Smile Politely

Rescuing Underappreciated Films from the Genre Scrap Heap

When I was a younger man, I attended college. I got a degree in English, with a minor in German. The particular skill sets involved in these degrees rank slightly above pontificating about philosophy, but well below fixing a toilet or anything else even remotely useful. But while I was in college, I did learn many things.

One semester I was taking a class in apocalyptic fiction, taught by Professor Pickney Benedict (author of many wonderful collections of short stories. Look him up.) Now, this class was being held in about 2005, well before the apocalypse actually started, as it appears it is now upon us. Among the required readings for the class were such classics (to me, at least) as Stephen King’s The Stand, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, and P.D. James’ Children Of Men. I was very excited to take the class, because we were finally reading stuff I had an interest in. Maybe it will cause me to be excluded from the literary/intellectual/not-stupid crowd, but I never gave much of a damn about Edmund Spenser, or Samuel Johnson, or even Chaucer. But I dug me some Watchmen.

But, on the day that we started studying The Stand, a single hand rose up in the back of the class. It belonged to someone whose name I don’t remember, not that I would mention it. Professor Benedict, ever the courteous professor, called on the student.

“Professor Benedict,” the student asked in a slow southern drawl, as was the custom around those parts, “why are we reading a Stephen King book? I thought we were reading literature.”

“And what is this?” the professor asked, holding up the book.

“I dunno. A horror book.”

The professor took a breath in, and gave the rest of us a look. “Here’s my opinion,” he said. “Labels like horror or sci-fi or comic book movie or whatever are kinda worthless. They’re only used to ghettoize fine writers. Don’t be beholden to the opinions of those who have appointed themselves the people whose opinions matter. Most of these people are just English majors who have wasted their lives, and want to make other people feel bad for enjoying what they refuse to.”

In addition to being savage and well-worded in that wonderful Benedict way (and I’m not even sucking up for grades anymore!), the comment illuminated something I have always held dear. Genre distinctions, class distinctions, etc., are simply constructs designed to keep the empowered in power. If we continue to hold ourselves only by what we have been led to believe we’re supposed to like, we will miss out on experiencing the whole breadth of expression.

With this column, which I hope to bring to you guys on a semi regular basis (once a week, every two weeks, once a month, next time we elect a Republican? I promise nothing) I plan to illuminate some of my favorite films that are generally considered persona non grata among the gatekeepers of quality. I will cover one film each entry, and I am absolutely open to any suggestions you wanna see. Just put them down there in the comments section.

I believe there are gems that lie within the film ghetto of stoner comedies, “unnecessary” sequels, and Uwe Boll. Well, maybe not Uwe Boll movies. But I do plan on finally watching one of his movies one day, if only to put all other films in perspective. His latest film has been described as the greatest film ever and the only important film ever made. Of course, these claims were made by Boll himself, so who knows how valid they are. Either way, it does look batass crazy, so I should have to check it out. I might also watch a comic book, but first someone would have to make one everyone took seriously. Oh, wait …

By any means, I look forward to at least trying out this experiment. If nothing else it should enable you to make interesting video rental choices to impress/push away your significant other. And if I can get some love happening, then at least I’ve done one good thing with my life.

Peace out.

COMING FRIDAY: Pineapple Express, the ouvre of David Gordon Green and the sublime brilliance of the weed movie.

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