I just recently watched a movie. I know, I know – big freaking deal, right? Well, I haven’t actually watched a real movie in a while, but that’s not why I’m telling everyone this. The reason I bring it up is because of what the movie was – Bikini Spring Break. Yeah, yeah, snicker away. There’s one body part that makes me put such a movie on my instant queue in Netflix, and it isn’t my brain. The movie lived up to its mindless T&A fun – mostly. However, part of the way through it I realized something. As awful as the thin plot was, and as unsatisfying as the climax (no laughing) was, it actually came close to breaking through the mindless titillation (seriously, stop laughing) and providing some amount of depth. That’s what she said.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten the childish jokes out of the way, let’s get to the meat (oh God, I can’t stop!) of the matter. Now I’m sure I’ve just consigned myself to the “perv” label, and perhaps rightly so, but my motivation for going after this movie was twofold. It wasn’t the boob factor. I can get much better smut than that off the Internet. It was first of all morbid curiosity. The point of movies like these is getting one’s jollies off of gratuitous nudity, so I don’t expect the writers to take the craft of writing too seriously when doing these projects. But long ago I realized the value of experiencing not only good literature and cinema, but bad as well. I typically don’t walk out on even the worst of movies because I can always take something from it, even if it’s simply what not to do. I can analyze what works and what doesn’t as far as scene presentation goes, etc. Sometimes I’m even surprised at glimmers of good writing in these flicks. This one in particular came fairly close to providing a wry commentary on overly-zealous reactions to nudity and other “debauchery” by society at large. Of course, it never quite got there, but I think I have a little more insight as to how it could have gotten there.
The second motivation I had for watching it was that the rest of my Netflix queue was filled with horror movies, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching them. I’m not a horror fan. One of two things happens when I watch horror. Either I’m completely underwhelmed by the horror elements (The Blair Witch Project, A Nightmare on Elm Street) or it’s so insanely terrifying or gory that I’m uneasy for a very long time. To paraphrase the movie Crazy People, those types of movies don’t just scare me, they f*** me up for life. Suspense is one thing, but sitting through simulated torture and gruesome murder is entirely different, and not something I tend to enjoy, frankly.
I compare it to my experience with “thrill rides” at amusement parks. I remember the first time I went on a roller-coaster I was nervous before it began and was certain it would scare the Hell out of me. When it was over I was thinking, “That’s it?” Rides like that tend to be anticlimactic to me. At best they use gravity or centrifugal force to put me in unusual positions, but those end up just being uncomfortable and making me miserable. And I’ve never even bothered going on those stupid chairs that get jacked up two or three stories just to fall suddenly. I take great pains to avoid falling in my daily life, and not just to avoid injury. I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of falling. Why, the last time I can remember going to an amusement park my friend and I had more fun sinking quarters into the machines that sprayed water on the passengers of a raft ride than we did actually riding the rides.
So I’m guessing most of you are asking the obvious question right now – “If you hate horror movies so much, why was your Netflix queue filled with them?” The simplest answer to that is research. Those who have read the excerpts I have released on this blog may realize that I’ve been writing a short story based on a dream posted by fellow blogger Mike Smith. The story that came to me was a horror story, and since I don’t have much experience with horror films I asked around and got some suggestions for movies that could help me get enough of a feel for the genre to do Mike’s dream justice. If you read the third chapter of those excerpts you might see how clumsy my initial introduction of horror into the story was. Granted, it’s a first draft, but I really want to knock this out of the park. I don’t necessarily want to become a horror fan per se, but I would at least like to satisfy the lovers of horror with my story.
This brings me to what I hope is the point of all this rambling: I think I might learn more from the things I don’t particularly like than those I do. My exposure to Mike and his daughter Meg has introduced me to some entertainment that I would have never ventured into on my own, including an odd flick called Nude Nuns with Big Guns. Much like Bikini Spring Break, its story was complete trash, but as I groaned through the contrived plot and overwrought acting I was able to analyze what pieces worked and what did not and why. Not being invested in the story made me a better analyst.
Likewise, A Tale of Two Sisters came within my radar due to Meg, although that one was well written. The horror elements were a bit superfluous, though, and clichéd enough that they didn’t scare me at all. Thus I was able to analyze the film in ways I might not otherwise have done, examining each scene’s presentation and focusing more on the subtle things like its underlying incestuous homoeroticism, things that I could emulate in my own writing.
It seems to me that the more poorly written a story is, or the less interested in a genre I am, the more I can glean from whatever I’m watching or reading. Perhaps instead of asking for suggestions as to what are the best movies and books out there, I should be asking what things dwell at the bottom of the barrel. I’m probably exaggerating, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what I have gotten from the stinkers out there. They allow me to stay detached, and that can be good for a writer, I think. As long as I don’t get bored to tears, like with The Remains of the Day, I can probably learn a great deal from even the worst offenders.