Monday, March 29, 2010

THE FIRST STEP IN BECOMING A MATURE MST3K FAN: Is admitting that not every movie they watched was bad. It's true! The narrative of the show demanded the characters act like every move they watched was sheer torture, but many of the films themselves were charming in a B-movie way, or just weird without being unappealing (like many of the European sword and sorcery movies, or Pod People.) There's at least one minor masterpiece in the MST3K filmography (Kitten With A Whip, a wonderful film noir with Ann-Margret doing maximum scene-chewing) and possibly two (depending on how you feel about Danger: Diabolik, which I know has its defenders; I am not sold on it.) There are many solid films in the show's history: Girls Town, Brute Man, Escape 2000, Bloodlust!, Night of the Blood Beast, This Island Earth. And many more that were more cheap and charming than outright bad. For instance I give you Crash of Moons, a movie cobbled together from old episodes of Rocky Johnson, Space Ranger (the whole episode, please watch at your leisure):

See? That's not exactly bad. It's low budget, but it's entertaining enough, and dramatically self-consistent. It knows it's a low-budget 1950s science fiction show and it tries to be the best low-budget 1950s science fiction show it can be. And Patsy Parsons is fantastic as the villainess Cleolanta. So how does one reconcile one's enjoyment of the film being watched on MST3K with one's enjoyment of the riffing on the film? Well--consider that if MST3K is about anything it is about enjoying watching bad movies. The narrative suggests bad movies are torture, but really, the spirit of the show is watching bad movies and enjoying them. The show was always two-faced about this, I think, insisting their movies were terrible at the same time they were genuinely enjoying much of what they watched. As a mature MST3K fan you have to be a little two-faced too, respecting the jokes and respecting the films at the same time. Not to say every film on MST3K deserves respect--The Castle of Fu Manchu, by international uber-hack Jess Franco, is genuinely terrible. You'll have to decide for yourself which episodes to watch on multiple levels, and which to wholeheartedly cheer on the cast as the lay into something terrible. The MST3K films were not all terrible, though, which is the point of this post.

One related function of MST3K has been as a preserver of culture that otherwise would be totally forgotten: Manos, Pod People, Mitchell, and especially the films of Coleman Francis--these would all be utterly obscure without MST3K. So a show about celebrating-yet-loathing trash has also acted as a trash museum (as well as a museum for pop culture of all kinds, my own cultural vocabulary has been greatly expanded by my MST3K fandom.)

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