Love them or hate them, list making is the back bone of pretty much any entertainment magazine you care to mention, and many a nerdy pub discussion beside. It fills dead space, it kills time, and as the pastime of idle till jockeys has been pretty accurately been lampooned by High Fidelity.
But while geeks can rail each other with the ridiculous subjectivity of their own list of picadillos, the grander readershi- wide polls conducted by publications of size, if not repute, always makes for a worthwhile perusal. Britain’s own colossus of cinema, Empire magazine chose to recently query their readership about what they consider the worst films of all time. While the list doesn’t throw up any shocking revelations (The Room! Battlefield Earth! Batman and Robin!) the fact that a wedge of all the films charted scored three stars out of five, with another slice taking two starts in the very same magazine begs a few questions. The fact that every entry is bookended with a stinker of a quote from other critics as to just how bad the film really is, makes you wonder if Empire has an iota of self awareness about what they’re doing. Maybe a bit of analysis and a pie chart of the worst films’ collected scores could help:
A few of the three star reviews fall in the definite category of stark personal/cult/delusional favourites, with titles such as Howard the Duck, Southland Tales, Dreamcatcher and Heavens Gate making up their number. Widely panned commercial failures, these are films who have their ardent defenders, and Empire has the doggedly all knowing trash expert Kim Newman on staff to tackle the flood of direct-to-video films they get in every month. While Lindsey Lohan’s universally abhorred I Know Who Killed Me failed to get distribution in the UK, Newman was there to argue its corner when it came out on DVD. He’s a unique voice and greatly valued for it.
The other plethora of three stars fall into the dangerous category of the over inflated blockbuster sequel, and number the pitiful Spider-Man 3, Matrix Revolutions, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the beyond pitiful Speed 2. A cynic might scoff at how easily a magazine got subsumed by hype, if not the questionable trading of favourable scores for big name exclusives. While the practice hasn’t been widely covered in film PR, the dastardly deeds of gaming’s PR folk has been better covered by more vocal critics than me, and it would be naïve to think it doesn’t go on behind the scenes at the big movie magazines/websites/review shows.
But then again doesn’t that just reflect Empire’s remit for espousing the undying fan’s idoltry for all things big brash and Hollywood, where the packaging and the hype are enjoyed just as much as the film itself? As a lad I got absolutely wrapped up in all things Jurassic Park before its release, bought all the special edition magazines I could get hold of and read them to rags. Spoilers be damned, I wanted beyond full disclosure before I went in. During the film I still managed to have the living daylights knocked out of me, but coming out of it I was none the less disappointed that there were no Baryonyx in the film, as that had been on the map in the Official Souvenir Studio-Authorized Magazine that I’d read so closely. Yes, that’s exactly how much of a geek I was.
Thankfully Jurassic Park is, was, always will be a superb film, but when a bit older and wiser I could appreciate the Matrix Revolutions for the absolute travesty it is. It took me the whole of Matrix Reloaded to learn the bitter lesson of hype vs reality to appreciate that. Roll around Spider-Man 3 and I knew better than to go and see it sober. So it goes.
To be generous to the films and the magazine you have to take these films with a degree disbelief suspended, and for a lot of the featured films the experience can be a lot more enjoyable if you just go with the hype. I already take Empire’s scores with a hefty dose of salt, but I guess it’s a small comfort to know that I’m far from the only reader who is able to, if only occasionally, pull back and challenge the hyperbole machine. If only the reviews were a little less by committee and a little more individual then we could just take them and debate them as the subjective reflections they are.
This being the eve of the world’s first International MS Day, those lovely commissioners at More4 have seen fit to repeat Here’s Johnny. Some might say “if you only see one documentary this year then make it this one.” That still stands true, so do make an effort to catch it if you can.
If you miss it then you should be able to catch up with it on the more-complicated-than-necessary 4onDemand.
If you really like it why not buy the smashing super special edition DVD from the filmmakers themselves? It comes with some particularly nice clippings from the cutting room floor, and with its shiny gatefold of awesome art is definitely as lovely a physical object as you’ll ever find.
Whatever you do just don’t miss it!
I had the tremendous fortune of catching this documentary at last autumn’s Docfest in Sheffield. Primarily drawn by promises of an intimate portrait of an illustrating legend from 2000AD, I ended up sucker-punched by one of the rawest and most honest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Charting the woes of graphic artist Johnny Hincklenton and his battle with Multiple Sclerosis, you’d think it would all end up heavier than a lead balloon. And it is, only with a human face and a pitch-black sense of humour.
The film is interwoven with illustrations and art works by the subject himself, and his vivid and occasionally horrific visuals set an oddly ‘sharp’ tone. Johnny is pretty much in constant pain, and he makes no bones about it: its shit, its hell and he absolutely hates it. It’s his cross to bear, and while he’s eternally grateful to still have control in his hands, he’s terrified by thought of slowly becoming locked in his own body.
For as much as the film is a portrait of a man, it is also an investigation of MS itself. Tackling the issue head on, it covers all the details about a condition which has become a bit of white elephant in the Western world. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who has been affected by the disease, and the film came as a dangerous wake-up call on how pitifully little I knew myself. It also goes into the issue of euthanasia, and Johnny’s wishes to be able to pull the plug on his life we he sees fit. As he says himself, it’s his personal ‘fuck you’ to MS.
The filmmakers have achieved something amazing, and the film’s been duly recognised with two Grierson awards, a first in the competitions history. The suits upstairs have for once recognised this, and the film’s TV premiere is on More4 on the 17th of February at 10:00 pm.
Not to sound like a clichéd trailer voice-over, but seriously, if you only see one documentary this year make it this. I would also suggest you make an effort to see more than just one documentary, but whatever you do put this one first on your list.