How failure works: understanding and analysing the characteristics of badfilm, 1950-1970

Bartlett, Rebecca (2015) How failure works: understanding and analysing the characteristics of badfilm, 1950-1970. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis uses close textual analysis to examine formal stylistic characteristics located in films that have, since their initial release, gained a reputation for being bad. It provides a framework that allows badness to be examined without subjectivity, further developing the concept of "objective badness" as proposed by J. Hoberman. The films examined are categorised as "badfilm", a term used to describe films that are identified, distinguished, and potentially valued for their incompetence. These claims of badness implicitly assume the audience can recognise the filmmaker's unintentional failure to achieve conventional standards of goodness. Despite this, consideration of intentionality has only recently been briefly addressed. This thesis expands further on concepts of intentionality, recognising this as being crucial in establishing objective badness. There is a tension within badfilm appreciation between enjoyment and critical acknowledgement of the inherent badness. Attempts to reconcile such conflicting responses vary. Films may be described as "so bad they're good," a problematic term with implications that have only recently been adequately considered. Alternatively, audiences downplay badness, favouring instead an auteur approach or adopting avant-garde principles as a way of understanding the unconventional aesthetic apparent in badfilm. Particularly in fan-based writing, due in part to the established reputations of certain films, responses to badfilm largely take for granted the widespread acceptance of badness. Academic responses frequently focus on reception studies, considering badfilm in terms of cult, and its audience as subculture. Consequently, detailed analysis of the ways in which badness and failure function within the films is still needed. Using American productions (1950-1970) that are already established as part of the badfilm canon, this thesis analyses textual characteristics that have been repeatedly cited as evidence of badness. Post-production sound is considered, as is performance, the use of recycled footage, and editing. The failure of individual elements, their failure to support each other, and the resulting incoherence have a direct impact on the film and its reception. In extreme cases, the failure removes the viewer from the "illusion" of cinema, emphasising the technical and mechanical aspects of film production. Objective badness is revealed through dual recognition of both the attempts to be good and the failure to achieve goodness, resulting in a film that exposes its intentions and dismantles immersive potential through an inherent, often excessive, "consistently inconsistent" incoherence. By approaching badfilm in such a way, badness can be accepted as a valuable and lucrative line of academic enquiry, unrestricted by subjectivity and taste.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Badfilm; cult film; Edward D Wood Jr; textual analysis; badness; failure; trash cinema; paracinema; b-movies; post-production sound; performance; recycled footage; editing; the worst movies of all time; so bad it's good; cult cinema; intention; incoherence
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Garwood, Dr Ian and Dimitris, Professor Eleftheriotis
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Dr Rebecca Bartlett
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-7058
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2016 09:56
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2016 11:57
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7058

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