Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Holy Crap! Saint James and the Artist as Anti Hero

 My son wants to be involved in film making and I’ve been trying to educate him as best I can about story craft and introducing him to the great movies.  He’s now running the film club at his school and recently introduced me to one of the most remarkable movies I’ve ever seen - ”Birdemic” by James Nyugen.

(My son would love it if you stopped by and visited his film blog and said hello.)

Nyugen made Birdemic for about $10,000 from his own pocket, shot in his spare time on weekends and evenings over a period of several months.  What to say about “Birdemic”?  Its an apocalyptic movie inspired by Alfred Hitchcocks’s “The  Birds”, in which modern Los Angeles is attacked by birds who look like they’re trying hard to be eagles in an old Atari game.  They hover in a way which is oddly hallucinogenic and poop bombs and vomit toxic yellow . . .stuff. 

Boy, is it bad.

I’ve seen bad movies, and generally they’re just formulaic and boring.  I was spell bound by Birdemic, breathless with admiration, aghast at the sheer density, variety and audacity of crap.  It was wonderful the way eating lard from a can with a spoon might be wonderful.  Imagine every rule of story craft being broken, not by brilliance but by cheerful and innocent ignorance.  This was a man who had no business making a movie, should have been kept away from them by a restraining order, nevertheless filming his little ol’ heart out, swinging for the high fences the way that Babe Ruth once would swing so hard at pitches  if he missed the ball he’d spin himself in a tangle and fall in the dust.  One has to admire it.  It is mediocrity on such a scale as to acquire a kind of grandeur.

There was a time when science fiction was exclusively the fiction of pulp magazines with lurid covers of maidens in peril wearing brass brasseries and little else.  Ray Bradbury complained that whenever he told people he was a writer people would light up with respect.  When he said he wrote science fiction that respect quickly evaporated.  This is an experience erotic fiction writers know very well, if we even try to tell people what we write.  I recently read, or attempted to read, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, arguably the most successful novel of all time.  I won’t go into its faults as Erica Jong does in her article “Fifty Shades of Arrgh!”   E L James is not a novelist, wasn’t trying to write a novel, and no illusions about herself.  She was a “Twilight” fan and was writing fan fiction that quickly picked up a huge online following.  When she moved her fiction from one web site to another a multitude of readers followed her and publishers took notice.  Since then the multitudes have only growned, and the rest of us who’ve been writing this stuff for years have only groaned as well.   I made it as far as page 100 and set it aside and picked up Lisabet’s “Bangkok Noir” which I enjoyed much more, all the more for knowing the author.  Read locally I say.  But inside I’m still cheering for E L James.  She may be the Moses who brings the rest of us into the mainstream so much better than we can.

People who aren’t writers often think the moment a writer loses his/her literary cherry is when they get that first contract.  Not so, I say.  For me that moment was long ago when I was reading a story in a magazine that was just awful and thought “I could write better stuff than this crap – and this guy’s published!   . . . hey . . .”

And I just hope somewhere out there someone is reading my stuff and thinking the very same thing.

SALIERI:   “. . . Now I go to become a ghost myself.  I will stand in the shadows when you come here to this earth in your turns.  And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failures – and hear the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God – I will whisper my name to you:  “Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!” And in the depth of your downcastness you can pray to me.  And I will forgive you.  Vi saluto. 

“Mediocrities everywhere – now and to come – I absolve you all.  Amen!”  
          “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer


  1. Poor Salieri. Nothing is worse than reaching success only to find someone moved the goal a few light years beyond your reach.

    But I suppose it depends on your definition of success.

  2. It sounds to me like "Birdemic" is far beyond mediocre. Mediocre means boring and unremarkable. This film sounds more like "Plan 9 from Outer Space".

    There's something sublime about truly horrible art.

    I don't think Fifty Shades falls into that category, however.

  3. A fascinating post, Garce. I hadn't heard of "Birdemic." Years ago, one of my sisters and some of her friends in high school made a short film version of Frankenstein. (My sister played Justine, who is unjustly hanged for the murder of Victor Frankenstein's youngest brother, which was actually done by the monster.) I wouldn't say high school movies are spectacularly horrible, in most cases, but the epic under discussion was groan-worthy.


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