My Year Of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into The Heart Of Cinematic Failure, by Nathan Rabin
Although we share a first name, the author and I have a very different view of the world and also a different view of what separates a secret success that most people never recognize from a garden-variety failure from an epic fiasco. A great many people are ready all too quickly to pile on a movie for being a fiasco because it is not an immediate success, and all the same there are cult classics that are genuinely horrible movies and that can only be enjoyed with ironic distance and a sense of superiority on the part of the audience. To his credit, the author and I both appear to be part of a world where it is possible to recognize what someone was trying to accomplish and not always the way it was seen by audiences. Some films are ahead of their time, and some films are so tied to the minds that conceived and worked on it that they are not suitable for any time. A great many films that are thought of as fiascos, moreover, are just simply not very good but not necessarily in very interesting ways (Waterworld comes to mind here). And if I have different views about some films and about issues of political and moral worldview, at least the author is a good guide through bad films.
The author, who is (?) the main writer of a sister publican of the Onion called the A.V. Club, has divided a pretty harrowing set of bad films into eight chapters. After an introduction, the author moves on to a look at disastrous dramas (1), including Elizabethtown, The Conqueror, The End Of Violence, W., The Great Moment, and Gospel Road: A Story Of Jesus, whose stories and failures the author lovingly chronicles. There are discussions of disastrous comedies (2), including O.C. and Stiggs, Scenes From A Mall, The Cable Guy, Freddy Got Fingered, Skidoo, Breakfast Of Champions, Dice Rules, The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane, Postal, and The Love Guru. After that the author looks at musical misfires and misunderstood masterpieces (3), including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pennies From Heaven, The Apple, Glitter, Rent, Under The Cherry Moon, I’ll Do Anything, and Mame. Turning to action (4), the author discusses It’s All About Love, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Southland Tales, Ang Lee’s Hulk, Last Action Hero, and The Rocketeer. There are unsexy sex films (5) like The Real Cancun, The Scarlet Letter, Body of Evidence, Exit To Eden, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, and Lolita. Children’s movies (6) are not exempt from discussion, including Pinocchio, Santa Claus: The Movie, and Bratz: The Movie. After this the author turns to legendary flops (7) like Ishtar, Paint Your Wagon, Gigli, Cruising, Battlefield Earth, Heaven’s Gate, Howard The Duck, Psycho (the remake), and Cleopatra. Then the author concludes with a fairy tale ending of movies he actually likes (8), with a look at Joe Versus The Volcano and another look at Elizabethtown, along with an afterward and an entertaining look at the director’s cut of Waterworld, minute by minute.
Is this a good book? For the most part, the author is an entertaining companion through bad movies, some of which I actually watched when they were in the theaters (Last Action Hero, for example), and some of which have at least some appeal to viewers. The author’s tastes and mine strongly differ about the cinematic value of Freddy Got Fingered, for example, which the author considers a secretly genius film of anarchical brilliance, but all the same, the author and I have a shared fondness for bad films and for seeking to find enjoyment in that which others sneer at with contempt. If the author spent a year watching and thinking about and writing about these films, many of which were disasters that found little to no audience, the year was not totally a waste. Not only is it worthwhile to discuss and study failures, but sometimes in looking at what has failed one occasionally finds something which deserves to be appreciated, or which is a success of a niche kind that one may happen upon despite its poor reputation with others. Even in the muck and mire one may find and polish off the occasional diamond in the rough, as the author manages to do here.