There's bad. And there's good bad

You'd look like this if you were voted the queen of the good bad movies.
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The Independent Culture
There are good movies, there are bad movies and there are... what? Some call them good bad movies or so bad they're good movies or bad movies we love, while others simply unable to describe the enormity of what they've witnessed will slide up to you, a fellow junkie, and croak: "You've got to see Shining Through. It's... it's... You've got to see Shining Through."

And, sick addict that you are, you will see Shining Through and glory in Melanie Griffith's voiceover ("It must have been Friday because the next day was Saturday"). Hypnotised, you watch her demonstrate her worthiness to be a spy by baking strudel, and scream (with laughter) when Michael Douglas is cut down by bullets on the German border, only to pop up decades after WWII alive and covered in crumbly ageing make-up and... Well, good bad movies are virtually indescribable, but you know one when you see one. Shining Through is a good bad movie.

In fact, it's practically a template. First, it's based on an international skim read, which isn't de rigueur (well, House of the Spirits is "literature", but you'd never guess it from the resulting good bad bliss-out) but often helps. Clock The Carpetbaggers, Peyton Place and The Best of Everything - these are treats for the discerning late-night film fan whose idea of heaven is to see Carol Baker swing from a chandelier, listen to Lana Turner say "I've always been so afraid of scandal" (ha!) and learn, along with Hope Lange, that a career gal should keep her virginity and leave that damn job when the right man, or even Stephen Boyd, proposes marriage. Yeah, sure.

Bestseller status gives one a head start in the good bad stakes, for it attracts big budgets and big stars like Griffith and Douglas, and it's the senseless we-can-do-it confidence that these things impart that distinguishes the genre from mere junk (anything starring Jean Claude Damme), camp cults (Modesty Blaise, Plan Nine from Outer Space), the deliberate shoestring absurdity (the Troma canon, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Hell Comes to Frog Town et al) and the plain awful (anyone for Liebestraum?). These movies, one way or another, try too hard or not hard enough; the good bad movie, on the other hand, seemingly requires no effort. And why should it? They thought they were getting it right. Right?

Confidence is the key. Take Body of Evidence. Madonna was confident she could out-screw Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (itself a good bad classic, thanks to such dialogue as "What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking" and a certain, uh, air-conditioned interrogation scene). Madonna must have thought audiences would love it when she melted wax over Willem Dafoe's genitals and snapped, "I fuck. That's what I do", but what they did was howl, because stars sounding as if they're talking on screen the way we suspect they talk off it is another good bad motif.

Proof? Here's Mickey Rourke in the macho stupidity that is Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man: "If there is a God, I'd like to meet the dude, I'd like to go hang out with him." And Liz Taylor in The Driver's Seat, brushing off Andy Warhol: "I keep making mistakes. You're not my type at all."

It's the grossly artificial pretending to be "honest", as if we couldn't tell the difference. It's also that confidence thing again. Madonna, Mickey and Liz were confident they could say those lines and, like, their devastating thespian skills would render them deep. Just as the makers of, say, Cocktail were sure that the hoary-old-poor-boy-learns-the-hard-way plot would play with the punters, no matter what the critics might say. And they were right: instant good bad heaven, as bartender Tom Cruise grins and grins and grins, makes love under a waterfall, juggles vodka bottles and says, quite correctly, "My worthless, useless services are at your disposal." Result: major box-office.

Which is to say that the good bad movie can shift tickets. Valley of the Dolls may best be remembered today for the sight of Sharon Tate abandoning her breast exercises with the words "Hell - let 'em droop", but it was the biggest hit of its year: confidence paid off. Just as it would for Fatal Attraction, which refused to acknowledge that it was kitsch in the making, despite including the scene we all dreaded (but secretly craved): Anne Archer grabbing the phone and telling Glenn Close she'd be dead if she ever came near her family again. The good bad movie knows no taste, no standards, no restraint, but its belief that it does (Diana Ross's strip with lighted candle in Mahogany is about her spiritual ennui - not) is what tickles those open to its expensively produced but otherwise cheap allure. The good bad is sincere.

Sincere about wanting to make money from threadbare formulas (Dying Young). Sincere about stars vanity: here'sMeryl Streep in House of the Spirits), blithely swanning about as a 17-year-old. Sincere about its estimation of the world's taste: hey, let's get a few big names to trash themselves in yet another Harold Robbins adaptation. What about The Betsy? Is Olivier available?

You can only agree with the aspiring scriptwriter Pia Zadora in The Lonely Lady, perhaps the greatest good badder of them all. All she wants to do is make art, but instead is raped with a garden hose, lies down with lesbos, does coke and eight nude love scenes in 97 minutes. Pia finally comes to a realisation: "In this business, you can't afford self-respect." Yep - and who wants art when there's always another good bad movie around the corner?

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