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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Not a flaw, but a feature : the language, aesthetics, and value of bad cinema Aronoff, Jared


The goals of academic film scholarship can be vaguely defined as the desire to better understand cinema as a medium through different critical frameworks. Among these include the aesthetic devices film uses to communicate or how the medium is engaged with by audiences. Bad movies, an easily recognizable mode of cinema with no clear definition, have rarely been considered a practical area for study in this discipline, and this is in part due to the language used to describe them. Colloquial traditions refer to bad cinema with terminology that is highly evaluative, nonspecific in its definition, and dismissive of the mode of cinema as being essentially a waste of time. These casual methods of describing bad cinema influence the language used to describe it in scholarship, making it difficult to present analysis of bad movies in the rare event that said analysis is even performed. It is often assumed that because bad films by definition lack aesthetic value it would be unnecessary to engage with them in a scholarly context, yet by some accounts a significant portion of the texts that make up film as a medium would be considered “bad”. This arguably leaves a significant segment of this medium understudied, but I argue this is not merely the result of an oversight. Film scholarship is limited by flawed language designed primarily for the communication of value-judgments among casual viewers, a language that is unable to speak to the role badness can play in shaping the text of a film. Therefore, in this thesis I unpack and critique the scholarly language used to define badness in cinema to problematize the assumptions created through this language. I follow this by proposing a new set of descriptors to articulate ‘bad’ as not holding a single fixed meaning but instead as the conflation of eight distinct aesthetic properties or patterns of reception. This thesis endeavours to encourage the development of and carve a space for the study of bad cinema in a scholarly context.

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