Camp 101

For First Year Campers…

What are the things I can expect to see on this site?

There are few different forms our content can take.

The first is the blurb which is just a brief summary of every film listed in our film archive. This gives you a general idea of what the movie is about and why it's listed.

Next is the review. This is a highly opinionative piece generally answering the question: Why I did/didn't like this movie, just like you'd expect from any movie review.

Third is the recap. Recaps attempt to recount a film scene by scene in word form to serve as a (poor) substitute for actually seeing the movie. Recaps are especially helpful for giving readers an idea of what a certain hard-to-find is movie is like. Recaps aren't necessarily opinionative, but they do point flaws or highligths in the film along the way.

Finally there's the general article. These articles might be about a single film or a group of films. They usually try to say something about camp cinema in general and are often theoretical in nature.

You can find reviews, recaps, and general articles on the Camp Criticism. Also, every film mentioned in an article will have links to that article.

What's a campy movie anyway?

So just what are we talking about when say the word “camp?” If I were a real hard-nose about it, I’d not say a word further and just refer you to the ironically definitive essay on camp by my esteemed, dead colleague, Susan Sontag.1 Reading Sontag’s essay will certainly give you a lot to mull over, but since I expect most of you are lazier than me, I’ll go ahead and give you my version of what camp is. Keep in mind, Sontag does a much better job of describing camp in general, as a cultural phenomenon at large, while I’m just going to try to help you distinguish between different kinds of camp cinema.

Let’s first get our terms straight. What’s the difference between camp cinema and downright bad movies? From Sontag’s point of view, a whole lot. There really isn’t any direct relationship between the two. Campy movies are sometimes bad, and bad movies are sometimes campy. But not always in either case. The following is a brief run down of different cousins to the camp cinema kingdom. I’ll try to be as straightforward (pithy) as possible.

Cult Cinema: Cult movies are good movies that most people don’t like. However, a small number of people really, really like them. These are the titular cultists. Cult cinema can be campy, but there’s often a high degree of competence eminent in these films. If they’re campy, they’re often campy by design (Rocky Horror Picture Show is a good example, and if you’ve ever been to a RHPS shadow-cast, you know why these are called “cult” films). But some cult films might not be campy at all. They might be avant garde (read: weird) or they might deal with issues the general viewing public doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to pay for, or doesn’t care about. Generally speaking, you won’t see too many of these films on my site because they’ve already got legions of loyal cultists defending them. However, you might think of this site’s task as elevating bad or campy films to the more respectable level of cult status.

Bad Cinema: Bad cinema is as broad as the word “bad” might imply. Bad films can come from just about anywhere, at any price, with any star, director, or writer. What makes a movie bad? All sorts of things, but again, none of them are mutually exclusive. A film made with millions of dollars might stink as much as one made for tens of thousands. A film starring Sean Connery might stink as much as one starring Vampira. Etc. Bad cinema might be generalized as that which makes you aware you’re watching a “film” (as opposed to being immersed in the film’s reality) in an agitating way. When you find yourself rolling your eyes, muttering under your breath, or worst of all falling asleep, you know you’re watching bad cinema.

Camp Cinema: Finally camp cinema. It can be good. It can be bad. It can be cult. Camp cinema, like bad cinema, often makes you aware that you are watching film rather than experiencing it but rather than result in repulsion you end up enjoying the “watching” rather than the “experiencing.” This is often not, of course, what the film makers intended, which is precisely the point. The camp film engages the viewer in unintended (often comic) ways. You’ll find all sorts of example of camp here on this site.

Those three terms, I think, will do for now in giving us something of a shared language when discussing the movies featured on this site. Again, my goal is to take those films most vieiwers throw in the trash and prove that they are really unappreciated masterpieces. My goal isn’t just to give birth to cult films, but to convince everyone that (most) of the movies on this site are some of the greatest ever to grace the silver screen.

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