Bestest or Bad Idea?: MoMA’s Tim Burton Retrospective
June 15, 2009

Did you hear the breaking science news?  The Museum of Modern Art’s developed a nuclear-grade nostalgia bomb: on November 22nd, they plan to drop a career-wide Tim Burton retrospective, after which scores of movie lovers will be indubitably reduced to smoldering piles of enthusiastic screams and hyperventilation.  Really, every day at the MoMA will look like this:

janet-leigh-pyscho-squeee

My breath is quickening, my hands are shaking, and my ears are already bleeding from my anticipatory shrieks!  It’s just.  Too.  MUCH!  GYAH!!!

(…sorry ’bout that.)

Anyways, it’ll feature over 700 pieces (ranging from illustrations to film props and beyond), as well as a retrospective film series, so MoMA’s also discovered the way to beat the recession.  An exhibition this elaborate is going to inspire pilgrimages from the world over, and I highly imagine NYC is going to have to go on Nerd Alert: High ’til April 26th.  I be up on this exhibit like an ornate pattern on Nomi Malone’s fingernails, natch, yet I can’t help adding a splash of Maybeline’s “Conspicuously Cautious” to my Excitement nails.

It’s certainly spectacular to have Tim Burton’s work get such prestigious treatment.  He’s built a career on channeling his darkly whimsical imagination into camp, kitsch, and pop sensibility.  His moviess have a distinct look, and his stories frequently center around the Other as misunderstood protagonist.  He’s parlayed awkward-kid status into an career that transcends niche.  For those of us who were sympathetic to characters’ alienation, Burton built us a home that wasn’t erected in the seedy back alleys of nigh-forgotten cult; we got the warm flicker of celluloid and the buttered-popcorn scent of the multiplex.  Can any other contemporary filmmaker claim such success?  I think not, so YAY!

Plus, let’s not forget that whole film retrospective.  Like most all movies, his filmography will play better on the big screen, but I think a few are particularly well-suited.  Like Batman Returns:

Inspiredly insane performances by Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken?  A Batman movie about a nefarious business man and a twisted scheme to kill Gotham’s first-born children?  The sublime camp pleasure of Michelle Pfeiffer’s vixen-bitch Catwoman?  The undeniable batshit insanity that this was all squeezed into a studio-funded, action-figure shilling summer blockbuster?  Yes, my dears, the 90s were littered with Hollywood’s strange decisions, and Batman Returns was one of the strangest for sure.

But Mars Attacks! probably takes the strange cake:

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Alien Trespass is the New Face of Bad Intentional Camp
March 30, 2009

Before you watch this trailer, you should know that Alien Trespass looks like absolute dreck.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch the trailer; seriously, it’s like a cautionary tale for aspiring filmmakers everywhere about how intentional camp is almost always doomed fails:

When you know you’re supposed to give a bad performance because you’re in a movie that’s directed in the vein of sci-fi/monster b-movies from the 1950s,  there’s no divide between the performance attempted and the performance given from which camp springs.  Camp appreciation functions in part by recognizing the inherent artifice of film as it peers into the gap between the aspiration and the achievement and revels in how this gap tears open traditional modes of reception to reveal something strange and beautiful and new.  In a sense, it’s like coming out of the closet: both are about are the thrill of and pleasure in transgressing norms.  When you close the gap, though, camp has no place to erupt from, and you just have a bad performance.  Whereas the camp pleasure of watching Mars Attacks! comes from its desire to take the material seriously enough to leave that space open, every single aspect of Alien Trespass is a deliberate attempt to create camp; everything is so determinedly bad that you’re just faced with a whole hell of a lot of awful.  

Added to this already terrible bad idea, though, is the idea behind this movie’s marketing campaign.  This mess’ll kill enough brain cells with its shear stupidity to put you in a vegetative state: 

Ruh-roh, you’re now in a coma!

This is completely not funny or interesting (except when the one guy says “I’m really more into sports.”), and Eric McCormack is awful in that promo.  I don’t particularly care to take the effort to pretend that this movie is a long lost relic from the 50s so that I may in some way appreciate the filmmaker’s intentions of crafting an “homage” to schlock.  I’m going to just go with him intending to make a movie I’ve no interest in seeing.  None.  At.  All.

As Susan Sontag observed: “You can’t do camp on purpose.”  Some people, I guess, never learn.

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