Politics & Policy

Worst in Film

The 25th anniversary of the Razzies.

Never mind that The Passion and Fahrenheit 9/11 were “locked out” of the Oscar nominations for best picture, as various factions have complained: What about the shocking lack of recognition for Catwoman and Alexander? On the bright side, even if both of these stinkers have been snubbed by Oscar, they’re top contenders for this year’s Razzies, which celebrate the worst achievements in film each year. In fact, this weekend is the Golden Raspberry Awards’ 25th anniversary, held in Hollywood the day before “that other awards show,” as Razzies founder John Wilson always calls the Academy Awards.

Some people feel grim after shelling out $10 or more at the movies for a stinker. Not John Wilson, who also has a new book out, The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood’s Worst, just in time for Oscars season. Like the Razzies, it’s a guilty-pleasure cruise down a river of bad movies dating back to the ’30s–complete with sample “dippy dialogue” and “choice chapter stops” for DVD-age convenience. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Wilson since college, and even though I rarely see him these days, I was an assistant prop supplier for the very first Razzies 25 years ago–which means I helped raid dumpsters for cardboard boxes. The Razzies are also this month’s guest-of-honor at the media parties two other journalists and I organize for the L.A. Press Club.)

Pre-Razzie (dis)honorees in the Guide include the 1978 The Swarm (“Jose Ferrer and Richard Chamberlain flee in slo-mo from a cloud of what looks like Killer Puffed Wheat”) and the 1956 The Ten Commandments (“Oh, Moses, Moses!” breathes Anne Baxter to Charlton Heston. “You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”) But Wilson’s heart is with the Razzies era, which began when the film-advertising copywriter first put on a bizarro version of the Oscars in his Hollywood apartment for family and friends.

The Village People’s Can’t Stop the Music won worst picture of 1980, and just like the Oscars, the evening included a boffo production number–a parody of the Academy’s annual tribute to stars who’d passed on the previous year. “Dead Entertainers,” written by Wilson and sung to the tune of “That’s Entertainment,” began:

They’ve all gone

To backlots in the sky

But they live on

In their films, so don’t cry

They’ve all decomposed

So now we’ve composed

Dead Enter-tai-ai-ners!

Wilson left the Hollywood area years ago and now lives in suburban Cerritos, California, with his wife and eight-year-old son. But he still relishes bad movies with the gusto of a true connoisseur.

“One of the ways you can tell a Razzie,” he says, “is that even if you’re seeing it on an airplane, you think about walking out.” He likes good movies too, but feels the Razzies help keep filmmakers honest. As he likes to put it: “The Razzies are an acknowledgment that not everything that comes out of Hollywood is wonderful–or even competent.”

Razzie winners have included the most powerful people in show business–some of whom occasionally accept their awards in person (Bill Cosby for Leonard, Part Six; Tom Green for Freddy Got Fingered)–while Razzie members are mostly a motley crew of low-paid workers on the fringes of the film industry. But the organization has grown to include a voting membership of over 500 bad-movie lovers in most states and about a dozen foreign countries.

A few years ago, people in Hollywood began using these anti-Oscars to make a point, which is always, “It wasn’t my fault.” Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has long been known for fuming at anyone who meddles with his genius, as readers of his memoir Hollywood Animal may recall. So after Eszterhas’s An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn bombed in time for the 1999 Razzies, the screenwriter took out a full-page ad in Variety announcing that he was accepting his probable Razzie award in advance and planned to appear in person to receive it.

Wilson had considered asking Eszterhas to write the introduction to the Guide, but went with Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers instead. They’d bonded over their shared fondness for the Kim Novak lesbian cult film, The Legend of Lylah Clare, which Wilson describes as “a cross between Vertigo and Sunset Boulevard, except not good.”

As it turned out, Eszterhas wasn’t true to his word about showing up at the ceremony, even though another of his films, Showgirls, had broken a Razzies record two years earlier by winning seven awards. But that may have been just as well. Wilson had worried about a reprise of the 1988 Razzies, in which cult bodybuilders the Barbarian Brothers wouldn’t get off the stage. “Certainly the ad suggested [Eszterhas] was aware the film was not a work of art, unlike Showgirls,” Wilson noted. “But he might have been angry, not amusing.”

And amusing, not merely bad, is the litmus test for a memorable Razzies film. Although Catwoman and Alexander may sweep the awards this year, Wilson’s personal favorite is Baby Geniuses II. “But there hasn’t been a really wonderful bad movie since last year’s From Justin To Kelly,” he added. “I’ve seen it three or four times.” Since the competition then was the infamous Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck disaster Gigli, Wilson also had a good line for the Razzies website (razzies.com) and newsletter: “Will it really be Gigli or is Kelly more smelly?”

The Razzies ceremony has had its up and downs over the years, depending on its creator’s mood and finances. Wilson has occasionally considered corporate sponsors. “Someone suggested Bandini fertilizer,” he said, “but they never called back. Then we tried to get Beano, but they somehow came to the conclusion that they shouldn’t use humor to promote a flatulence product.”

This year the show should be fairly grand, with an evening ceremony Feb. 26 at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood. “We’ve also got a new slogan,” Wilson added: “Celebrating a quarter-century of carping about cinematic crap.”

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.


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