The Guest Starring series has been off to a slow start. I’ve approached a dozen people about submitting a quick 800 word essay on their opinion of the perfect b-movie and those people who didn’t ignore my proposals explained that they were too busy to chime in. So to those of you who were too busy, I want to confront you with this. Andrew W.K. is a successful musician, producer, public speaker and performance artist. He is easily the hardest working man in rock music today. He’ll do four speaking engagements in four states in two days and then shoot over to Tokyo for live performances only to come back to the States and produce an avant-garde album.
He had time to contribute. What’s your excuse? I am beyond excited to bring you, Andrew WK’s Perfect B-Movie.
The Perfect B-Movie
By Andrew WK
I was invited to write a column about B-movies, and what I consider an ideal example of a B-movie (thank you Cinema Suicide!), . I want to start by saying that in no way am I an authority on cinema, nor am I a particularly avid movie-watcher. However, I love movies as much as anyone, and I figured I could write something worthwhile. Then I realized I wasn’t sure what a “B-movie” was. I’d heard the term many times before, and some of my friends collected what they called “B-movies”, but I wasn’t certain what they were talking about. Is it a genre? A classification? An aesthetic? My first thought was that a B-movie is how people rate a slightly less than perfect film – like, “A-movies”, “B-movies”, “C-movies”, all the way down to “F-movies”. But I realized I haven’t heard people refer to F-movies, or even A-movies for that matter. Then I thought maybe B-movies refer to a film’s obscurity, but when I did some research, quite a few B-movies were actually famous and successful motion pictures. Further research told me that B-movies were sort of like “B-sides” in recorded music – a perfectly good and valid piece of artistic work, but maybe without the production, the purpose, or the presentation of an A-movie (or an A-side)
Thinking about B-movies in this way, I’m reminded that I never liked the idea of B-sides. Why can’t all songs just be… songs? When I was recording my first album, my record label told me, “be sure and have a couple of B-sides for bonus tracks and imports!” What did they mean? Record a few low-quality songs? I didn’t like that idea at all. I told them, “I only make A-sides, no B-sides”. They were annoyed. When it comes to B-movies, apparently the movie studios worked the same way as the record labels; producing some amount of less-than-A level material, as some sort of filler for their double-feature bills. But I wonder if the the directors, the actors, the cameramen, and all the other folks involved in creating these B-movies thought of them as less-than-A? And if they did, it must’ve had a significant impact on their spirt, their mindset, and the product of their efforts. It could’ve had a demoralizing effect, and maybe the film makers would’ve gotten better final products if they didn’t start out with the idea that they were making something less-than-ideal.
With this in mind, I can appreciate the film-fan’s love for this class of film. The people who made B-movies were told from the get-go that their work was destined to be automatically sub-standard, even before the first frame of film was shot. That must’ve been intense! It’s clear that certain film makers and actors rose above the implied limitations of the B-movie, and strived for quality and artistry normally reserved for A-level films. In this environment, an underdog mentality could emerge. I think Sylvester Stallone’s, “ROCKY”, was supposed to be a B-movie, but then it rose to levels far beyond expectations, and I find that very inspiring and exciting. If it had been made as an A-movie, maybe it wouldn’t have succeeded in the same way, similar to when someone tells a young person, “You’re just a lowly paperboy, you’ll never be able to amount to anything”, and that paperboy ends up buying the newspaper and becoming its publisher years later, almost to spite the naysayer. Perhaps the spirit of possibility, and of rising above the limits others impose on us is what sometimes makes B-movies so powerful.
For me, the idea of labeling movies at all, whether it be, “Western”, “Sci-Fi”, “Horror”, or “B-movie”, further locks the artists, actors, and movie itself into the limitations of the label, and often times distracts the viewer with unnecessary context. I’d rather someone just show me a movie, and not tell me what “kind” of movie it is until after I watch it, or even better, never tell me what kind of movie it is and let me experience it purely as a motion picture. I don’t want to be told that the movie was made with low expectations, or with a certain style in mind – I’d prefer to take it as it comes, on its own terms, and not as a particular style of cinema. At the same time, a “B-movie” really isn’t a style either – it’s more like a circumstance, much the same way a rainy-day could still turn out to be one of the greatest days of your life.
I’d like to urge all of us to remove unnecessary contexts, labels, genres, and limitations from the things we enjoy – whether they be movies, books, or even people. Sure, it helps to have contexts and generalizations at times, but when it starts to limit our enjoyment of the experience, I think it’s good to be aware of the absurdity of labeling. All music is music – all film is film – after that, the labels and organizing of ideas should be for fun, and NOT to give some sense of understanding. I, personally, don’t want to understand a movie by it’s “type” – I want to understand it based on what it feels like to watch it. The meaning of a song is the way it feels to listen to it. The meaning of life is the way it feels to live it.
I was told this column should be 800 words, and already it’s longer than that. So, I’ll stop now, having not really talked about my favorite B-movie (what is a B-movie?), but I hope this rant provided some ideas to help make ALL experiences – including B-movies – more limitless, more powerful, and ultimately, more FUN! Thanks again for asking me to participate!
Since the early 90’s, Andrew WK has been making music among avant-garde circles around the United States. In 2000 he broke out with the Island Records release, I Get Wet, the ultimate party jam. He has since followed that up with two more albums and a seemingly endless stream of engagements that are part prformance art, part pep talk. Andrew also plays bass with Current 93, Baby Dee and produces records for Lee “Scratch” Perry. I swear, the man never sleeps.
Learn more about Andrew and listen to his music at his official website, http://www.andrewwk.com
Never let down.