What Makes for a Beloved Bad Film? Jackey Neyman Jones (Manos: The Hands of Fate) Talks to Pretty Much Pop (ep. 73)

While there have of course been numerous attempts at movie magic that have resulted in something less than audience pleasing, only a few demonstrate such bold ineptitude as to become “so bad that they’re good.” Such a film requires a strong sense of vision coupled with a complete inability to realize that vision in a coherent way, and it must display real charm, as we see through the presentation to behold real human beings captured in the poignancy of their doomed filmic endeavor.

Some often cited candidates for this new kind of film canon include the classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, whose creation was dramatized in Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood; Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, chronicled by the book and film The Disaster Artist; Troll 2, a film that has no business or creative relation to the already dubious film Troll that was documented in Best Worst Movie; and the an up-and-comer Birdemic: Shock and Terror, self-financed by James Nguyen, whose popularity greatly increased through the treatment of his films by Rifftrax, one of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Internet successors.

And then there’s Manos: The Hands of Fate, lauded as one of the most trippy finds of the original 1993 MST3K. It’s a film written, directed by, and starring (literal) fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren about a family (on their “first vacation”) getting lost in Western Texas and ending up staying the night at a house with a religious cult. Jackey Neyman Jones played the six-year-old girl in the film who eventually (spoiler!) ends up tied to a stake as the cult leader’s seventh wife. Her father played the cult leader and created much of the art for the show, her mother sewed the costumes, and her voice was dubbed over by a fully grown woman who was not at all warned that she’d be having to imitate a child’s voice.

Jackey wrote a memoir about the experience, and here joins your Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica, Spyres, and Brian Hirt to talk about the ongoing interest in the film despite its initial, complete dismissal as well as the dynamics and perils of working with a supremely confident “auteur.”

The discussion also touches on other bad films like Catwoman, The Happening, and Battleship. Are these contemporary, big-budget flops worthy of such canonization? What about films made intentionally to be cheesy, whether by auteurs like Velocipastor or pumped out by a company like Syfy’s Sharknado series?

You can watch Jackey read her entire book online. See her art. Read her interviewed in Cracked, Entertainment Weekly, and the AV Club. Check out her IMDB page and her short-lived Hand of Horror podcast. Manos: The Hands of Fate is in the public domain, so watch it unriffed if you dare, or check out the classic MST3K episode or the more recent Rifftrax treatment. See also the warped stage version with puppets: Manos: The Hands of Felt.

To think more generally about this topic, we consulted some lists of bad (or “so-bad-they’re-good”) films by The Ringer,  Thrillist, Screenrant, Yardbarker, and Wikipedia.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Comic Book Writer Fred Van Lente Touts “Comic Supremacy” on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #72

Fred Van Lente has written for more than 15 years for his own Evil Twin Comics, Marvel and other outlets. In this episode of Pretty Much Pop, he joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss comics as an idiosyncratic form of literature.

In the realm of non-fiction, Ryan started with the beloved Action Philosophers! series in 2004 with illustrator Ryan Dunlavey, and this team has gone on to create the very successful Comic Book History of Comics, plus more recently Action Presidents, Action Activists (available free in association with the NYC Department of Education’s Civics for All program), and have just begun releasing The Comic Book History of Animation. While the non-fiction comics format is common in places like Japan, and has a storied history in America, having been used to train soldiers in World War II, this is still something of a novelty in America as comics still struggle to overcome their reputation in (as Ryan puts it) “trash for morons.” Given that visual content is well known to help people learn as compared to text alone, the use of tools like Action Presidents in classrooms shouldn’t be surprising.

The interview also gets into Ryan’s fiction work, from Cowboys & Aliens, which was turned into a 2011 Jon Favreau/Steven Spielberg film entirely without Ryan’s involvement, to titles like Marvel Zombies and X-Men Noir which use alternate dimension versions of popular characters to tell stories too dark and/or whimsical to have much possibility of ever being transferred to the screen. Despite comics’ reputation as being basically like elaborate film story-boards, their low overhead is exactly what distinguishes them so strongly from film: Their creativity is unlimited by budget, and creators can take tremendous risks. Whatever the mainstream palatability of (alternate dimension) Peter Parker eating Aunt May’s brain, this has been one of the most popular things that Ryan’s been involved with among comic book readers.

Learn more about Fred’s work at fredvanlente.com. You can read there about how Fred constructs scripts; the one Mark refers to with the mysteriously changed coat is right there highlighted at the top of this page, and there are also several sample scripts including the one for Action Philosophers: Immanuel Kant that demonstrates Fred’s methods for vividly explaining a complex idea.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

An Introduction to Rap Battles: Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #71

Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are rejoined by our audio editor and resident rapper Tyler Hislop (rap name: “Sacrifice”) to discuss a form of entertainment close to his heart: Two people staring each other in the face in front of a crowd and taking lengthy turns insulting each other in a loud voice using intricate rhymes, references, jokes and even some cultural commentary and philosophical spit-balling.

So what are the rules? How does modern battle rap compare to free-styling, the beefs aired on rap albums, and classic insult comedy? What’s the appeal of this art form? Is it because of or despite the aggression involved? Battle rap is regarded as a free speech zone, where anything’s fair game, but does that really make sense?

A few relevant films came up in the discussion:

  • Bodied (2017), a film written by Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem, featuring several current battle rappers doing their thing along with discussion by the characters of the ethical issues involved
  • 8 Mile (2002), a semi-autobiographical film starring Eminem, which displays the older, free-styling over a beat type of battle rapping
  • Roxanne Roxanne (2017) a biopic about Roxanne Shante depicting hip-hop rivalries of the 1980s.

Here are some matches Tyler recommended that also get mentioned:

More resources:

Hear Tyler talk about his many rap albums on Nakedly Examined Music #24.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Kevin Allison (The State, RISK!) Discusses Confessional Comedy on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #70

Kevin was in the infamous, NYU-based sketch comedy group The State which had a show for a season on MTV and seemed like it was going to get picked up by CBS, but no. After several years getting over this disappointment, Kevin discovered a new outlet for his energies: He delivers, curates, and coaches personal stories (bordering on too personal, thus the “risk”) for his stage show and podcast RISK!

Kevin joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss this idiosyncratic form: Do the stories have to be funny? Can you change things? What’s the relation to autobiographical, humorous essays a la David Sedaris? What might be too personal or actually indicating trauma to actually share on RISK? This seems like something anyone can do, so what’s the role of craft and story-telling history?

Listen to RISK at risk-show.com, and watch many stories on the RISK! YouTube channel. Also: kevinallison.net, thestorystudio.org, and @thekevinallison. Kevin’s story about prostituting himself is about 14 minutes into this episode. Hear Kevin on Marc Maron’s WTF! Listen to that audio guide Kevin mentions, “What Every RISK! Storyteller Should Know.” Read about the four lies of storytelling.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This time, the hosts tell (or at least outline) their own RISK!-like stories, and the result is predictably too personal for our public feed.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Pop Songs with Narrative: Pretty Much Pop (#69) Discusses Tunes Ranging from Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” to “The Pina Colada Song” with Songwriter/Author Rod Picott

Plenty of songs purport to tell stories, and the narrative ballad of course has a long enough history that the two forms certainly aren’t alien. But how do our listening practices conditioned by pop music jibe with recognizing and understanding narrative?

Singer/songwriter and short story author Rod Picott joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to talk about classics by writers like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, formative nightmares like “Leader of the Pack” and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song), borderline cases like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and more. We also consider how this form relates to musical theater, music videos, soundtracks, and commercials.

We tried to stick to popular songs, but most of us are pretty old. You can listen and read the lyrics if you’re not following:

Why these songs? Well, we found a few lists online:

Hear Mark interview Rod on Nakedly Examined Music. Learn more at rodpicott.com.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This time, an update on Rod’s music plus political discussion and more.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The Biblical Sci-Fi of “Raised by Wolves”–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #68

What happens when a male android loves a female android VERY much, and they nurse human embryos together on a distant planet after fleeing from war-torn Earth? Why the female android flies and makes a bunch of people explode with her eyes, that’s what happens! …In the first episode of this bonkers HBO Max series by Aaron Guzikowski (with notable assistance from Ridley Scott of Alien and Blade Runner fame).

Your hosts Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer reflect on how much we’re supposed to understand, what if any character we’re supposed to identify with, whether the imagery is just TOO heavy-handed, and how this show compares with related sci-fi like Westworld or post-apocalyptic shows like The Walking Dead. Beware: Spoilers abound in this one, so you might want to watch the show, or just let us reveal its weirdness to you.

Here are some articles to feast on:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

“Borat” on Politics and Embarrassment–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast Discussion #67

Let’s stop obsessing about election matters and consider instead a clown who brings out racism in rubes. Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, Brian Hirt, and our guest musician/actor Aaron David Gleason consider the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, in particular the new Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which you should definitely go watch before listening, unless it’s the kind of thing that so repulses you that you’ll never watch it, in which case this is the podcast to tell you what the fuss is about.

A few questions we explore: Is it unethical to use unwitting people who signed your release form as your supporting cast? Is it OK to use racism to expose racism? Are cameras now so ubiquitous that many people feel perfectly comfortable letting their true colors show on film? How dehumanizing is the nature of retail in America that all these shop keepers would go along with Borat’s bizarre and/or racist requests? Cohen claims that this new film was about demonstrating the humanity of his subjects; how evident was that purpose on screen? How does this film differ from Cohen’s other work? Was the film actually funny, or did it transcend (or fall short of) comedy in its politics and its king-size servings of embarrassment?

Watch Cohen and Maria Bakalova on Good Morning America explaining the film. Look at the Wikipedia article for info on how and when sequences were shot. You can browse through the critical reactions yourself.

After we recorded this, Cohen provided financial help to his very sympathetic victim, Jeanise Jones (the babysitter). And to settle one issue that came up in our conversation, Judith Dim Evans (the nice old lady in the temple who subsequently passed away) didn’t know the gag during filming, but Cohen revealed it right afterwards.

Hear Aaron’s music on Nakedly Examined Music #71. Listen to Aaron, Erica, Mark, and others including Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins on the Partially Examined Life Players’ reading of Lysistrata. Learn more about Aaron at aarondavidgleason.com, and you can follow him on Instagram @aarondavidgleason.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

What Scares Us, and How Does this Manifest in Film? A Halloween Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#66)

Why do people enjoy being scared by films? How does what counts as frightening in a film actually connect with what scares us in real life, and how does this in turn relate to childhood fears? What’s the deal with “horror” movies that are good but not scary or that are terrible yet still scary in some way? Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by actor/special effects-guy Nathan Shelton (who runs the Frightmare Theatre Podcast) for a Halloween conversation where no one gets a rock.

We present our picks for what scared us as kids: Trilogy of Terror, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and Copycat, and go on about Arachnophobia, The Blair Witch Project, Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Thing, and Nightmare on Elm Street. We also discussion horror aimed at women, body horror, tropophobia, horror movie music, and Stephen King. Finally, we consider the revival in art horror by the likes of Mike Flanagan (Dr. Sleep, Haunting of Bly Manor), Ari Aster (Midsommar, Hereditary), and Robert Eggers (The Witch).

We drew on a break-down on the various elements that make up the horror genre from Matt Glasby, in an article called “The Scariest Films Ever Made and How They Frighten Us.”

For a lengthy academic look at the topic, try “(Why) Do You Like Scary Movies? A Review of the Empirical Research on Psychological Responses to Horror Films” (2019) by G. Neil Martin.

If you don’t mind a key scene from The Thing (1982) being spoiled, check out this landmark grody special effect scene.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

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