Sunday, May 5, 2013

Camp or Crap

I tend to have a problem with camp.  I don't necessarily hate it, and can enjoy various versions of it.  There are movies I like, like 2008's Speed Racer, that would be considered campy.  I suppose it's about being "so bad, it's good," which is fine to a point - I suppose.  My problem with camp, however, tends to be how it has a seemingly built-in cynicism toward things that I like, or at least want to like.  Things like Star Wars, for example.  The original 1977 movie took traditionally campy material and played it relatively straight.  Despite the general silliness of its subject matter, it somehow got more than a few people to take its nonsense halfway seriously.  The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, managed to do this even better.  For what it's worth, Frank Oz has arguably done more than anyone to sell me on the bullshit that is the Force.  These movies, even the less-than-spectacular Return of the Jedi, apparently worked so well that *sigh* "Jediism" is an actual religion now:  Yes, even I think that's taking things too far.

1980, the same year Empire came out, also saw the release of Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon.  Written by '60s Batman scribe Lorenzo Semple, Jr., Flash Gordon was unapologetically campy, reveling in "so bad, it's good."  I can enjoy this movie, but my heart pretty much belongs to Empire Strikes Back.  In Rob Ager's documentary Hidden Cinema, Ager refers to Flash Gordon as being "snobbishly ridiculed," which to me is ironic.  When I watch an episode of the Adam West Batman show, or the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, there's an unmistakable sense of "well you can't possibly take this crap seriously, can you?" as if calling bullshit on Star Wars (which it could well have been doing).  It reminds me of the time I read about how after 1997's Batman & Robin enraged Batman fans with its overt campiness, director Joel Schumacher apparently said, "Well what were you expecting, 'A Long Day's Journey into Gotham?'"

I can understand this to a point.  I found that Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises takes itself, and cliched comic book dialogue, so seriously that the movie becomes unintentionally(?) campy.  But to me the very idea of camp often comes with a certain air of condescension, and to an extent possibly even a lack of imagination.  The idea of "you can't expect someone to take XYZ seriously" seems to indicate this to me.  I'm obviously not saying that Star Wars or Batman needs to be treated like Absolute Truth.  As I previously stated, an actual religion has been made out of Star Wars, and I find this concept more than a bit concerning.  My point is, whether it's Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Batman, Godzilla, or any other "bullshit" scenario, I usually honestly want to be manipulated into taking this crap seriously, however childishly regressive that may seem.

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