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From the Wire: On 'the Myth' of So-Bad-It's-Good

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire November 6, 2012 at 1:37PM

If we love a movie, how can it be bad?
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"Miami Connection."
"Miami Connection."

A few years ago, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson paid $50 bucks on eBay for a print of an unreleased action movie called "Miami Connection," a charmingly inept action vehicle made by and starring tae kwon do master Y.K. Kim. Now Drafthouse Films is distributing the movie in theaters and putting it out on Blu-ray, while the film itself is being hailed by critics as a new cult classic. The movie is full of technical goofs and blunders -- its alternate title, for example, is "Escape From Miami," even though the movie is set almost entirely in Orlando -- but in an interesting piece for Wired, Carlson makes it clear that he doesn't consider "Miami Connection" "so-bad-it's-good." In fact, he rejects the very notion of so-bad-it's-good viewership. "If a movie entertains us," he writes, "then it's good:"

"The majority of us look to movies primarily for amusement and distraction. When a film hits both of those targets -- with or without the training wheels of irony -- it succeeds. There’s a very rare and real magic to anything that truly captures our attention and burrows into our skulls. Ed Wood’s 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' was released more than 50 years ago and we still refer to it as the immortal grandaddy of low-rent cinema. It was made by a handful of arduous, dedicated friends under the guidance of a penniless, uniquely untalented visionary. Will equally hated, modern-day $100,000,000 epics like 'Watchmen,' 'Gamer' or 'Jonah Hex' be discussed half a century from now? Will their directors be profiled in an award-winning biopic bearing their names, like Ed Wood? Not a chance."

Carlson sees the rise of ironic viewership as an "ugly, potentially lethal epidemic" in film culture, and he decries "predatory movie appreciation" that emphasizes "perceived superiority over their entertainment." In my own very positive review of "Miami Connection," I called the film "not so much so-bad-it’s-good as so-strange-it’s-brilliant," but I don't necessarily have a problem with someone calling "Miami Connection" "so-bad-it's-good," at least as a shorthand. Am I part of the epidemic?

Carlson himself doesn't deny that "Miami Connection" is poorly made -- in his piece, he calls it "amateurish and dated." He simply believes that the film should be enjoyed in spite of its flaws, rather than for them. "Miami Connection"'s quote-unquote badness isn't what makes it good; its more admirable qualities outweigh the mistakes. It's quirky and funny and sincere; rough around the edges, but warm and entertaining to its core.

I understand why Carlson wants to draw a line between "Miami Connection" and big-budget bombs like "Jonah Hex" -- but of course no one in their right mind would call "Jonah Hex" so-bad-it's good; it's just straight-up awful. Still, I think a distinction should be made between movies like "Miami Connection" or "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and most of the dreck that winds up on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Sure, you could make fun of "The Room" or "Birdemic: Shock and Terror," but these films possess something a lot of so-called "better" movies lack: deeply personal expression.

Admittedly, that deeply personal expression is sometimes truly demented (in the case of "Miami Connection," it's all about Y.K. Kim's intense and borderline religious belief in the almighty power of tae kwon do). But that passion and go-for-broke madness give these movies a kinship with the works of great rule-breaking artists of the film canon. That's something the "good" movies cranked out by Hollywood every single week can never touch. Laugh if you want, but in his own way, Y.K. Kim is a kind of auteur.

Read more of "'Miami Connection' Destroys the Myth of 'So Bad They're Good' Movies."

This article is related to: From the Wire, bad movies


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