So Good It’s Bad

Dana Stevens writes in Slate about Love Guru:

There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are movies so bad they’re good (though, strangely, not the reverse).

I’m not so sure this is true.  Basically, the point here is that there multiple meanings for the words “good” and “bad”.

But given this fact, aren’t there all sorts of movies so “good” they’re bad? Think, for instance of “morally improving” movies.  Pauline Kael has an interesting comment about this in Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael:

[T]hey thought I was awful for panning the kind of movies I panned, the earnest movies, what’s now called the independent film—the movies that have few aesthetic dimensions but are moral and have lessons and all. There was a great deal of sentiment for that kind of movie at The New Yorker, and from its readers. This was, after all, in the sixties and seventies, and New York was still full of a lot of refugees from Hitler, and they took movies very seriously, and morally. And my frivolous tone really bugged them. …

Today, there’s so much more of a feeling for films as aesthetic objects rather than as morally improving objects. But I was writing for a magazine that stood for moral improvement—New Yorker editorials during my years there could be so abstractly moralizing. There were things there that were so at odds with what I was doing that it amazes me that I lasted.

That captures the point, I think. A certain kind of moral movie could be called “so good it’s bad.”

I’m not sure if Kael intended to contrast taking movies seriously with appreciating them as aesthetic objects. Can’t we take seriously aesthetic objects, even if they don’t have “messages” attached? It’s also interesting to think about how the “independent” label has broadened since Kael said this. Certainly today, plenty of what are called independent films are aesthetically focused, rather than message films. I’m not sure this wasn’t even the case when Kael wrote the above.

This post was started in 2008, I don’t run around the ‘net searching for reviews of bad old Mike Myers movies, but I did want to clean up some of the drafts still lingering on Blogger. Finishing up this post makes me miss my former coworker and friend CeOtis Robinson, who definitely would have loved discussing this question.

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