Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Cinephile's (Guiltless) Guilty Pleasures

The whole idea of a guilty pleasure movie has always both fascinated and humoured me.  First of all, I don't understand the whole concept.  As definition of the term, one must have guilt toward something they enjoy, and that seems a bit silly if you ask me (not that you did).  Yes, there are definitely movies that I like - that I thoroughly enjoy even - that are thought of, by major consensus, to be films of lesser value - bad films even.  Quite bad indeed.  This is the way of the guilty pleasure.  The only problem is that I feel no guilt - not even the twingiest of twinges - about liking any of these movies.  I like something, I like it - no matter what others may say - and therefore, no guilt dammit.  Now for the purpose of such an act as naming one's so-called guilty pleasures (which is, after all, why we are all gathered here right now) I suppose I can fib a little and pretend I have guilt from my cinematic likes and desires.  Who is it going to hurt anyway.

Now I also must mention about now why I am even doing this in the first place.  You see, the fine folks over at the Classic Movie Blog Association are hosting a Guilty Pleasures Blogathon from September 18th to the 20th.  Now apparently one must be a member of this fine organization in order to participate (and there are many great classic movie blogs entering the bloggy fray) but alas, I am not a member.  I figure my output on The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World is about 60/40 in favour of classic and/or older cinema (many reviews of new films dot much of the landscape around these parts) but not quite enough to be considered for membership in the aforementioned organization (not that I have ever actually applied for membership).  So, since I am not a member I cannot actually participate in any official capacity - but as far as unofficially, well...

So without further ado, and in no particular order, this cinephile gives to you his (Guiltless) Guilty Pleasures.

Land of the Pharaohs 
I first learned of Howard Hawks' ancient world epic when reading through a list of Martin Scorsese's so-called guilty pleasures (pleasures he too finds no guilt from).  Granted, I knew of its existence long before reading the great director's list, but I never knew much more than it being one of the supposed cheesy lowlights of the career of one of the finest of all directors.  Upon watching the film (on the big screen) I instantly fell in love with its gaudy cheesiness and audacious kitschy charm.  Fun and romping with sheer giddy snakes & funerals CinemaScopic good times (even in an often somber, dangerous story, which incidentally was co-written by Hawks' novelist pal William Faulkner) this film, which stars Jack Hawkins, Dewey Martin and a young, and quite nubile Joan Collins as the ultimate gold digger, is certainly not a thing that should instill guilt into anyone who happens to enjoy it.  Yeah, maybe it's not the pinnacle of Hawksian cinema, but it is far from his worst, and a pretty damn good film if you ask me, which you are not.  You can read more of my ramblings on this film by checking out "The Strange Greatness of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs."

Flash Gordon
I suppose this 1980 cult movie is on a lot of these so-called guilty pleasures lists.  Granted, one must assume that the film was made to be intentionally campy (there is no way in Hell it was not!) and therefore is meant to be 'bad' and should not really be considered what one calls a guilty pleasure (it's supposed to be corny and kitschy dammit!).  Still though, between the obviously poorly done special effects (even for the time period) and the even more poorly done script (they have laser keys that can unlock doors and the ability to telepathically speak to each other but they still have walkie-talkies with cords and manually adjusted antenna for their time bombs!?) and the oft-times terrible acting (Max Von Sydow's Ming the Merciless and Timothy Dalton's pre-Bond forest prince excepted) any love for this film will probably be met with more than a bit of scorn.  Hot slutty princesses, bravado-wielding Hawkmen and a soundtrack by Queen make it better than it probably should be though.

Yes, this Elaine May film featuring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as a Hope/Crosby duo of bungling lounge singers who become equally bumbling wouldbe cold war soldiers is a bad bad movie.  The two usually much better actors seem uncomfortable and out of sync in their roles, but still I cannot help but enjoy this quippy little bomb of a motion picture.  Sometimes I think that someday, perhaps twenty or thirty years from now, Ishtar, much like the once greatly-maligned now mostly heralded Heaven's Gate, will be re-evaluated and finally thought of as a true classic of latter-day cinema.  Praised as some sort of subversive cult classic comedy.  Okay, perhaps not.

Myra Breckinridge
I am not sure what most makes this 1970 cult film so disturbingly derailing.  Is it the scantily-clad (as per usual in her younger fur bikini days) Raquel Welch and the infamous 'pegging' scene?  Is it Rex Reed's transgendering pomposity?  Perhaps it is an obviously over-the-hill Mae West, mostly blind and dressed in a skin tight fringed dress and long blonde wig, 'belting' out Hard to Handle while being manhandled by a bevy of burly bare-chested male dancers?  Probably all three actually.  A film that is infamous in its hated status (Time magazine called the film "as funny as a child molester") it still thrills the hell out of this critic.  Not that I feel guilty because of it though.  You can read more of my ramblings on this film by checking out "The Wonderful, Horrible Fun of Myra Breckinridge, in 847 Words or Less."

The Silver Chalice
Another film that I have 'borrowed' from the aforementioned list of Mr. Scorsese's, this 1954 Victor Saville-directed widescreen tale of a young Roman artist (Paul Newman in his screen debut) who comes to Jerusalem and learns about love and Jesus and all that jazz (oh yeah, and to sculpt a vessel to hold the Holy Grail), is a film that has been mocked not only by critics upon its release (laughed at as Paul Newman and the Holy Grail by some) but by its brand new star as well (later in his career Newman would denounce the film and would throw parties where he and his friends would watch the movie as if they were on MST3K).  With the campiest of performances from villainous Jack Palance (even by Jack Palance standards for Christ's sake!) just adding to the overall silliness of the film, there is no doubt this is what one would describe as a guilty pleasure movie (though still no actual guilt over here).  The one thing the film does have going for it, among the critical sewing circles of the cinematic world, is the design of the whole damn thing.  Sets that look like abstract museum pieces give the whole film an almost Art Deco meets German Expressionism feel.  Apparently this unique look is the reason Scorsese hired Boris Leven to design New York, New York.  Now who's feeling guilty!?  You can read more of my ramblings on this film by checking out "The Silver Chalice or: Paul Newman & the Holy Grail."

Valley of the Dolls
One would expect the Russ Meyer-directed, Roger Ebert-penned schlock sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to be on a list like this (too obvious), but for me, the 1967 pill-poppin' original (just as salacious but without the purposefully over-the-top exploitations) was a much better film, even though it was just as equally maligned (though for differing reasons).  Hell, I liked the book too (there, I freely admit it!) and that can be considered a literary guilty pleasure all on its own.  I have always been a sucker for films that show the inner workings of Hollywood and this one is no different - even if these particular inner workings are more than a bit melodramatic.  Oh yeah, did I mention how much I love melodramas?  Well I do, so there!

St. Elmo's Fire
Yeah yeah, I know, but I just can't help myself.  No matter how many times I watch this 1985 Brat Pack dud, I can't help but well up with tears.  It is stupid I know, but it still happens.  I suppose due to the film getting released just as I was graduating high school and beginning to lose friends to college or just life in general (I never was very good at keeping in touch with past friends who move away) and setting off those emotions of loss with its storyline, it becomes a surprising tearjerker of a film.  I actually bawled my eyes out when I first saw this film in the theater - when those emotions were just hitting me in real life.  Corny I know.  Heck, even when it plays on the radio (which granted is not all that often these days) the Jon Parr title track will do this to me as well.  Still no guilt though.

The Fearless Vampire Killers
Exploitation cinema at its creepy Polanski best, this 1967 cult classic (of sorts) starring the impish director and his beautiful (and ultimately tragic) soon-to-be wife Sharon Tate, is a moody piece of audacious bravura  cinema disguising itself as a classic horror movie.  With the subtitle (hated by Polanski when the studio forced it upon him for US release) or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck, this kinda groovy, kinda snarky, kinda kitschy thingamajig is a fun ride indeed.  You can read more of my ramblings on this film by checking out "Welcome to Mr. Roman Polanski's Giddily Demented World of Sex and Fangs: The Fearless Vampire Killers."

The Savage Innocents
With its casting of Mexican everyman Anthony Quinn as Inuk the Eskimo, as well as the casting of Japanese-Americans as his fellow tribesmen, not to mention (though I am mentioning it right now)  its rather ignorant take on how these people must speak (like Tarzan in parkas), this 1960 Nicholas Ray film was (and still is) barked upon as an overtly racist movie (though no more or less racist than most Hollywood films of this period).  Is it racist?  Yeah, probably, but then so is the blackface song and dance numbers by such varied classic Hollywood performers as Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Al Jolsen and Judy Garland.  It was a placement of its time and therefore seems even more racist by today's standards.  Nevertheless, this film (Ray's third from final fully realized picture) is a blast to watch, and Quinn's performance (a performance that inspired Bob Dylan to write Quinn the Eskimo) is, though racist-seeming, one of the actor's most gleefully innocent.

White Christmas
Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love Christmas with all my heart.  Beginning to play Christmas music in the beginning of October (Oct. 1st thru Jan 1st is the proper holiday season and I stand fully by that!!) and pretty much whistling a happy holiday tune all season long (I love the crowds that gather at the stores around Christmas time - call me crazy) it should come as no surprise how much I adore Irving Berlin's White Christmas.  Directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, this garish and gay Technicolor musical extravaganza (a reworked retake of 1942's Holiday Inn) may be looked down upon by those who expect their musicals to be of the quality of Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris or Meet Me in St. Louis (my own three favourites of the genre) and may seem extra cheesy to those who look upon Christmas the same way many of today's jaded Scrooge's do, but I am here to tell you that there is nothing better at Christmas time (and there are a lot of great things indeed) than watching White Christmas up on the big screen - a tradition that my wife and I do each and every year.  No guilt at all baby.

Well that's about it for my (Guiltless) Guilty Pleasures.  I could have added more films (starting with but not ending with the loverly cornbally Andy Hardy series or any number of the slew of B-Noir from the 1940's) but I thought I would stop here.  Hopefully the fine folks over at the aforementioned Classic Movie Blog Association don't mind me piggy-backing on their blogathony turf.  And still, no guilt.


Natalie said...

No guilt, Kevyn, no guilt...Hahahaha!!! My goodness, posts like these are what make me keep reading this blog - I love it!

Kevyn Knox said...

Thank you so so much. I'm glad I can be of enjoyment. Always a good thing to hear.

Natalie said...

Say, I just noticed the "Bette Davis Contest" banner thingy on your sidebar...did you decide to join up after all? :)

Kevyn Knox said...

I will probably write something (and help promote it), but I think I will leave the competition up to you guys.

The Taxi Driver said...

Totally agree with your opening. One should not feel guilty for liking the things they like. I didn't realize Heaven's Gate has come into favour on a mass level. I still hate it deeply.

Great post.

Kevyn Knox said...

Okay, perhaps my assessment on the newfound respectability for Heaven's Gate is a bit exaggerated, but there are certain circles where the film has gained that aforementioned newfound respectability, or at the very least it is hated by less people now than it was then.

I personally quite like the film and would place it in my top 10 list for 1980 - but then I am kinda weird, so...

And I have no guilt about that either.

Dawn said...

This is my first time visiting your wonderful blog..

I also, enjoyed the film, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, a campy little gem. Sharon Tate, is beautiful and Barbara Parkins, was perfect for the role of Anne.

Your other picks I will have to check out..

Thank you for stopping by N and CF.

whistlingypsy said...

As a member of the aforementioned CMBA, but a non-participating member in the current blogathon, I think your post is a wonderful tribute to all films kitschy and schlocky. If nothing else, it proves the point that even respected directors have at least one title to contribute to the “what were they thinking” category. I have seen only two of the films you included, White Christmas and St. Elmo’s Fire, and I’m sure this oversight was not prompted by a mistaken sense of snobbery. I have a weakness for campy spectacles and melodrama; I simply don’t recall making a conscious decision not to watch the other films. The background information, inside references and your personal asides are hilarious, and certainly make a great argument that some films are unfairly maligned. A film might be a guilty pleasure, but if it has the ability to transport us in memory to our younger self, with little suspension of disbelief, this boarders on an art form.

Kevyn Knox said...

Dawn - Thank you for visiting (and enjoying). Hope to see you again. I will certainly be back to haunt the pages of N and CF.

Whistlingypsey - Thank you for such kind words (for better or for worse, my real life is riddled with hilarious asides!) and thanx for stopping by. You should definitely check out Land of the Pharaohs if nothing else.

The Lady Eve said...

So glad I followed the link you posted at CMBA. You've spotlighted quite a cross-section of what some might call the not-too-good, the bad and the ugly (tho others might say the creme de la creme of potboilers, camp and kitsch). I've seen just about all the movies mentioned - except "Ishtar." Doesn't sound like I'm missing too much...

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. Glad you liked it. Come back anytime.

Anonymous said...

Kevyn, I feel quite the same way you do about so-called "guilty pleasures," in that I can't seem to really derive any guilt from them. Frankly I find a lot of movies that the majority of cinephiles call "classic" or "good" to be downright dull; we need a little not-so-polished (or, in some cases, OVERLY polished) spice in our lives every once in a while! A fantastic list -- inspires me to want to write one of my own, since I sadly missed the CMBA's blogathon.


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