Into which experiences in life do we enter pure and unaffected; to which we are not predisposed?
We know something about anything before we experience it. We are inclined to like or dislike things—food for instance—and long before we resort to the argument, “I don’t have to eat the whole egg to know it’s rotten.”
Some cultures might not have any objection to eating the things we avoid with extreme prejudice; eating dogs, cats, mice, horses, cockroaches, to name just a few things. Do you know whether you will actually savor the cockroach or dog? Do you take a bite first?
The idea of remaining untouched by a marketing phenomenon, even slightly, in the Information Age, seems improbable. One doesn't have to follow the movie universe very closely to learn things from previews, advertisements, reviews, and awards shows. We are supplied with enough samples of the material to form a legitimate judgment prior to sampling the entire thing.
Further, this (pre)judgment will be just as precise, honest, and valid as that of many people who have seen the actual movies themselves; perhaps even more so. So instead of “the worst movies I never saw,” I probably could say that these are “the movies that, in a perfect world, I would have avoided knowing anything about.”
From even a title and nothing else, something like First Wives Club (1996) conveys enough information to propagate a substantial response, if not a responsible opinion. A current example would be the Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Or earlier this year: Abe Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (2012). (By this measure, it would be more likely that the latter would interest me the most.)
No less accurately, the name of an actor or actress—say, Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand—tips one off to avoid a film because their past roles have left the viewer with a rejection reflex. Personally, Mel Gibson causes my critical reflex to gag the quickest.
“You have to give a movie a chance, you just can’t dismiss it,” say those to whom I have mentioned this “worst movies” concept. I had not realized the staunch critical standards ordinary Americans live by.
The same people who have stood in line for hours, if not days, for Attack of the Clones (2002) and made Scooby-doo (2002) and American Pie II (2001) megahits actually demand from me an impartiality unasked of juries assessing criminal guilt or innocence.
People particularly expect fairness for the movies they love, but rarely has anyone who objected to my “worst films” idea actually waited for me to name the movies. Why? Their instincts kick into overdrive, with an exactitude to which they have no right, sensing that their own favorites, or their absolute favorite, will be announced once I have caught my breath (after defending my intentions for 20 minutes).
Several people, though, skipped the objections, skipped my explanations of the “worst films” concept, and just wanted me to name the movies. Mentioning a title or two, I observed their facial features tighten, heard a shortness of breath, and realized this concept had come into being, in no small measure, to irritate these people.
Not that I have specifically chosen the most popular, like Gone with the Wind (1939) or E.T. (1982), to despoil, even though I'm not fond of them—and I've seen them! The public would prefer I practice incest and cannibalism than to intellectually squeeze Scarlett’s and E.T.’s scrawny necks. Neither would I be inclined to run down a sacred cow, like Citizen Kane (1941), to prove my critical bones.
Lastly, it is even too easy to pick on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) or Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die (1986), to name two films that lost more money on a percentage basis than any other films produced. Neither are Blair Witch Project (1999) or Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) or thousands of others found in kitsch trivia books worth my time.
No, the ones I have chosen will be special. And what finally interests me about these unseen films are the revulsive elements they project for me.
Next week: the list.