kind of conversational partner I want to have.

I think that de-publishing is much closer to (but not the same as) pretending you never said something than it is to reconsidering previous viewpoints. It does strike me as uncomfortably Orwellian, even if it is a private group doing it, rather than the government. I mean, how would people feel if the New York Times decided to remove every mention of Monica Lewinsky from their archive due to poor behavior on her part? If Warren Ellis is right, and Cory and Xeni are the “cut and paste editors of the Internet,” then it matters, regardless of whether that job was thrust upon them or one that they willingly embraced.

Finally, wading through blog comments on this whole issue reminds me why it’s a good thing to keep your conversations small in the first place.

Collage is conversation first, art second.

Warren Ellis very nearly gets at something I’ve tried to get my head around for some time.To butcher his argument, the Web is, or should be, moving beyond the era of linkblogs like Boing Boing “curating” the net. He thinks it’s easy enough getting linked, and that “half the web” shouldn’t just be links to the other half.

But I think Mr. Ellis, who I hold in the highest esteem, misses something: link curation is a type of collage, which comes from the French word coller, meaning “to paste.” So when he writes, “Cory and Xeni [of Boing Boing] are the copy/paste editors for the internet,” he’s actually describing what they do as collage.

Linkblogging is only one kind of collage, or more broadly assemblage, which some people have begun to think of as art. We all know, or have been, that guy who thinks that his mix tapes are art, or his DJing is art, or that his mashups and submissions to I can has cheezburger? are art.

And maybe they are. I don’t want to be in the business of telling people what is or isn’t art. But then, if all collage, all “remix culture” is art, so is wearing the right combination of designer clothes (wardrobe design, not fashion design), stuffing your house full of the right stuff (interior furnishing, not interior design), and listening to the right bands are art. Because you’re assembling them, transforming them into something new through combination and personalization. And I don’t want to go down that road, myself: consumption and self-selection through purchasing aren’t art, at least not to me.

So if these things aren’t art, or are art only incidentally, what is their primary function?

The astute reader will guess my assertion by checking my post title: I think these things are a conversation, an ongoing conversation.

Now, conversation absolutely can be cultural production in the Warren Ellis-approved sense: good book reviews, or film reviews, are part of a conversation between the author or filmmaker, the critic, other critics, and the reader or viewer. Mixtapes achieve their power through comparison and contrast, reinforcement and juxtaposition. The best LOLcats, as Anil Dash has argued, achieve their power through a consistent grammar of repetition and variation changing through time. Isn’t that just a fancy way of describing a conversation?

This is one reason that blogs with comments seemed to be the thing just a little while ago. I remember, at the one Seattle Bloggers meetup I can recall attending, that Robert Scoble criticized my metablog design for not making comments obvious. I felt, and still feel, that the best response to a blog post isn’t a comment but another blog post. Now Scoble says that blog comments are dead. I can’t figure out if I’m on the bleeding edge, or so far back that I only look like I’m in the race. (Or maybe the universe wraps around on itself, and I am so far back that I’m in first place. Or vice-versa.)

In the end, it might be nice to separate the web into content and remixed indices to that content, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to keep surfing the wave of remix culture for some time to come, and that the waves will be made of old and new alike. Sorry Warren, the linkblog is probably here to stay, at least for a while.

New York Times theatre critic fails to Spot the Reference?

In his review of the new production of The Bacchae, starring Alan Cumming as Dionysus, Charles Isherwood compares Cumming’s appearance to Shirley Temple and Boy George, missing (or ignoring) the obvious debt to The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s Frank N Furter. So when Isherwood writes that the production’s “insistent playfulness makes the transition to the horror of the final scenes troublesome,” I wonder if he’s watching the same play that I’d be seeing. (The use of pop R&B songs written for the production increases my sense that this production owes more than a little to Rocky Horror.)

In other words, if I magically end up with a couple of extra hours one night in New York, I’d love to see this. (Aw, crap, it ends on the 13th, several days before I make it to New York.  Maybe I come down from Connecticut over the weekend? Anyone in New York want to see this next Friday night?)

Extortion Novelties

I dreamed about a company like Despair, Inc. whose gimmick was not being a stifling corporation but being an extortion racket. Demanding more information than necessary to sell you product; sending followup letters after something’s sold asking for more money; vaguely threatening language in the catalog…

B Movie

Cannibal raid on a spa. Lots of jiggly flesh, and jokes about people marinating themselves for the cannibals’ convenience.

The Muppets: The Musical!

Now that Disney owns the Muppets, it’s time for their new owners to take advantage of a strong property by turning it into a Broadway musical, as with The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

Only the Muppets were about characters, and we may be too fixated on celebrities now. So we need a Muppets musical starring celebrities: Toby Maguire as Kermit the Frog; RuPaul as Miss Piggy; Ben Stiller as Fozzie Bear; Christopher Lloyd as Gonzo; and Tom Waits as Rolf the Dog. (Just play a Tom Waits piano weepie, then listen to any of Rolf’s songs, and tell me I’m wrong…)

Tiered Movie Prices for Product Placements

We’ve reached a technological state regarding the digital manipulation of images where it is possible to spend minimal effort to “clean up” all sorts of visual details, including product labels. (In the commentary track for “The Way of the Gun,” the film’s director discusses having to remove product labels after the film was not shot according to the script; that film is several years old now, and the technology has only improved since.)

I’d pay an extra $5 for a DVD where the product placements were removed. I’d pay an extra $1 or $2 to see it in a theater that way. With digital projectors making their way into theaters, it should be straightforward enough for companies to deliver me these options…