This fall I have the great privilege of teaching a course I have always wanted to teach, “Topics in Film Aesthetics: Trash Cinema and Taste.” Jeffrey Sconce has defined “trash cinema” as “less a distinct group of films than a particular reading protocol, a counter-aesthetic turned subcultural sensibility devoted to all manner of cultural detritus.” Would Sconce agree with the way I am defining trash cinema in my course? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, the term “trash” is a useful way to denote the broad and shifting category of “bad films” and as a method for getting students to discuss film aesthetics. We will watch films that have been maligned for their “bad” acting (Showgirls), “bad” taste (Pink Flamingos), “bad” subjects (Freaks), “bad” politics (El Topo) and just plain “badness” overall (Glen or Glenda?). We will discuss what qualities categorize a film alternately as “bad,” “low brow” or “cult” and how taste cultures and taste publics are established. Finally, we will discuss why certain films are believed to have “cultural capital” and why and how trash cinema rewrites the rules about which films are worth watching.
Every week I will discuss one of these films on this blog, my students’ reactions to them, and whether or not these films offer a useful way for undergraduates to discuss film aesthetics as a political, cultural, economic and social construct. This is also a good excuse for me to talk about some of my favorite films.
The first film the students will watch (during the week of 8/31) is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003). The film has been dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad films” and has gained an impressive cult following in Los Angeles, where folks line up for midnight screenings. Last year Entertainment Weekly did a wonderful story about it, which is when I first became obsessed with it. The Room even has its own Rocky Horror Picture Show-like rituals.
Which brings me to why I am posting about this now: if anyone out there (are you out there?) is familiar with any of The Room‘s rituals (I know about the spoon throwing and the yelling of “Denny!” whenever that character appears), could you please share them here? My students and I would be most grateful.
More on The Room to come…
When Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) shot poor, weeping Adriana (Drea de Matteo) in the middle of the woods on The Sopranos it was a “water cooler” moment. When Paula Abdul complimented American Idol Season 7 contestant, Jason Castro, on his singing performance, saying it was better than his first performance that evening—even though at that point in the program all of the contestants had only performed once—it was a “water cooler” moment. And when Omar (Michael K. Williams) was shot by a small time hopper while buying a pack of Newports in the final season of The Wire, it was certainly a “water cooler” moment.
The problem for me is, I don’t have a water cooler. Well, let me rephrase that. The faculty lounge at East Carolina University, where I work, does indeed have a water cooler. And I do have conversations with people when I’m standing there, filling my environmentally conscious stainless steel water bottle. But we rarely discuss television or movies or media. We are usually talking about our classes or our students or about the latest round of frightening budget cuts. In my profession, where people are in their offices only a few days a week and only then, for a selected range of hours, it’s difficult to depend on the water cooler as a location for discussing last night’s episode of True Blood or the newest theatrical releases.
And that, my dear readers (are there any of you out there yet?), is where you come in. Sure, there are a lot of wonderful, thought-provoking, innovative media studies blogs out there (see my blogroll for proof). So why did I need to start one myself? Because I need a water cooler. I need a place to discuss those “oh my God!” moments, those “John Locke is in a wheelchair?” moments, those water cooler moments.
But this blog won’t just be about current television shows or movies that are playing at the multiplex. I will also revisit older shows and films of interest, and will take occasional forays into the world of tabloid media (my other passion). I may even talk about my teaching. Once and if things really get cooking, I hope to invite guest bloggers to offer their opinions.
My hope is that you can read this blog with your morning coffee. I hope that what I have to say will enhance your experience of what you’re watching now or encourage you to go out and see something new.
More than anything though, I hope to have a conservation with those of you out there who love watching movies and television, who aren’t ashamed of the deep emotional connection you feel when sitting in front of the screen. What made you laugh out loud? What broke your heart? Am I too emotionally invested in the well-being of Nicolette Grant (Chloë Sevigny)?
I want my water cooler. Can you make that happen for me?