IS IT OKAY TO LAUGH?
Last year on Halloween we (The Astor Theatre, under its' previous management) screened John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Contrary to popular belief we didn’t just choose it because of its apt title – we chose it primarily for its seminal role in the slasher subgenre of horror flicks. We thought, ‘Why not use Halloween (the 31st of October) as an opportunity to screen a great staple of the genre that lots of people might not have seen on the big screen before?’ Lots of people turned out for the film which was encouraging. But what happened inside the auditorium wasn’t at all what we were expecting...
Immediately following the screening came a host of complaints from representatives of approximately half our audience. Simultaneously tsocial medias lit up with contrary praise for such a great evening from representatives of the approximate other half of our audience. How is it that one film screening could divide opinions so gravely? Well, I suppose the answer to that relates to generational context.
John Carpenter’s Halloween attracted a number of Gen X attendees who could recall seeing the film many years ago – perhaps on release or perhaps in their youth/adolescence in a home entertainment environment – nevertheless, their recollection of the film was as a truly tense and terrifying horror movie. But John Carpenter’s Halloween also attracted a number of Gen Y attendees who saw the film for the first time, and who found it incredibly corny and overly cliched. When I asked a couple of these attendees about whether or not they realised it was one of the films from which the cliches were established their response was that it didn’t matter – if it isn’t being self-reflexive then it’s just funny.
I’ve pondered over this time and again throughout the past year, especially since the experience has been repeated – a LOT – with other classic films. It’s a difficult issue to broach because, on the one hand, we can’t do much about it – if you genuinely find something funny then your laughter is a genuine response, not intended to upset fellow patrons and we want everyone to experience the films honestly but, on the other hand, we have to think about doing something because half the audience are really unhappy about having their experience tainted by what they feel is inappropriate, disrespectful laughter. Both perspectives are valid, aren’t they?
So where does this leave us? Well, not really at any kind of resolution. But it did get me thinking about what on earth we could screen on Halloween. Lucky as I was earlier this year, to visit the Sydney Underground Film Festival, inspiration (or perhaps a low hanging CGI bird) hit me. If Halloween seems to be an evening where people want to get together with large groups of friends, have a (sensibly consumed) beverage or two, and enjoy riotous good laughter in our large, acoustically awesome auditorium, then why not embrace the essence of the experience and give everyone the opportunity to truly – and importantly – without fear of upsetting others, enjoy themselves? And so, the Birdemic double bill was born.
Immediately stickered with the ‘so bad it’s good’ label, Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) is an exercise in how not to make a movie; allowing the length of the music track to determine shot length, spending little more than two cents on computer generated imaging, using two very wooden people instead of actors to play your leads, and, defying the very laws of sound design. And just when you thought this was as bad as it could get, along came Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (2013) which is pretty much twice everything that the first film was.
Still, even in writing this there’s a little something that irks me – director James Nguyen was sincere when he made both of these films and yet here I am encouraging people to come see it – and go ahead and laugh at it. Perhaps we’ve reached a self-reflexive point of no return? Now that would be truly terrifying.
Written by Tara Judah