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Why enjoying awful movies has gotten so complicated.

Why enjoying awful movies has gotten so complicated. (photo)

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The internet’s been abuzz about “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” which stands a fair chance of becoming to this decade what “The Room” was to the last — a film so cluelessly, inexplicably terrible that it attains cult status. In this way, James Nguyen’s movie seems destined to go down in history alongside “Troll 2,” “The Room” and the selected works of Edward D. Wood Jr. The difference this time around is the amount of self-flagellation involved.

Ed Wood — the patron saint of bad filmmakers — actually managed to complete 14 films and one TV pilot in his lifetime. These days, he’s primarily remembered for “Glen or Glenda” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” — not successful in their time, and not even during Wood’s lifetime, but resurrected two years after his death with the publication of “The Golden Turkey Awards,” a book written by Michael Medved (before his conservative-loon days) with his brother, which deemed “Plan 9” the worst film of all time. With Wood safely dead, cult worship could proceed without guilt. Wood’s final years — mired in alcoholism, depression and financial trouble, culminating in a premature heart attack — could be safely set aside, along with his many other films not sufficiently terrible enough to be of interest.

As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, Tim Burton’s delightful celebration of Ed Wood is scrupulously accurate about recreating the films themselves and willfully ignorant about many of the realities of his life — the alternative would be too depressing. This is no longer an option — when the objects of your cult celebration/derision are around to do the Q&A’s, the response can get a lot more conflicted.

Hence the admission by The A.V. Club‘s Steve Heisler, in the middle of a long essay about the evening he spent hosting “The Room” auteur Tommy Wiseau, that realizing Wiseau made the film in earnest and now has reconciled himself to its camp value “was more than a little tragic to see.”

04082010_plannine.jpgNguyen promoted his film at Sundance last year and is now blowing up midnight screenings, and so responses to him are more than a little ambivalent. Over at Slate, Jonah Weiner posits that the great bad films constitute inexplicable “formal assaults,” and so audiences laugh at them because they’re able to feel “superior to the rube who made it,” but also as “a defense mechanism, a means to fend off the film’s uncanny, invasive effects.”

Over at The Awl, Melissa Lasky goes further, suggesting that it’s ultimately “hard not to admire someone who can exist so entirely in his own universe, free from the persecution and perceived criticism of others.” (At least, in relation to the internet.)

I’m not averse to the pleasures of the inexplicably terrible — I’ve seen Cam’Ron’s “Killa Season” five times — but it’s never quite a clean feeling. To celebrate Ed Wood’s work is to ignore his minor real-life tragedy; today, since the relationship of cult filmmaker to adoring audience has been collapsed in time, inevitably it’s a lot more ironic, weird, and more than a little guilt-ridden. These over-rationalizations of enjoyment show how complicated it’s getting to fetishize the awful in the face of its creator.

[Photos: “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” Severin Films, 2008; “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” Legend Films, 1959]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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