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Thursday, 31 January 2013

From the blogger's coalface

I consider compiling The Ten Worst Movies (TTWM) but can't immediately think of ten. Will I eventually meet my requisite "metric dozen" or will I have to cheat, trawling others' lists? Not cheating as readers might recognise it but minor (internal) fraudulences that take the zip out of writing the post.

An arithmetical matter arises. My posts are limited to 300 words (Is it time to re-explain why?) which means 30 words per movie. Take away six words to cover the title and some actor names and I'm left with 24. Oh, oh. I've already written 97 words of agonising, a third of my allocation. More like 14 words/movie now. Not much room for coruscating wit.

Where did the idea for TTWM come from? Because any time of the day or night I'm aware of the worst movie: Brigadoon (Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson). I posted about that nearly three years ago. No one would remember, surely? But didn't Lucy make some comment at the time? She'll remember.

What's the second worst? That awful documentary about "foreign" surfers invading the sport in Hawaii. Oh yes. I cringe at the memory. But the reasons for its awfulness are astonishingly complex. Might I run out of words?

So-called classics often mine deep for awfulness. O'Flaherty's The Louisiana Story is a semi-documentary with dubiously "acted" scenes. Critics (the sort that compile Ten Best Movie lists) used to slaver over it and I once had to watch it twice in a single afternoon. But by now it's terribly obscure.

Foreign films? I watched swathes in my teens and frankly wasn't intellectually equipped to judge what I saw. Come to think of it I saw Rohmer's Clare's Knee in my sixties and couldn't make head nor tail of that. Does bafflement add up to worst?

Crikey! That's 300 words. And I'm nowhere.


  1. I can't say I remember. Brigadoon is fairly awful but then I feel I have to approach most musicals with a kind of suspension of the normal processes of judgement to watch them at all never mind enjoy. I wouldn't have thought it was any worse than many another, though Hollywood romanticising of Bonny Scotland often tends to get my goat.

    Mamma Mia, now that was bad, though I suppose there was a kind of masochistic amusement in watching Piers Brosnan trying to sing.

    Where do you stand on 'Last Year in Marienbad'?

    Two per post would be fine, I'm sure, no one would feel you were outstaying your welcome or anything. You could find ten more in addition to Brigadoon, thereby making a kind of metric baker's dozen (le dizaine du boulanger, perhaps.)

  2. Lucy: Brigadoon is insidiously horrible. Both Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse have essentially urban persona and look uneasy against cheap sets contrived to represent the Hielands. Scotch mist is used lazily by the director to separate parts of the story and after a while it becomes ominous. At one point we thought the movie had finished only for my mate, another anguished journalist, to say "Oh oh, here comes that bloody Scotch mist again." The story concerns a mythical Scots village which the Van Johnson character, a cynic, refuses to believe in. He got our vote every time he opened his mouth. I seem to remember Gene Kelly's screen name was an unsuitable diminutive which Cyd Charisse (never a convincing actress once her legs had been discounted) was required to repeat, over and over, in a fake Scots accent.

    I see that despite your antipathy towards musicals you have allowed yourself to be exposed to a much more recent example of the genre (which I switched off after ten minutes). Was this hope over experience, or mere indolence?

    Two per post. These days, any approval I'm granted is in direct response to the brevity of my utterances and I worry that absolute silence may lead to a susurrus of applause. All ideas, therefore, have to be encompassed in 300 words. Thus I may claim that while readers' boredom may be intense, it is not prolonged.

    I will return to Marienbad in a full-scale post.

  3. I saw Claire's Knee again the other day, and I had that it would revive the sense of awe that it inspired when it first appeared. This time I realise that any awe I felt was more likely as in your case to have been complete bafflement. Thinking back on my second viewing it would certainly figure on my 10 worst list. Checking the spelling I see that it rates five stars on someone's list.

  4. What about that cliché ridden documentary, of which I can only remember: "The great white albatross, winging its way around the bottom of the earth?"

  5. Joe: Had I been offered the chance I dare say I'd have watched Clare's Knee again. I think what baffled me was the contracted, essentially domestic tone of the movie, almost as if one had come upon an episode of a soap which had been running for years and which everyone else in the world knew all the characters and the long lasting plot lines. In musical terms it was a piece with a limited dynamic which said: Too subtle for you my dear, too subtle.

    Sir Hugh: You tempted me in on your blog a few days ago, providing me with an opportunity to show off about movies thirty or forty years old. I responded from memory, acknowledging as I did that anyone could have matched me via Google. Here however is a chance for me to shine without any competition.

    You have conflated (a good word much used by critics) two movies, one a feature film, the other a documentary. The former is an apocalyptic story, possibly about germ warfare although it may have been about the H-bomb (I never saw it), which may or may not have starred George Chakiris, usually a dancer and one of the underwhelming principals of West Side Story. The film ends with a sombre voice-over predicting doom for mankind in which the only thing left living would be (I'm guessing) "possibly the magnificent albatross flying free over the southern oceans" - or something in that price bracket.

    The documentary I'm referring to is about a trawler crew, captained by a man called Juan, operating out of one of the Southern California ports in search of (possibly) shrimp. Here there is a very pretentious voice-over by a male American who is constantly exhorting the trawler crew about what to do next. The cruise is ultimately unsuccessful and the narrator ends his exhortations with "Time for you, Juan, to go for broke down the Peruvian coast.", which entered the Robinson pantheon of bad lines and was repeated intermittently for a couple of decades.