In the second part of this interview, we learned from Ed Glaser, the author of How the World Remade Hollywood, exactly what Santo, post-apocalyptic movies and sharks have to do with remake and remix cinema.
Today, it’s all about Italian movies and if riffing ruins a film.
B&S: But sometimes in the midst of these mercenary endeavors, there’s art. Sometimes, right? Like Shocking Dark ends up being quite good.
Ed: I have no excuse to love it as much as I do. But I do. Because I think by all objective measures it’s slow, boring, and not especially interesting. And yet you have this polluted futuristic Venice, a gigantic mega corporation called the Tubular Corporation, a group of mercenaries called Megaforce who go in and try to find out what’s going down in the tunnels under Venice. And then it’s also this wild rip-off of Aliens and Terminator smooshed together.
B&S: Well, it is Terminator 2.
Ed: Claudio Fragasso’s wife Rossella Drudi was basically given the brief, “I want it to be Terminator and Aliens,” and she mostly pulled from the latter.
It’s really true, though, about these films being mercenary productions. The producers want to make money — which, I mean, of course — but they’ll hire creative professionals who want to do more, or have their own particular passions. So they use those mercenary opportunities to pursue other things.
Luigi Cozzi loves science fiction. And he’d wanted to make a science fiction movie for years, but nobody would put up the money. It wasn’t going to sell, they said. And then suddenly, Star Wars comes out. And a producer calls him and says, “I need you to make Star Wars.”
Cozzi hadn’t even seen Star Wars when he wrote Starcrash. It hadn’t come out in Italy yet. He had the novel, though, and that was extremely useful. But he was more interested in doing what he called “Sinbad on Mars.” So that’s what he did. He pulled from swashbuckling adventure movies and science fiction authors that he loved. Yes, the film is unmistakably Star Wars in many ways because he had to meet the brief, but it’s so much more than that.
B&S: With Starcrash and Saru no Gundan (Time of the Apes), the only exposure so many people have had with these movies is seeing them riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Ed: Time of the Apes is a great deal of fun if you love Planet of the Apes. The entire show is terrific. Yes, it was made on a tight budget as these things were but there’s a lot of really interesting stuff there.
There’s kind of a tug of war tug of war between movie fans when it comes to the Mystery Science Theater treatment. There are some that love it. There are some that think that it denigrates the films it features. But there are a couple of things that help swing the pendulum for me. Are the movies being riffed affectionately and not derisively? And then, as an audience member, does your interest in the film end when the episode ends?
My first exposure to Danger: Diabolik was on Mystery Science Theater. Later, as I learned more about Mario Bava, I saw the movie through new eyes and was delighted by it. I never thought the film was terrible. I thought it was kind of goofy. But I wasn’t “done” with it after MST3K.
I think that, yes, there’s certainly that risk if you’re not familiar with a movie that if you first see it riffed then you’ll write it off as a bad film. But I hope that more often than not, that’s not the case. I hope you want to know more.
B&S: Maybe I’m being too precious about the movies that I love.
Ed: I think that the folks behind Mystery Science Theater really have evolved their technique over the years. The ones that went on to do RiffTrax have even done universally-beloved films like Casablanca or the original Star Wars. You can poke fun at just about any kind of movie; it doesn’t have to be mean-spirited.
B&S: There’s a tendency for people to say that a movie is so bad that it’s good. And I don’t subscribe to that. You don’t have to apologize for liking movies.
Ed: I mentioned that in my introduction in the book. I’m also not a big fan of the idea of guilty pleasures. There’s an excellent documentary from the UK called Guilt-Free Pleasures that interrogates what “guilty pleasure” really means. It also suggests that, if we continue to use the phrase, it might be better suited to movies that are in some way morally problematic; not merely “bad.” But saying that a movie is so bad that it’s good, it’s cheating. You’re having your cake and eating it too. Or maybe just saying “this cake sucks” but eating the whole thing because it’s delicious.
It’s just kind of arrogant and obnoxious. If you enjoy the film, then enjoy the film. It can be weirdly shot or technically wonky or awkwardly written, but if you’re enjoying the film, maybe it’s not actually a bad film.
Tomorrow, Ed and I wrap things up.
You can get Ed’s book, How the World Remade Hollywood, from McFarland Books. To see some of these movies and hear from Ed, check out Deja View: Remakes and Rip-Offs of Your Favorite Films.