From John Travolta to Bob Dylan, from Ed Wood to Orson Welles: 'The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time'
Phil Hall's The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time, tagged as a “new celebration of cinematic inanity,” was published by Bear Manor on August 12, 2013. According to the book's press release, the Greatest Bad Movies “are the films that inspire wonder” – of a unique variety: “You are left wondering how seemingly intelligent people could gather together and spend money to create such bizarre productions.”
According to Phil Hall, among the most wonder-inspiring movies ever made are John Travolta's Roger Christian-directed Scientology-inspired megabomb Battlefield Earth; John Huston's sort of The Maltese Falcon send up Beat the Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, and Gina Lollobrigida; Robert Altman's Health, featuring a classy cast that includes Glenda Jackson, James Garner, Alfre Woodard, Carol Burnett, and Lauren Bacall; and Richard Fleischer's Che!, featuring Jack Palance as Fidel Castro and Omar Sharif as Che Guevara.
Greatest Bad Movies: John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Liv Ullmann musical – but no 'Ishtar'
It gets worse (or better): John Wayne as Genghis Khan and Susan Hayward as Tartar princess Bortai in The Conqueror, directed by former Warner Bros. crooner Dick Powell; the pre-Argo Ben Affleck collaboration with Jennifer Lopez, Gigli; Pia Zadora's Butterfly, a black hole of a star vehicle that was directed by Jayne Mansfield's last husband, Matt Cimber; and Halle Berry as Catwoman in Pitof's concisely titled Catwoman, co-starring Sharon Stone.
Inevitably, Ed Wood is included by way of Plan 9 from Outer Space. And so is Tom Six's not exactly Disney-esque The Human Centipede (First Sequence), along with the not to be missed Liv Ullmann musical Lost Horizon (I'm paraphrasing Bette Midler here), the elephantine Lucille Ball musical Mame, and the pathological Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford sing-along Mommie Dearest, which holds a special place in Phil Hall's heart (see Q&A on the next page).
And finally, some will be surprised to find George Cukor (The Blue Bird), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Orson Welles (Mr. Arkadin), and Michelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point) featured on the Greatest Bad Movies list. But they're there. Curiously, the Warren Beatty / Dustin Hoffman collaboration Ishtar isn't. Perhaps Phil considers the Elaine May-directed critical and box office disaster just a Bad Movie, period. But don't despair: Stanley Donen's comedy-drama Staircase, starring Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as an elderly gay couple, has been included.
Phil, among whose books are The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies (2004), Independent Film Distribution (2006), and The History of Independent Cinema (2009), has (once again) kindly agreed to answer a few questions about The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time. See below and on the next page.
'The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time': Q&A with author Phil Hall
First of all, how would you define a Bad Movie? And what would make a Bad Movie 'great' – as opposed to a Bad Movie that's just plain 'bad'?
A Bad Movie is a film that fails to achieve a certain level of entertainment value. These films are annoying because the audience has invested a degree of time (and, where applicable, money) in viewing these works, only to be sorely disappointed. But mercifully, these films are quickly forgotten after the closing credits.
A Great Bad Movie – or, as I call them, the Anti-Classics – are misfired productions that fill your mind with wonder. Specifically, you are stuck wondering how such movies ever got made, let alone released. Remember that the creation of a film involves the input of many people along a lengthy stretch of time. In viewing the Anti-Classics, it is impossible not to consider that their evolution was absent of a single person raising that proverbial red flag to question problems with quality control.
The Great Bad Movies also generate a degree of enthusiasm that, in my observations, goes far beyond the appreciation of the genuine classics. For example, compare a conversation among film lovers about the merits of Citizen Kane with a conversation about Tommy Wiseau's The Room. Both films are full of dialogue that can be quoted verbatim, but people have much more energy and glee when quoting Wiseau rather than Welles. (And I suspect this might be the first time that those two were ever cited together as a cinematic compare/contrast!)
Some of these films actually inspire obsessions – there's a young filmmaker who has taken it upon himself to finance a full-blown digital restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate. And how many books and documentaries have been created about the Ed Wood canon?
The Great Bad Movies are great – or, as Tony the Tiger would say, “They're grrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!"
[“The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time: From Bob Dylan to John Travolta” continues on the next page. See link below.]
John Travolta in Battlefield Earth photo: Warner Bros.