One of my favorite movies is POPEYE. I don’t love it from a place of nostalgia. I don’t love it ironically. I love it because the songs by Harry Nilsson are great. I love it because Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall as Popeye and Olive Oyl, not to mention the rest of the cast. The movie is a comicstrip brought to life, and it is, in my opinion, nearly perfect.
Still, for years I was kind of embarrassed about my love for what so many look at as a disaster. When I was in college, people would look at my VHS collection and see it. They would look at me quizzically and wait for a response. I would chuckle and say two simple words…
I think back to that time, to a time when I was foolishly concerned with what others thought about my likes and dislikes, and I want to smack myself. You don’t like POPEYE? That’s cool. You’re gonna judge me because I do? Eat poo. I don’t feel guilty about loving that movie. I don’t feel guilty about loving any form of art I enjoy because I enjoy it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The term itself, guilty pleasure, is an insult. Not an insult to the person who likes romantic novels or anything else many consider to be less than worthy of whatever they rate things by, but to the art itself. Someone worked hard to make that album. That book. That show. That movie. Chances are, lots of people worked hard on these things. Editors and actors and writers and directors and musicians. The key grip. The best boy. These are works that people put their souls into, and they deserve better than to be scoffed at.
One thing we should be clear about right away is the difference between a guilty pleasure and a movie that is so bad it’s good. BIRDEMIC is not a guilty pleasure, it is a movie so incompetently made that you watch it and enjoy it because you find it hard to believe it exists. A movie that goes into “so bad it’s good” territory can share traits with a guilty pleasure: you know that people worked hard on it and believed in the project. You know that unlike the SHARKNADO movies, they weren’t made to be laughed at, but ended up that way due to an amazing series of events that rarely happen. Where they differ is that a guilty pleasure is something that often gets written off based purely on the concept, and sometimes that guilty pleasure stamp gets removed.
When BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER first hit TV in 1997, it was written off as teen drama based on a failed movie. Some critics considered it their guilty pleasure, but no one was really willing to stand up for the show. By the time the series ended in 2003, BUFFY was looked at as a catalyst for the changing landscape of TV and film. The character of Buffy was recognized as a cultural feminist icon, and the show itself was celebrated as a herculean achievement for it’s creator, Joss Whedon. From guilty pleasure to icon in seven years.
This is why I think it is so important to play the wait and see game. When you look at something in the moment, you can easily miss the forest that surrounds that tree. How about we look at CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the fourth of the APES series. When it was released, CONQUEST was written off as a movie for kids, the latest movie in a dying series. What so many were missing was that like the original film, CONQUEST carries a deep political message. Where PLANET OF THE APES carried themes of faith over science, CONQUEST was all about race. The movie features the apes rising up against their masters, the humans to take over a city. Their leader, Caesar, starts the ape revolution with a single word, “No”. It’s a powerful moment in a powerful film. The metaphor of race relations in America wasn’t lost on the filmmakers. Writer Paul Dehn and director J. Lee Thompson openly admitted that the concept for the movie came from the 1965 Watts Riots. Thompson went as far as to recreate specific, famous news footage for the film. Still, it took audiences a long time to see that CONQUEST, and the entirety of the original PLANET OF THE APES series, is more than a guilty pleasure.
Not every movie that people look at as a guilty pleasure has to have a deep political statement, sometimes they have deeper, more emotional meanings that were missed at the time of release. Let’s use a favorite of Blumhouse’s own Rob G., TEEN WOLF. The movie, if you’ve somehow slept on this one, is about… well the title pretty much covers it, Michael J. Fox is Scott Howard, a teenager who learns he comes from a family of werewolves. As Scott deals with these changes, he becomes a local celebrity. Now, is TEEN WOLF something I would point to as being on the same level as THE GODFATHER? No. But it is funny, and it takes an interesting look into not just the obvious werewolf metaphor of puberty, but also the cost of fame. When TEEN WOLF was made, Michael J. Fox was, to be blunt, the shit. Everyone loved him, and his face sold lots of magazines. Watch his performance as Scott Howard, watch as Scott begins to question if people like him because they like him, or they like that he’s a local celebrity, and you can tell that Fox was personally struggling with that same question in his own life.
Clearly, not every movie that people snidely refer to as a guilty pleasure will one day break out of that horrible title. I don’t think the world will come around to my way of thinking and see that DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR is a genius movie, but I sure as shit am not going to play down my love for the movie. And not every movie that you may consider a guilty pleasure is actually a hidden gem. I know that GREEN HORNET isn’t a very good movie, but there’s something I love about it. The movie has an earnestness to it that I really appreciate.
Do you like the movie? Does it make you feel something, be it happiness, sadness, joy, love, or any other emotion you want a movie to make you feel? Do you connect with the characters? Do you in some way relate to the story? If so, don’t feel guilty about it. Carry that movie with you as a badge of honor. Take pride in your tastes and refuse to shy away from what you love. Let the assholes scoff! Let them feel superior! We know the truth. We know that art in any form isn’t about approval. It isn’t a status symbol. From Vincent van Gogh to Margaret Keane, from Martin Scorsese to Kevin Smith, from Harper Lee to Jackie Collins, from the Beatles to the New Kids on the Block, art is about how it makes you feel.