Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Birdemic and the lure of awful movies

with 5 comments

Over the weekend, on the recommendation of the AV Club’s New Cult Canon, my wife and I finally watched the film that has become the darling of the midnight movie circuit: Birdemic: Shock and Terror. I’d already heard of Birdemic, which was shot around Half Moon Bay in California—one of my favorite places in the world—for something like $10,000, but had managed to avoid seeing it until now. And reader, I loved it, so much that I watched it twice, first on its own, second with the Rifftrax commentary. Somewhat to my surprise, I preferred the original version, which lets you savor the lengthy driving scenes and incomparable dialogue as they were meant to be experienced. (My favorite exchange comes after the hero asks if he can accompany his love interest back to her apartment. She: “I’m not that kind of girl.” He: “Ok.”)

My sudden affection for Birdemic has taken even me off guard, because I’m not someone who normally goes in for ironic appreciation. Yet there’s something so charming about Birdemic’s ineptitude that I can’t help but love it. The director, James Nguyen, obviously adores movies—his first two films are both homages to Hitchcock—and every hopeless frame of Birdemic is filled with his obvious enthusiasm. As Scott Tobias points out, the underlying premise (an environmental remake of The Birds by way of An Inconvenient Truth) isn’t even half bad. And there’s something appealingly innocent about the proceedings, from the film’s earnest discussion of environmental issues to its PG-level nods toward its exploitation roots (mostly consisting of a few shots of Whitney Moore, very fetching, in her underwear).

And the result is much closer to the urgency of genuine bad cinema than the endless self-aware variations on grindhouse films that we’ve seen over the past few years. Birdemic is nothing less than the natural, more likable successor to Manos: The Hands of Fate, with its long, pointless conversations and interminable driving sequences. (Umberto Eco once pointed out that only in pornography do you see a main character get into his car, pull out of the driveway, and head for the location of the next scene, with the film showing every red light along the way. If Eco ever saw Manos and Birdemic, he might be inspired to expand his definition.) And watching it reminded me of my adolescent love of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I once saw as the ultimate television show, a pop cultural laboratory in which the tropes and vocabulary of an entire civilization could come out to play.

In a way, that’s the real virtue of bad cinema: it puts a spotlight on a culture to an extent that great filmmaking rarely can. Birdemic is the bad movie we all deserve: achingly well-intentioned, squeaky clean, and seduced by the false promises of CGI. And your enthusiastic response to a bad movie can tell you more about yourself than your reactions to a masterpiece. To name just two of my own favorites: Beyond the Sea is jawdroppingly misguided, but there’s something seductive about Kevin Spacey’s vision of himself as the ultimate pop crooner, greater even than Bobby Darin, that cuts to the heart of what stardom and show business is all about. And Angels & Demons is a travesty, but also a summation of the overproduced blockbuster thriller, sumptuous, gorgeous, and without a thought in its pretty head. Birdemic is much more modest, but it tells us more about the underlying dream of all filmmaking, which is that a man with $10,000 and a movie camera can make a masterpiece. Or, failing that, at least Birdemic.

5 Responses

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  1. Wow, this is my favourite piece you’ve ever written.

    It says a LOT about you.

    Nice…

    Arthur

    April 12, 2011 at 9:00 pm

  2. Glad you liked it! Although I’m a little afraid to ask what you think it says about me…

    nevalalee

    April 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

  3. your enthusiastic response to…bad movie…tell you more about yourself than…reactions to a masterpiece

    She: “I’m not that kind of girl.” He: “Ok

    ineptitude…love it
    pop cultural laboratory
    virtue of bad cinema
    achingly well-intentioned, squeaky clean
    favourites…jawdroppingly misguided
    cuts to the heart of…stardom and show business
    underlying dream of filmmaking

    So you speak of dreams and ineptitude and good intentioned virtues and misguidedness. And you love it.

    I now get you in ways that I would not have. “You” came through.

    I once read that the goal of writers should be that of translucency, to be seen. So that others can see themselves in you.

    Arthur

    April 13, 2011 at 10:21 am

  4. Yep, that’s me, all right.

    nevalalee

    April 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

  5. Thought you might name drop Nathan Rabin and his year( ) of flops here. Nope.

    My guiltuest pleasures include perfume, the big hit, and mallrats.

    Wakes

    April 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm


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