Worst Films Ever

This from Joe Queenan, via Megan McArdle, seems wrong:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can’t simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven’s Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.
Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again – and again – and again.

Like all good and decent MST3K fans, I consider the worst film ever made to be “Manos” The Hands of Fate, which violates four of these six rules. It started out with an expectation of being awful; its star/producer/writer/director had never performed any of those roles in a film before, and indeed made the movie because a friend bet him he could not successfully complete a film. The literal title is “Hands” The Hands of Fate, for God’s sake. It was completely obscure until MST3K mocked it in 1993, and it sure as hell didn’t feature real movie stars. Finally, it did not generate negative buzz long before it reached cinemas, as it barely reached cinemas, period. So on most of Queenan’s criteria, it fails. And yet I defy anyone who’s seen it – even in MST3K form – to tell me it isn’t the worst film ever made. It just has to be. If it’s humanly possible to make a film more inept, more excruciatingly painful than “Manos”, then the world is a far darker place than I’d imagined.


hilzoy summarizes the significance of this morbid milestone most elegantly. It’s a testament to the grievousness of the crime committed on March 19, 2003 that this isn’t even the worst of the damage done. As awful as these deaths are, they pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands, even millions of Iraqi civilians killed, civilians who never walked into a recruitment office, who never signed an enlistment contract, who never volunteered to risk their lives. They didn’t sign on for any of this: not Hussein’s dictatorship, not the UN sanctions, not the invasion, and most definitely not the occupation and ensuing chaos. I won’t even begin to speculate on the number of lives that could have been saved through a better appropriation of the trillions of dollars wasted in this effort.
In remembering the 4,000 now lost, it’s imperative to note that they didn’t perish by accident. They perished as part of a crime, as part of one of the most brutal wars of aggression in recent memory. They perished because Bush, Cheney, their cabinet and their NSC saw 9/11 not as a tragedy but as an opportunity, an opportunity for conquest. They perished because “liberal” public intellectuals like Tom Friedman and Ken Pollack and Democratic traitors like Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and, yes, Hillary Clinton checked their principles at the door and cheered on the crime for the sake of professional and political advancement. They perished because the media, from Judy Miller to FOX News to every embedded reporter shipped out to Kuwait, gave the invasion its thumbs-up and tried its damndest to help it happen. They perished because the American establishment let them perish. Nearly every man or woman in a place of power in America wanted our troops in a place where they could get killed easily. Not because they wanted those troops dead, but because they didn’t care enough to stop them from dying.
This happened for a reason, a reason that still holds seats in Congress and posts in the DoD and cubicles in newsrooms, not to mention the presidency. This happened for a reason that we’ve yet to expel from power, that we’ve yet to truly battle. The 4,000 mark should be a time for mourning but also a call to arms. The people who killed those 4,000 not only haven’t been brought to justice, they’ve still got the guns with which they did the deed. We may never get these troops the justice they deserve, but the least we can do is confiscate the weaponry that killed them.
P.S. And guess which candidate has the foreign policy team and the foreign policy outlook necessary to confiscate that weaponry? Spencer Ackerman explains, in probably the best reported piece on the campaign I’ve read in a long time.

Decriminalization and Legalization

Following in the footsteps of decriminalization supporters Chris Dodd and Barack Obama, Barney Frank is set to introduce a bill federally decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He’s selling it as a way to focus on real crimes (you know, the ones that actually hurt people and stuff), and is saying he’ll call it the “Make Room for Serious Criminals” bill.
That’s the right case to make, and it’s really encouraging that the presumptive nominee of and two major legislative leaders in the Democratic Party are so progressive on such a touchy subject, particularly considering Obama’s personal history with the issue. But this really doesn’t go far enough. As Ned says, there is a “lack of a single coherent argument against decriminalization”. Pot, especially in comparison to legal substances like cigarettes and alcohol, just isn’t that dangerous; it’s humanly impossible to overdose on, it doesn’t cause lung cancer, and it isn’t addictive in a substantive way (it is “psychologically addictive”, but then again so are Werther’s Originals). Does it seriously alter one’s mental state? Of course; there wouldn’t be a market for it if it didn’t. Is it anywhere near as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco? Not even close.
So while decriminalization is a good first step, outright legalization has to be the goal. Think the opening scene of Layer Cake; I want boxes of spliffs next to Newports and Marlboros behind store counters, vaporizers stocked in pharmacy aisles, and dimebags available in state liquor stores. Taxation and regulation would be in order, of course; even I don’t want people under, say, sixteen toking up, or for it to be legal to smoke and drive. The revenue potential is significant; I think Vermont’s budget could probably be supported by a pot tax alone within a couple years. Decriminalization is good, of course, but it still leaves growers, dealers, and large users on the hook when they aren’t really causing any social harm. It would make a dent in the prison population, but many would still remain incarcerated because of marijuana prohibition. And most importantly, it keeps the pot trade underground, not in the hands of the good people at Altria and RJ Reynolds, where it belongs.
Kudos to Barney Frank; he’s right on the merits and doing what’s politically feasible at this point. But decriminalization does not have nearly as great the social benefits of outright legalization, and its moderation, as a pure policy matter, isn’t really justifiable. Even if the “Make Room for Serious Criminals” bill passes, there’ll be work left to be done.

Big Lyin’

Apparently, while I was gone, Hillary Clinton has stumbled upon a new strategy with which to win an election she’s already lost: just plain making shit up. Observe:

She didn’t misremember the visit; she just completely fabricated a story of how it happened and repeated that fabrication in public. And some parts of the lie don’t even make any sense. “There was a saying around the White House that if a place is too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn’t go, so send the first lady.” Really? I highly doubt that in 1996 Tony Lake, Warren Christopher, and Bill were chilling in the Oval Office and saying, “hmmm, Bosnia is one of our most important foreign policy problems, so important that we’ve hosted a major peace conference devoted to it in Ohio, but it’s too small, poor, and dangerous for the president to go to, so let’s send someone with no role in the policymaking apparatus”. Because that makes no sense. When the Clintons can’t even think of coherent lies anymore, they really have to throw in the towel.


England was pretty great. Sky News really makes one pine for the crappiness of American 24-hour news stations. Sean Hannity may try to paint Obama as a racist and anti-Semite, but at least he was discussing politics; Sky’s top story Monday night was the settlement of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills’ divorce, with the second being Arthur C. Clarke and Anthony Minghella’s deaths, and Obama’s race speech a distant third, meriting a couple sentences. Speaking of the speech, I still haven’t gotten the chance to watch it in its entirety, but from the limited exposure I got in Britain it’s either the second coming of Lincoln or the second coming of Farrakhan, one of which seems likelier than the other.
Other scattered happenings and observations:

  • I made good on my promise to start picking up Radiohead EPs, getting My Iron Lung, Airbag/How Am I Driving?, and COM LAG (2plus2isfive). On a related note, Fopp is the greatest chain music store to ever exist. If I ever win the lottery, I’m flying to Heathrow, finding the nearest franchise, and buying it out.
  • The Orchard at Grantchester is very cool; one can read about the exploits of Brooke, Wittgenstein, Keynes, Russell, Woolf, and Forster, all while eating cake and sipping tea. If you’re ever near Cambridge, check it out.
  • Unless you really love hostel-quality accommodations and uncleaned sheets, steer clear of the Shakespeare Hotel in London. Hedley House in York, by contrast, is excellent, and a bargain.
  • Every train in the UK has free Wi-Fi. This is significantly less exciting when one brought neither a laptop nor an iPod Touch.
  • The London Underground is very scared about people failing to Mind the Gap, even though said gap is usually about four inches wide and thus impossible for all but the extremely underweight to fall into. This is puzzling yet charming in a very English way.
  • Top Gear is a quality program.
  • Listening to an organ recital while sitting in Poets’ Corner and gazing up at Chagall stained glass windows is an amazing experience.
  • Delinquency Alert

    The second semester of one’s senior year sure is a magical time indeed. Some spend it lounging in a beach chairs in the warm Oakland air within a manmade sand area. Others, who still enjoy 30º weather, drop 6,000 bouncy balls onto their fellow students and immediately thereafter go on a week-long class trip to England. So, yeah, no posts until next Saturday. I’ll try to find out if David Cameron is really the preppie jerk it sounds like he is.