Is this fascistic Paris Hilton vehicle the ultimate example of a so-bad-it’s-good movie?
Inspired by Miguel Gomes’ tactic of story collecting for Arabian Nights, we set out in search of off-the-beaten-path true tales in the hope of glimpsing the soul of cinema today. These are stories of obsession, accidents, gambles and mortality…
In theory, the new horizon of digital film exhibition eliminates human error. No more old dudes with smoky fingers up in the projection booth who have neglected the instructions that come nestled in each can of film. The problem of reels being shown in the wrong order is no longer an earthly concern, in that film can no longer be quantified in reels – there’s only one way through a digital file. Along with that, there’s no wear and tear on a digital file. It can exist forever, or at least until it’s no longer compatible with the hardware.
Celluloid enthusiasts have stood by their cause and made the argument that seeing a film projected on film is equivalent to looking at an original painting in a gallery. Watching a film that has been projected digitally is the same as looking at a soulless facsimile. Celluloid also adds the element of chance into the film viewing process, as each projection of the film is going to be ever so slightly different from the last. Digital, conversely, is a uniform process – everyone gets exactly the same experience, all films are made equal. Movies as cans of Coke.
The year was 2008, and celluloid factionalism did not yet have a reason to spring into existence. All films that made their path through cinemas were routinely projected on 35mm film, though admittedly the tides were turning. One reviewing assignment I was given involved spending an evening sampling a forthcoming title called The Hottie and the Nottie, a comic starring vehicle for hotel heiress and sometime screen actor, Paris Hilton. Prospects for the film were dim, perhaps due to Hilton not having a particularly voracious fanbase in the UK. The release was likely the result of a contractual obligation. Yet, viewers who ventured to that screening were treated to the full 35mm shebang.
Critics were invited early to invade the venue’s well-stocked bar, possibly in the hope that a few units of alcohol might enhance amusement for the work. We eventually took our seats and the red velvet curtains parted. Magic time, as Jack Lemmon used to say. Paris Hilton was, of course, cast as the eponymous “hottie”, with actress Christine Lakin camouflaged in prosthetic facial warts and fake buck teeth to fulfil her role as the “nottie”. The concept of the film is that to get with the “hottie” you also have to put up with the company of her best friend, the “nottie”. Our babyfaced hero, Nate Cooper, played by Joel David Moore, attempts to slime his way into Paris’s bikini, though is constantly scuppered by her repugnant companion.
Aside from its dunderheaded celebration of body fascism, the film displayed little in the way of wit or sophistication. Indeed, every punchline suggested that to canoodle with Paris, one must accept the odious baggage of her unlikely entourage. Perhaps it was intended as a biographical metaphor in which Hilton requires adulation on more than a superficial level? Suffice to say, the joke was lost on an audience who were becoming uncomfortable in their seats. Some perhaps pondering whether they might be witnessing what could be one of the worst films ever made.
But then something happened. And it turned the entire sordid affair into something memorable, amusing and, dare I say it, rather beautiful. As Joel David Moore delivered another line of banal dialogue, the furry boom mic became clearly visible above his head. The shot reversed to Hilton, and as she spoke, there again was the boom mic hovering at the top of the frame. In the instant, my brain interpreted this image as a sign that the film was so awful, its makers had neglected to notice a mic clearly entering into the eld of vision.
Surely this was some kind of event horizon of atrocious craft? Considering the weakness of its concept, it made total sense that it would be similarly slipshod on a formal level. I even convinced myself that I hadn’t seen it, that the mic was probably just a protruding lampshade or somesuch. But 10 minutes later, during a scene taking place on a luxury yacht, there it was again, inelegantly dipping in from the top of the frame. And then for the remainder of the film, every shot featured the boom mic.
All of a sudden, a piece of depressing dreck has been elevated to a cine-literate, self-reflexive satire on trash cinema. Just as a director like Jean Luc-Godard might cut through a scene of sincere drama with a shot of the clapper board as a reminder that what you’re watching isn’t reality but a subjective conception of reality, so at that point did I think the makers of The Hottie and the Nottie has become wise to the absurdity of their endeavour and decided to shatter the illusion of fantasy.
The following day I contacted a publicist to ask if the film had been projected incorrectly, or whether we had actually been party an ironic intellectual experiment. Looking in to the matter, she returned with the news that it has been screened in the incorrect aspect ratio, and as such the masking was off kilter. Masking is the process of adjusting the outer edges of the screen (the majority of cinemas boast the capability) to the aspect ratio of the film. Because the masking had also been botched, the audience that night were able to see information at the top and the bottom of each frame that was supposed to be concealed. This projectionist doing his job badly turned a night of potential cinematic ignominy into a reminder of the glorious, combustible quality of celluloid. This truly was a night to remember.
Published 30 Apr 2016
By Mark Asch
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