The interior of the Toronto Underground Cinema. Photo by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.
On Sunday, at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the world was once again witness to the glitziest step in the process by which certain parts of a year’s cinematic output are admitted to the international canon. All the films that won awards last night will take their places in the public memory alongside everything else critics and industry figures have decided, over the years, to bestow honours and praise upon. But there are also those films whose critical receptions have been so toxic that they can’t be spoken of seriously—at least not in front of those who consider themselves to be serious about film.
Until later this week, that is.
On March 4, some local film critics will publicly defend movies they like, that everybody else seems to hate. The event will be the first in an occasional series, set to run through the summer at the Toronto Underground Cinema, near Queen Street and Spadina Avenue.
Called “Defending the Indefensible,” the series will consist of screenings of films that are almost universally acknowledged to be completely, irredeemably awful. This in itself probably wouldn’t sell tickets—especially seeing as how most (but not all) of the movies in question failed to do that when they were in theatres the first time around. But the selling point is that before and after each screening, two film critics who write for Toronto alt-weeklies or websites will get up in front of the audience: one will argue for the consensus view, that the movie is garbage; the other will argue the minority view, that the movie is actually, somehow, good.
The March 4 opener is a double bill of 1997’s sci-fi/horror reboot Alien Resurrection and 2001 Tom Green vehicle/Tomatometer-11%-earner Freddy Got Fingered.
Andrew Parker, who does occasional work at the Underground and writes the theatre’s blog, came up with the idea for the series after watching similar debates play out among film buffs on Twitter. He’s looking forward to taking the discussion offline.
“I think when you get into a public forum,” he says, “you can ask more interesting questions, when it comes down to it, than you can really say online. Because I think online, for most part, the only comments will be ‘you’re wrong,’ and it’s just thirty different variations on the term ‘you’re wrong,’ with no real way of elaborating upon why they’re wrong.”
Among the critics who are volunteering their time for the series (some of the proceeds will be going to charities of the critics’ choice) will be Eye Weekly‘s Adam Nayman; Will Sloan, of Exclaim and the Varsity; and also John Semley, who writes about film for, among other places, Torontoist.
NOW Magazine critic Norman Wilner will also be participating. He’ll be there at the series opener to defend the reputation of Alien Resurrection, a critical flop he considers misunderstood.
“They’ve handed the property off every time, in the Alien films, to a new, interesting, unknown talent,” he says. “David Fincher famously directed Alien 3 and had no end of trouble with the studio because they didn’t understand what he delivered.”
“For the fourth one, when they decided to basically reboot the series, with a clone of Ripley and all that, they gave it to this guy who was making odd little art films in France.” That would be Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who had previously directed films like Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, and eventually went on to direct Amélie.
“He gave them an odd little art film that happened to cost something like $80 million, had been rewritten a million billion times, and is credited to Joss Whedon, although Whedon wasn’t the only writer to work on it.”
“It’s sort of the bare bones of Firefly in there,” continues Wilner—Firefly being a short-lived Joss Whedon TV sci-fi project, now so cultishly popular that fans are trying, haphazardly, to buy the rights to the franchise so they can privately finance a second season of the show. It’s a point of comparison for Alien Resurrection that’s likely to pique nerd interest, and Wilner says he has lots more saved up for the stage.
The defences will be controversial, but we’re told they won’t be facetious. For these films, this treatment won’t mean instantaneous cultural legitimacy, but it will be a start.