Cinema Terribliso: Razzie Awards Founder John Wilson on Bad Movies

 

Razzies founder John Wilson.

Razzies founder John Wilson. Via John Wilson

Why do we love bad movies? From MST3K to Sharknado to The Room to How Did This Get Made?, pop culture has always had a weak spot for the terribly awful. We spoke with the man who more than anyone else has popularized this discussion: John Wilson, Founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards, or “The Razzies.” The Razzies announced their nominations yesterday, one day ahead of the Oscar race.

How do you find time to see a good movie when you have to see so many bad ones?

I don’t necessarily. One of the drawbacks to doing what I do is I feel obligated to sit through this kind of stuff. Some of it like Mommie Dearest is actually fun to sit through. But some of it is awful. I very clearly recall when Adam Sandler showed up in drag as his own twin sister in Jack and Jill. It was a matinee. There were four other people in the theater, and the other three chose to leave. I had to stay.

Sounds excruciating. The Al Pacino commercial for Dunkin Doughnuts where he sings and dances about a new drink called “Dunkacino” was the only enjoyable part of the whole film.

That was one of the more blatant examples of way too in-your-face product placement I’ve ever seen. I sure hope they paid Pacino a lot of money because the way they wrote it, they could not have made it without him. They used his name as the principal joke of the film. And Jack and Jill won all the Razzie awards that year.

Baffleck! Dawn of Justice landed eight Razzie nominations.

Baffleck! Dawn of Justice landed eight Razzie nominations this year. Warner Brothers

Speaking of the fact that it won all the awards, can we talk about Ben Affleck? I saw that he recently won the Razzie Redeemer Award for his work in Argo and Gone Girl and is now nominated for worst actor for Batman V Superman.

Well, the Redeemer Award was designed to show that you can do something of quality again. However, I have to say the overwhelming majority of career trajectory has been the other way. Somebody wins an Oscar or garners a positive reputation and then turns around and does a piece of dreck.

I remember being disappointed that Alec Guinness, who I think is one of the finest actors ever to work in film, did an awful thing called Raise the Titanic. I remember thinking this is the guy who did The Bridge on the River Kwai who did The Horse’s Mouth, and just an endless list of brilliant performances. But I find it more disturbing when somebody I know can do something good condescends to do trash because they’re offered a lot of money. Now if you have taste and you’re going to an Adam Sandler or Bo Derek or Madonna film, then you’re not going to expect a Meryl Streep performance from Madonna.

When you say that it makes me think about Nicolas Cage, who seems to bounce back and forth between good and bad projects almost at will. What do you make of that?

Well, he’s one of those people who he has a fallback schtick that he does a lot; this thing that he does with the vocal chords standing around his neck and his eyes looking like large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. It seems that He is one of those people who is capable and talented and somehow has just stumbled and is still rolling down the mountainside. He hasn’t hit bottom yet.

Do you like to be surprised by bad movies?

I have to say that in most instances, I usually have an inkling if something’s going to be Razzie caliber. Occasionally I will be surprised if one is not as bad as I was expecting. Now the last time I was surprised pleasantly was when I first heard they were making yet another Rocky movie. I thought “oh he’s going back again to the well and it’s been dry for 20 years or so”.

A Golden Raspberry award.

A Golden Raspberry award. Filmpreis, Preis, Auszeichnung / Sachfoto

Is there a bad movie that you secretly love anyway?
I actually love Mommie Dearest because it has every credential. It’s one of the biggest selling books of all time. The star is an Oscar winner, the director is well-regarded, and the budget is fairly high for its time. You had every reason to expect it might be a competent film.

It’s supposed to be speaking about a serious subject (child abuse), and instead, it’s like some kind of world camp festival. I think there’s one point where the continuity is so bad, that the little boy in the movie is nine, and then two minutes later he’s five again.

The movie is a complete and utter mess, and every time I’ve ever seen that movie with an audience, they turn on it. Somebody took me to see it as a birthday present, and we sat in the balcony. Watching the audience turn on the movie was half the fun of seeing it for the first time. The laughter started with a few titters, and by the time she said “Bring me the ax” it was done there was no coming back from that.

Have you ever featured an intentionally bad movie?

The only worst picture winner that I actually loathe, and after it came out he said he made it to suck, is Tom Green’s movie Freddy Got Fingered. That film is so disturbing that I wouldn’t bring my child to the show. I did not want him to see Tom Green playing with the horse’s penis or wearing a dead deer on his head or beating a woman in a wheelchair with a cane. I mean that movie was just sick trash and indefensible. It really it was Hollywood at its worst. And he did show up to the Razzies. He was obnoxious, but he did attend. I would grant him that. But I especially enjoyed looking him right in the face and reading how the Hollywood Reporter called it “the worst film Hollywood has ever made in its entire history.”

I think he set out to ruin his career. And it looks like he succeeded.

I see you don’t feature a lot of kid’s movies or animated films on the list of bad films. Is that on purpose?

Our members tend to skew younger and male. I don’t think they’re the type of people who see those kinds of movies. One of the problems in my mind is that to have a category you have to have at least 10 choices that you can narrow to the final, and there have never been 10 really bad animated movies in one year.

I think at one point when we were compiling the list for this year’s ballots we were considering Norm of the North which featured Rob Schneider as one of the voices. But ultimately we try to stick with stuff people saw.

Why do you think why do you think people like bad movies so much?

There is a certain perverse pleasure in watching something that you know didn’t mean to be laughed at but is also worthy of being laughed at. One of the keys to comedy is surprise, and when something is really funny, there’s a certain shock or unexpected element to it.

When a horror movie goes wrong, it can be incredibly funny, because you’re expecting to be scared, and instead yes, you’re screaming, and you’re gasping, but it’s from laughing so hard. A perfect example of that is Anaconda. That’s one of the great bad movies of the last 30 years

It’s all about Jon Voight’s wink at the end when he’s being swallowed.

That and the shriek that the snake makes when it burns and falls out of the chimney. It’s perverse. It’s kind of like if your mom tripped and her wig fell off. You know you’re not supposed to laugh at that, but you’re going to laugh at that. There’s a certain element of misbehaving to laughing at a bad movie, and the most enjoyable way to do that is in a theater with an audience.

In one of the weirder experiences I’ve ever had, I ended up seeing Battlefield Earth at a Hollywood Boulevard matinee the very last day it was playing. The audience was applauding and cheering and acting like it was really amazing, and I’m thinking “wow what is wrong with them?” As I left, I noticed that the five other people who were in the theater all went down the street and reported to their jobs at the office of Scientology.

It’s funny you mention Anaconda, and that was a really fun bad movie. I didn’t see the direct to DVD sequels, but I can only assume they are much worse. Why is it so difficult to do a follow up to a bad film?

Part of the problem comes from making something that gains a cult or camp following. As I said earlier, I think the hardest thing to do is make a deliberately bad movie that’s still fun, because when you set out to be bad, you’re often going to be bad in a way that’s not entertaining. To me one of the best deliberate bad movies of all time, and Roger Ebert was the co-screenwriter on it, is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. They went wacko making fun of the Hollywood Film system. They were given free reign, and the studio just stepped back and let them do it. And it’s every bit as tasteless and silly and over-the-top and campy as anything ever made, but purposely so.

Do you think people take movies too seriously?

Well, a lot of people take a lot of things too seriously. We’re kind of just you know sitting at the back of the class with the peashooter. We’re the peanut gallery.

Like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets?

Yes. We’ve always tried to figure some way to work that into the Razzies because that’s the kind of thing we’re doing. But I get that when you spend $220 million, and you fall on your butt it’s not funny to you. But the rest of us are going “you spent $220 million dollars haha.”

And I do wish that the industry embraced the joke more than they do. We’ve been around so long, and you know to our credit or denigration we are now considered part of the award landscape.

And we’re not going away because there has not been in thirty-seven years a year without plenty of contenders for our award. I would love it if there were a year where there actually were not enough contenders because it would be a lot less work for me. That hasn’t happened yet

One of the things I do like is to point out what people misunderstand about the Razzies. It doesn’t come from a place of hating movies. It comes from a place of loving movies and wanting them to be better. There are good movies that I absolutely love. My favorite movie of all time and I can practically recite it from memory I’ve seen it so many times is Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

I think that is an absolutely brilliant film. It happens to be about Hollywood, but the sense of humor, the intelligence of the characters, and the smart-ass tone that the principal character Norma Desmond takes were just brilliant. It was a very sad thing what happened to that woman. You know that she had the whole world loving her, and they walked away.

Thinking they were doing me a favor, some friends got me tickets to a Broadway version of Sunset Boulevard. It’s a movie. You can’t do it on stage. If you’re going to do it with music, it’s an opera. It’s not a Broadway musical.

 But the movie stands up. Every so often I’ll be flipping channels, and it will be on, and I’ll stop for a few minutes and watch whatever point it’s at. It’s a romance. It’s a comedy. It’s drama. It’s a tragedy. The only genre that’s not in there is musical.

If a movie’s good I’m not going to sit there and pick at it, but those are rare, something that worthy of praise and re-watching is very rare.

I’m trying to remember the last time there was something I thought was that good. It’s been a while. I don’t recall one off the top of my head from the last few years, but I think they do still happen.

What do you tell people who misunderstand the Razzies and are criticizing it for being more of the same every year? 

The point of the point of the Razzies is not to kick someone in the shin, it’s to say you can do better. That’s part of what the Redeemer award is meant to convey. The phrase I like to use is we don’t consider ourselves a slap in the face we’re more like a banana peel on the floor. We’re trying to have fun. Yes at the expense of well-known actors and filmmakers, but people that are well known because they know what they’re doing. They have a talent for the most part. And it’s unclear if they’re slumming, if they are cashing in, or if they don’t care. But it doesn’t cost any less to see a bad movie than it does to see a good one. And give us some good ones in there somewhere, please. 

Are the Razzies going to be available online to stream this year?

We  streamed the nominations on January 23rd on Facebook. Now for the regular show, we signed a contract with somebody that is still enforced, and it isn’t clear to us whether we’re permitted to stream or not. We were trying to get a broadcast deal, and it didn’t happen.

The problem we always run into is the very same people who have the purse strings to permit it to be broadcast are the same five or six corporations who control entertainment in America, and they don’t think we’re funny.

They keep hoping we will go away. They don’t get that if they were to broadcast the Razzies, they would get the eyeballs they want, and could publicize their products in the commercial break. They don’t get the joke, and they’re all terrified that their film making and acting clients don’t get the joke and that they’re going to make somebody mad. Years ago a major newspaper said that they couldn’t cover us because they had to work with Sylvester Stallone.

I burst out laughing and said, “don’t you get it”? “You don’t need him he needs you. He can’t open a movie without advertising in your newspaper and do interviews with you guys.”

“You have the power don’t you get it?”

Go to razzies.com where you can learn more about the Razzie Awards in addition to finding out how to become a paying member and participating in the very active forums.

 

 

Cinema Terribliso: Razzie Awards Founder John Wilson on Bad Movies