A few weeks back, we had a very good time sifting through the whole of literature and plucking out the very best of the very trashiest books. The response was, to say the least, impassioned, so it seemed only appropriate to take a similar look at the grand tradition of trashy movies. Because film is an inherently more populist medium, the intellectual engagement with film trash is, historically, a bit more consistent. Back in January, Wesley Morris wrote, “There’s a primacy to good trash that cuts away at rational thought and propriety. It plays to the need for voyeurism not only sexually but emotionally: Sometimes you want to see feeling and eroticism and awfulness turned all the way up until the volume deafens you.” Morris’ comments, of course, echo those of Pauline Kael and her immortal essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” which noted, “movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” Of the films that qualified as “great trash,” Kael wrote, “What gives this trash a lift, what makes it entertaining is clearly that some of those involved, knowing of course that they were working on a silly shallow script and a movie that wasn’t about anything of consequence, used the chance to have a good time with it.” These 50 movies would, we hope, meet that definition.
Wild in the Streets
It only seems appropriate to begin with one of the movies that prompted Kael’s piece, a slapdash mash-up of social commentary, rock musical, and revolutionary comedy. “It’s a blatantly crummy-looking picture, but that somehow works for it instead of against it because it’s smart in a lot of ways that better-made pictures aren’t,” Kael wrote. “ If you went to Wild in the Streets expecting a good movie, you’d probably be appalled because the directing is unskilled and the music is banal and many of the ideas in the script are scarcely even carried out, and almost every detail is messed up (the casting director has used bit players and extras who are decades too old for their roles). It’s a paste-up job of cheap movie-making, but it has genuinely funny performers who seize their opportunities and throw their good lines like boomerangs… It’s not so terrible — it may even be a relief — for a movie to be without the look of art; there are much worse things aesthetically than the crude good-natured crumminess, the undisguised reach for a fast buck, of movies without art.”