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Re: “Vermont Comic Con [374]

Nice one, Eva! FYI, while this is the first-ever comic con that's specifically called "Vermont Comic Con," it's far from the first comic book convention in Vermont, or even Burlington. The 80s and 90s saw many cons -- I was at most of them. :)

Posted by billsimmon on 10/30/2014 at 1:26 AM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

"Jeff Goldblum dressed up like a cowboy just because it's "quirky" to have Jeff Goldblum dressed up like a cowboy. Better there be some kind of justification for that sartorial choice; such things tend to enrich a text."

But there is a justification. Sydney believes he's been asked to join the band. He knows nothing about them (though he tries to fake his way through his first encounter with the gang) and makes an assumption based on BB's first name, that it's a country-western group -- hence his getup. ("You know, I thought we were gonna rehearse...")

Posted by Greg Tulonen on 10/29/2014 at 1:59 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

I was puzzled by the following assertion: "[This is Spinal Tap] is not a 'lost treasure,' rediscovered by fans after failing to receive its due in its original release." Doesn't that exactly describe Spinal Tap? The movie was only a modest success upon its original release (and the first test audiences didn't understand it at all). Its stature grew after it was released on home video.

Posted by Greg Tulonen on 10/29/2014 at 1:16 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

My definition of a cult film is one that operates on a wavelength that registers with only a fraction of its viewers, but for those viewers with whom it does register, it inspires devoted admiration. Clearly, BB's wavelength did not register with you, but it sure as heck did with me (and still does). I find myself disagreeing with nearly every point of your review (aside from the flat camerawork, which: as Bill Simmon notes: Who cares?). I find the story perfectly comprehensible. There's not a single plot point of character beat that isn't entirely coherent. There aren't "in-jokes" so much as a consistent internal universe. This is first-class world building that can be enjoyed cold. However, if, as a viewer, you bring to the table a love and knowledge of comic books, old radio shows, and Doc Sage pulps (as I did), all the better.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Greg Tulonen on 10/29/2014 at 8:36 AM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

That Wikipedia piece makes a nice point about how difficult it is to define the term "cult film." I also appreciate the point about how this minor dispute reflects larger disputes in the currents of art history. That's uncommonly well-observed, I'd say. Seems like you and I are representatives of the two sides of that discussion!

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Ethan de Seife on 10/28/2014 at 3:17 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

If the only qualification for "Cult status" is ardent enthusiasm, doesn't that just mean if a film is popular, it's a cult film? That seems like the opposite of how the term has been used in practice. The best baseline I can think of are the "cult" sections in video stores. They tended to be populated by films that general audiences found weird or actively distasteful, but that a small and devoted following adored. There's a reason Sam Raimi's 1995 western, The Quick and the Dead, is a cult film and Clint Eastwood's 1992 western, Unforgiven, is not. What is that reason? Having ardent fans isn't enough. Here's wikipedia, which I think supports my perspective on this:

"A cult film, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a film that has acquired a cult following. Cult films are known for their dedicated, passionate fanbase, an elaborate subculture that engage in repeated viewings, quoting dialogue, and audience participation. Inclusive definitions allow for major studio productions, especially box office bombs, while exclusive definitions focus more on obscure, transgressive films shunned by the mainstream. The difficulty in defining the term and subjectivity of what qualifies as a cult film mirror classificatory disputes about art. The term cult film itself was first used in the 1970s to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies, though cult was in common use in film analysis for decades prior to that."

Thanks for offering to have me suggest a film. I'll have to give it some thought.

Posted by billsimmon on 10/28/2014 at 3:10 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, billsimmon. I thought that perhaps that post would generate a strong response or two!

While I still don't find anything of interest in this film, I do appreciate your take on it. One man's complexity is another man's incomprehensibility, I suppose, but I feel pretty strongly that the story in this film does not cohere. It feels to me as if it suffered some ill-considered edits at the last minute, and that these edits had the unfortunate result of leaving certain story threads hanging. (From what I understand about the studio's handling of this film, such an event was fairly likely.) Few story actions are carried out with justification or explanation — a good example of this is the ostensible love story between Buckaroo and Penny and its "backstory" that has to do with twins or something. Just nonsensical. Very few characters have clear goals or intentions, and some characters don't even have clear roles in Buckaroo's crew/band; some of them aren't even named or introduced!

I was, I promise, paying attention, and I understand the ostensible sources of the in-jokes. But a film that's ALL in-jokes (as this film seems to me to be) doesn't, in my opinion, provide a very satisfactory viewing experience. It's all subtext, no text. The story is fragmented and unclear, even for someone who has seen this film multiple times and was paying close attention. I actually wanted my negative opinion of this film to be proved wrong by my recent viewing, so I went in with an open mind. Alas.

And regardless of the talented people who may have been employed on this film, it is no better than merely adequately made, in my opinion. Camera angles and movements are poorly chosen, ill-justified, and often unintentionally shaky; the lighting is flat-out awful; and, in that it fails to bring together the story elements in a comprehensible fashion, the editing is inadequate. If the IDEA of the film were to confuse (if it were, say, an avant-garde film), then film style could be said to have been used well. But since the idea was, presumably, to use style to convey a story, I'd say that the style failed. (I don't think that PATTON is particularly well-shot, either, for what it's worth. I wouldn't call Koenekamp a great stylist.)

I don't wish style to be used gratuitously; nor do I think that direction, acting, or story are unimportant to filmmaking. (I admire lots of "normal" films.) But in most Hollywood films, style has a task: to tell the story. In this film, that task is unrealized.

As for my initial question ("What makes a film a cult film?"), I strongly believe that the size of a film's cult does not affect that film's cul status. What matters is that it has a devoted following. I'm posing the question as one of KIND; you suggest that it's one of DEGREE, but I don't think that's the right approach. Few films have followings as devoted as those in the STAR WARS or LOTR series, so why shouldn't we call them cults? Obscurity, in other words, is not a necessary characteristic for cult status, in my opinion; ardent enthusiasm is. In fact, ardent enthusiasm is the ONLY qualification, I'd argue, that matters here.

I see what's SUPPOSED to be great about BUCKAROO BANZAI. I just don't find it to be great, or even good. Quotable one-liners and a general sense of "weirdness" isn't enough. I need a little more substance!

Thank you for reading and commenting on the column. We might disagree on this film, but I really enjoy having a dialogue about movies. Care to suggest a film for an upcoming "What I'm Watching"? I'll happily take a look at anything you suggest!

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Ethan de Seife on 10/28/2014 at 2:38 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Hong Kong Cavaliers Forever! Without BB, I doubt we would have had Lithgow on "3rd Rock From the Sun," so potentially no Joseph Gordon Levitt! Jeff Goldblum is a god-damn national treasure, and BB is one of the many reasons why. At heart, I think "Guardians of the Galaxy" owes more to BB than it does to "Star Wars." If loving BB is wrong, I don't want to bother being right. BB was my first film cult, with cool newsletter clubs--I was in both the League of Lectroids for Lizardo and a Penny Purdy club. I had a Ford Cavalier I named "Perfect Tommy." Three things made me think I could live in Los Angeles--"Columbo," "The Decline of Western Civilization" and "Buckaroo Banzai." Ethan has every right to his opinion, but I am sad for the fun he is missing. BB is messy and inconsistent and surreal--and that is why I love it--it has a quirky, organic vibe that is endearingly punk rock to me. I love it as much for the things it ISN'T than the things it is. In a hundred years, it will still have fans, when bigger budgeted, slicker, and more linear films are long forgotten. No matter where you go, there you are, and I stand firmly with Buckaroo!

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Jayne Kennedy on 10/28/2014 at 2:35 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

I posted this to Facebook and then tried to friend you, Ethan, but couldn't find you, so I'm commenting here too.

Ethan, ok, yeah, the film is deeply campy and one of the most dated films of the 80s (the fashions, OMG) and I don't expect it to be universally loved, particularly by people who didn't get to experience it in the 80s. And yeah, you're ponderings about why this film caught on with teenage boys at that particular time sound about right to me (I was 15 in 1985, when I first saw the film on home video).

But there's SO MUCH that's great about this film. And while I don't want to be a whiny fanboy who just says, "you just didn't GET IT, man!," I kinda think maybe you just didn't get it, man. At least that was my impression from reading your piece. Here are a few reactions:

Cult status: I'm sorry, but if Star Wars and the LOTR films get to be "cult" then that pretty much makes the term meaningless. In order to have cult status, a film has to appeal to esoteric tastes on some level. If that removes Spinal Tap from the running (is that a universally loved film?) then so be it, but huge blockbusters, it seems to me, are definitionally not cult films.

"Buckaroo Banzai is basically incomprehensible."

It's actually not. It's complex. In most scenes, important exposition happens in background dialogue or comes from characters talking over each other. You need to pay attention. I'm not saying people who miss this are dumb or low-attention viewers -- it's a style choice and its not going to work for everyone and it's arguably hostile to casual viewing, but it's not incomprehensible. Comprehension requires work and work requires giving a shit and if you don't like the film, that's a hard ask.

Example: The reason Jeff Goldblum is wearing a cowboy suit is because he's a neurosurgeon that BB has just asked to join the famously quirky team of rock star super heroes and his only familiarity with them up to this point has been from comic books. He assumes they ALL wear hokey costumes to go along with their hokey nicknames -- the cowboy suit is a dorky over-reaction. The nickname "New Jersey" is a joke at his expense. This info is all available in the film if you're paying attention.

"the film does not use cinematic style in any particularly inventive manner. I noted not a single cut, camera placement, camera movement or soundtrack choice that was anything other than functional."

Three notes: 1. This comment immediately belies your jab that Plan 9 is a more competently made film. Ed Wood is famous in part for having fundamentally misunderstood basic functional filmmaking. 2. The complex narrative exposition described above is an inventive filmic choice. 3. The DP was Fred Koenekamp, who shot Patton and Papillon (among a slew of other classics on the 70s and 80s), two films that also featured "functional" filmmaking.

Actually I have a 4th note: so what? I can name a dozen "great" films that feature conventional, functional filmmaking. Great film comes most often from writing and acting -- and I say this as a filmmaker. Swooping camera moves and clever match cuts do not a great movie make and a lack of them certainly doesn't mean a film is bad.

5 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by billsimmon on 10/28/2014 at 2:11 PM

Re: “What I'm Watching: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Laugh while you can, monkeyboy.

7 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Tim Bobbitybim on 10/25/2014 at 12:59 PM

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