The Avalanche episode is decent, though I agree with what was said upthread about their not always knowing the best way to fill the many blank spaces in action and incident that the film leaves. The best joke: "Tonya Harding in Sophie's Choice on Ice!
Avalanche itself is a truly dreadful film, btw. It has everything that I hate about the disaster genre--the sadistic deaths of random extra characters, the way these films always busy themselves with boring relationship melodramas as filler before the disaster happens--in addition to just feeling lazy and undercooked: the genre was obviously breathing its last gasps in 1978 (or, this first wave of disaster movies, at least) and this movie just felt like a quickie last-ditch cash-in on a movement that already running on fumes by the time this would have gone into production. Occasionally, I come away from some of these episodes with a tiny bit of affection for the films being skewered (say what you will about the nutso Cry Wilderness, but it is certainly trying to be...something), but this is precisely the kind of junk product that truly deserves the thrashing the show gives it.
― iCloudius (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 9 January 2018 03:46 (seven months ago) Permalink
Watched the Starcrash episode today. My favourite thing about it was that I wasn't always sure if some of the Southern (???) robot's lines were actually in the film or just part of the riffing.
Whatever they paid Plummer, it wasn't enough.
― Dangleballs and the Ballerina (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 27 March 2018 00:44 (four months ago) Permalink
"...halt the flow of TIME!"
― Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 27 March 2018 01:28 (four months ago) Permalink
i love Starcrash. it is worth watching without riffs imo. if you decide to do so there is an extended international cut that is even funnier, as some scenes were cut short and there are additional lines/reactions.
also it's kind of funny that Star Wars has now ripped off Starcrash.
― Hazy Maze Cave (Adam Bruneau), Tuesday, 27 March 2018 14:07 (four months ago) Permalink
this podcast on WFMU, Night People, has an interview with Joel Hodgson from September 29, 2014:
in the interview he says he initially got the idea for the show from an illustration in the gatefold art for Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" LP. the image in question:
― Hazy Maze Cave (Adam Bruneau), Friday, 22 June 2018 17:32 (one month ago) Permalink
Yup, been part of the lore for a while -- nice to see this again though!
― Ned Raggett, Friday, 22 June 2018 17:37 (one month ago) Permalink
― Evan, Friday, 22 June 2018 18:19 (one month ago) Permalink
I was probably wrong to side with Fujiwara upthread. These days, I dig MST3K a little bit more than the entire concept of movies.― Eric H., Friday, November 2, 2007 1:28 PM (ten years ago)
The pendulum. It always swings.
― I Never Promised You A Hose Harden (Eric H.), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:10 (three weeks ago) Permalink
(Informed by a re-read of the infamous article.)
Which I'm posting here in its fullness because it's no longer on the original site, far as I can tell.
One sign of the death of the cinema is the zombie-like persistence of the "bad film" cult that rose to public-nuisance status in the late Seventies, feasting noisily on things like the Ed Wood films. From the start, this was just an especially obnoxious manifestation of a general intolerance for films that try to free themselves from the dominant mode of cinematic realism.Thus it's but a short step from sneering at the budgetary deficiencies of Plan 9 from Outer Space to scoffing at, e.g.:
1. Any non-state-of-the-art special effects and visions of the future, even though these things date themselves anyway from period to period, and future generations may find Independence Day less "realistic" (whatever that will mean) than the 1956 aliens-smash-the-state programmer of which it is an unacknowledged remake, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers;
2. Overtly non-realistic visual and acting style used for expressive purposes, as in Soviet master S. M. Eisenstein's outrageous Ivan the Terrible, which uses actors' bodies as components of a delirious architecture;
3. "Implausible" plots like Vertigoâ€”as if we're supposed to ignore the holes in the stories Hollywood tells now just because men don't wear ties to walk around the block and no shot lasts longer than 1.4 secondsâ€”and "banal" ones like the potboiler-like thriller stories from which Orson Welles made his superb Lady from Shanghai, and Touch of Evilâ€”as if Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes working together could have come up with an original story or cared less about it;
4. Mythic dialogue and situations like those in Rebel Without a Cause and Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life, whose emotional power intimidates audiences lulled by the rituals of appeasement enacted in nighttime soap operas.
The irrelevant yocks that frequently greet the films just mentioned when they show at a revival house or a college auditorium are the voice of a viewing public paralyzed by fear, desperate for any externalization of a comforting "distance" to protect them from recognizing their own anxieties writ large in the image unspooling from the past not dead enough to suit them.
Such a distance is abundantly provided by the robots on the cable (now also broadcast-syndicated) show Mystery Science Theater 3000, devoted to stomping on "the worst movies ever made." The big gimmick (the "plot" behind which isn't worth explaining) is that these robots are sitting in a mockup of a theater and we the lucky TV audience are watching the films from over their shoulders and ostensibly being entertained by their scornful running commentary. The numbing, irritating effect thus achieved is not unlike watching a Josef vos Sternberg film in the eighth row of the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square the week after midterms. What is most amazing about MST3K (the acronyum preferred by the show's adherents) is that the robots can blather on for an hour without saying anything witty or interestingâ€”and people can't get enough of them! (As of this writing, MST3K, which has been in hiatus, is due to be "revived" in new episodes [it wasâ€”ed]; meanwhile, the repeats are still shown contantly on Comedy Central.)
(A similar dead-end sensation can be found by watching what is supposed to pass for heady, unsettling stuff in recent cinema. I refer to the ubiquitous superficial irony that has become the stock-in-trade of Robert Altman, the Coen Brothers, and many less skillful directors, the maddening profusion of brain-eating detail in one of Terry Gilliam's nasty conceits, and the pompous theatricalized events of Peter Greenaway.)
I'd like one of the misties (in-group code for the shows devotees) to explain to me (a letter in care of the editor of this magazine will do, thanks) why if these mechanical creeps are such Oscar Wildes don't they take on something just a bit juicier, a tad more worthy of their withering satire than The Beasts of Yucca Flats. What about, say, Fellini's La Dolce Vita? There's a film that has everything the robots love to disdain: pretentious dialogue, long dull stretches, and people with funny clothes and big asses. Obviously, the contempt for cinema, history, and the audience that fuels the whole robot insanity can be applied to low-budget horror and exploitation filmmaking.
MST3K isn't really about "bad movies" anyway. This is proved by the choice of 1955's This Island Earth as the film basted in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, the recent theatrical spinoff from the show. In a kinder, gentler era of genre film appreciation (whose tone was set by Forrest J. Ackerman, the benevolent editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland), This Island Earth was regarded as a classic. Whatever you think about the film, to rank it one of "the worst movies ever made" is clearly absurd. Of the 30,000 features released in the United States from 1915 to 1960, This Island Earth is probably in the top 3,000-4,000. Considering that countless films have been made since (most of them bad in ways that could scarcely have been imagined in 1955), I would guess that This Island Earth is sitting comfortably in the top five percent of all films.
(That's right, I'm saying that 19 out of every 20 films are worse than This Island Earth. Prove me wrong.) Why pick on This Island Earth? To raise the intellectual stakes a little ? Probably notâ€”it's doubtful that many members of the intended audience of MST3K:TM had ever heard of This Island Earth or could distinguish it from Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Anyway, the level of humor in MST3K:TM is preposterously low: roughly a third of the robots' remarks are alarmed, sniggering references to homosexuality, putdowns of the hero's sidekick's virility, and other manifestations of male adolescent sex-role anxiety. (Another third are mostly farting and toilet jokes, which possibly belong to the same category.) In its treatment of Faith Domergue's sexy scientist, This Island Earth may betray what we now recognize as the sexism of the Fifties, but what are we to make of the fact that the woman aboard the MST3K spacceship is a maternal vacuum cleaner with no arms? MST3K is obsessed with sexuality and afraid of it. The absence of women highlights the show's treehouse psychology.
MST3K's use of robots for heroes is no accident. MST3K's sarcasm at the expense of the past is techno-elitism at its most self-congratulatory, asserting mastery through acts of cultural misrecognition. Perhaps the reason the MST3K people despise so much that they choose to mount an attack on it in the nation's theaters is that they're disturbed by the way the film reduces the unimaginable future of interplanetary communication to the level of an erector set. MST3K's creators, who resemble science nerds using their first grant as an excuse to lord it over their former peers, would probably be thrilled to be drafted for a totalitarian planet's nuclear program (the fate of the protagonists of This Island Earth).
The robots on the bottom of the MST3K screen are scotomas that indicate a more fundamental visual disturbance, the inability to see anything in films except the same things over and over again: hot women, men who match masculine stereotypes either too well or not enough, and supposed defects of representation (too slow, too cheap-looking, not realistic enough, etc.).
Then there's The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. Just as MST3K represents a depressing low in "golden turkey" television, TMST3KACEG marks a stupefying new milestone in "golden turkey" film books by having no information about any film, apart from short, inaccurate plot summaries. Instead, the book recounts supposed highlights of the robots' parasitic interventions and explains how the robots behind the robots "strived to make [the films] funny." Readers are thus treated to 172 large-format, haute-design pages filled with pointless descriptions of robot skits and unreadable writing-room anecdotes ("I recall this episode as being the first time we decided to write sketches having nothing to do with the movie..." â€”from the section on Monster a-Go-Go). Nauseatingly self-important, TMST3KACEG leaves wide open the door I wish had remained shut; I expect to see a new wave of film books that focus on the writers' bus rides home.
The book exposes the cluelessness behind the smug sensibility evident on the show. MST3K writer Kevin Murphy proclaims reverence for Frank Zappa (and in real goo-talk yet: "When all his tapes are played and his music is studied, I'm guessing he'll go down as one of the finest composers and performers of the century," p. 109) but makes fun of an angry viewer for wanting to hear Eddie Cochran in Untamed Youth without robots talking (p.16). It makes sense that someone who thinks it's cool to put robots in front of The Killer Shrews would have no problem revealing in print that he thinks the composer of "Don't Eat Yellow Snow" and "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast" is a greater artist than the man who recorded "Something Else" and "Nervous Breakdown."
There's nothing new about MST3Kâ€”it's just a tasteless crossbreeding of the tradition of the TV horror host (Zacherle, Ghoulardi, the Ghoul, Elvira) and the "Golden Turkey" way of misreading films that was codified by inane right-wing reviewer Michael Medved and his equally vapid brother, Harry. All this comes indirectly from the surrealists, but the MST3K robots, following their idols the Medveds rather than AndrÃ© Breton and Ado Kyrou, deny and trivialize the power of strange films to disturb, confuse, and give hope.
It's time the "bad movies" movement died a quiet death. This goes not just for MST3K-style vendettas against low-budget films but also for the would-be more sophisticated "camp" onslaught against glossy major productions like "Valley of the Dolls" and the Delmer Daves-Troy Donahue cycle (A Summer Place, Susan Slade, etc.). Of the many possible ways of enjoying a film that deviates from standard criteria of adequacy, the least interesting is to treat it as a source of unintentional humor. Robot Monster, The Sinister Urge, The Brain That Wouldn't Die, Hercules and the Captive Women, It Conquered the World, Attack of the Giant Leeches, Aleksandr Ptushko's fantasy filmsâ€”"bad" as some of these films may be (although many of them are, in fact, "good"), all of them will be admired long after their potential for robot humor has been exhausted (i.e., starting right now) for the unique aesthetic experiences , strange personal visions, and precious cultural documentation they offer.
Someone should invent MST3K glasses with the robots printed on the bottoms of the lenses for people to wear to movies, except that it would be unnecessary, since the robots are already built into the cognitive and aesthetic faculties of an entire culture. MST3K assumes its audienes are so impotent that they can't enjoy even "bad" films first hand but can derive pleasure from them only over the shoulders of robots.
― I Never Promised You A Hose Harden (Eric H.), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:16 (three weeks ago) Permalink
Still think he has no idea about how comedy can work, but if it was just the newer incarnation of the show he was addressing I'd be more understanding.
― Ned Raggett, Friday, 27 July 2018 16:19 (three weeks ago) Permalink
Reads like early eruption of the contemporary irony backlash
― devops mom (silby), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:22 (three weeks ago) Permalink
I recall reading some article or maybe just Dr Morbius complaining about young people laughing inappropriately during movies and maybe that’s to do with our irony-poisoned culture but it might also be perfectly okay to just laugh at anything, idk.
― devops mom (silby), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:25 (three weeks ago) Permalink
it's ok not to like mst3k, fella. more for the rest of us. never read that article before, but what a load. "vendettas"!!! lol. ned's right, though. he should've waited a few years and tried to stomach rifftrax and the others. just zapping all the fun out of the whole thing. imo.
― andrew m., Friday, 27 July 2018 16:32 (three weeks ago) Permalink
Hercules and the Captive Women and "precious cultural documentation" in the same sentence.
― andrew m., Friday, 27 July 2018 16:34 (three weeks ago) Permalink
I do think there's something there tbh.
― I Never Promised You A Hose Harden (Eric H.), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:39 (three weeks ago) Permalink
Head writer of season 11 Elliot Kalan pointed out on an episode of his podcast The Flop House that the truth is you can make fun of any movie, not only “bad” movies. Which seems perfectly true. Maybe it’s distancing but it’s also a potentially cogent formalist close reading of the artifice of film. The robot shadows make the film-object obvious, and prevent us from falling into the experience as we would otherwise—certainly that is a distancing mechanism. But it also facilitated the analysis of a movie as a collage of parts. Busting apart the temporal continuity and spatial totality of the film-viewing experience makes it possible to riff on—that is, to read—the component elements that a film is built of. Each cliche, type, washed-up movie star, technical infelicity can be riffed on, and the spectacle thereby disassembled. Surely not the only way to read a movie, but it’s a way.We just watched all the Hammer Draculas at my house in the last month or so (though I only caught about half of them) and it was impossible to resist the temptation to ironize. The red paint and raspberry jam are tough to take at face value. Christopher Lee as Dracula isn’t just Dracula, he is “Christopher Lee as Dracula”. Heck they even reused the name “Paul” in two consecutive movies. But irony-poisoned though we were we weren’t dismissing these movies or rendering them inert. Isn’t it more condescending to talk about the raspberry jam without laughing? Can you even see it without laughing about it?
― devops mom (silby), Friday, 27 July 2018 16:41 (three weeks ago) Permalink
The biggest failure of the essay is not thinking the robots are ever funny, and/or that the jokes are always about how the movie is bad. The latter are usually the weakest and least-loved lines, I think.
― This is a total Jeff Porcaro. (Doctor Casino), Friday, 27 July 2018 18:00 (three weeks ago) Permalink
when it comes to consumer policing (telling you HOW you should be consuming something) people tend start from a bad premise (ie. MST3K is about making fun of bad movies for being bad) and just line up the dots. add in further bad consumption evidence (gasp - he likes Zappa!) and let your lazy assumptions do the rest.
MST3K is about more than ha ha it's bad. i don't think it's about distance necessarily either, often the shitty b movies that fill their schedule were made to best be appreciated in between makeout sessions, the plots and characters all stock for economy of production and story, etc. ironically some of the best riffs are when they get even more invested in the story than is to be expected, asking questions that the filmmakers didn't consider necessary or important to explain.
― Hazy Maze Cave (Adam Bruneau), Saturday, 28 July 2018 15:56 (three weeks ago) Permalink
yes. i also think it's important to keep in mind that the creators had been weaned on these films/genres/archetypes. as gen x-ers growing up amid the three networks plus UHF stations, they actually would have sat around watching this stuff as the late-night movie, not to mention all the stuff that actually came out when they were kids/teens and was targeted at them in the first place. they've inhabited these films, their values, their pacing, their sense of what counts for plot or characterization. it's not as simple as digging up something they know nothing about and adopting an easy, distant attitude of superiority. maybe with some of the really, really old shorts, or I Accuse My Parents, i guess, but pretty sure they probably encountered that stuff in the course of life too.
― This is a total Jeff Porcaro. (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 28 July 2018 21:29 (three weeks ago) Permalink
Head writer of season 11 Elliot Kalan pointed out on an episode of his podcast The Flop House that the truth is you can make fun of any movie, not only “bad” movies. Which seems perfectly true.
― devops mom (silby)
you can make fun of every kind of movie, but as the mst3k writers point out in the book fujiwara takes such offense to, not every film is equally amenable to an mst3k-style treatment - and the criterion which makes a film amenable to it is not "badness". comedies, for instance, fare poorly, as do dialogue-heavy films.
the political critique fujiwara makes is fairly muddled, as political critiques of this sort tend to be. mike nelson, the longtime head writer, has long been publicly known as a conservative, and presumably as a result of conflicts within the show - frank conniff, for instance, is decidedly _not_ a conservative - the show tends to pull back from overt political elements, a stance which was possible in the '90s in a way it isn't now. which doesn't keep them from spending the bulk of an early episode filmed from a heinlein script taking apart its toxic masculinism.
honestly i'd say far from being an either/or thing, mst3k operates more on what tvtropes would refer to as a sliding scale of idealism vs. cynicism - the show can be harsh and brutal in its condemnation, but never as harsh and brutal as a film like "five the hard way" itself - a film which showed another limitation to the show. in this sense the comedy of the show reminds one of the work of someone like james branch cabell, a popular satirist of the 1930s whose work is famously said to have gone out of vogue because there was no room for someone like hitler in his world.
personally i find it useful to understand mst3k in the context of uncritical fan acceptance and adoration. to be a sci-fi fan in those days required one to love crap in a way that it doesn't these days. i am reminded of colin baker's pushback against fans who said they "loved" the bad special effects in the series - "you didn't love them, you tolerated them". this divide is precisely what separates mst3k from frank zappa's "cheepnis" ethos - attempting to make a deliberately bad film, as zappa did multiple times, tends to turn out unutterably awful. whatever one can say of mst3k, hopefully one can acknowledge that it is several orders of magnitude superior to something like the film of _uncle meat_.
in any case, i'd rather watch the mst3k version of fucking castle of fu manchu again than read another listless example of thundering against like fujiwara's. it's a toss-up between fujiwara's articles and _uncle meat_.
― Arch Bacon (rushomancy), Sunday, 29 July 2018 01:40 (three weeks ago) Permalink