Saturday, 5 June 2010

Interview with Nathan Shumate - Author of 'The Golden Age of Crap'

If the motorcycle-straddling female residents of Zombie Town are your thing, and the prospect of revisiting Camp Crystal Lake or watching those killer klowns from outer space do their ‘thang’ for the umpteenth time fills you with unarticulated glee, then chances are, you’re probably something of a connoisseur of bad movies. If you prefer Alan Smithee to, erm, Avant-garde, I think you’ll know where I’m coming from. And its fine! You’re in good company. Let’s face it, sometimes having a good ole’ rummage through the bargain bin in your local discount shop and withdrawing your hand to find it clammily clutching some truly abhorrent title involving ‘atomic zombie moms’ is, lets be honest, truly sublime. But what is it that draws us time and time again to these cheap, tacky and downright shoddy movies? What’s more – what makes us kinda sigh dreamily as we watch them, or compel us to preserve a special place in our heart for them?

These are but a few of the burning questions author Nathan Shumate addresses in his brand new book The Golden Age of Crap. No stranger to whiling away the hours in the company of Invisible Moms, Hostile Intentions, Robot Ninjas, the Laughing Dead and Six String Samurais’, Shumate has delved into the dankest recesses of straight-to-video gloriousness, with a critical but fun-loving eye, so we don’t have to. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan to chat about his new book, cult appeal and bad, bad, BAD movies…

What is it about bad films that made you decide to write this book about them?

Nathan Shumate: For one thing, I was watching a lot of them, so I wanted to get something out of it.
When I call these movies “crap,” though, you have to realize that it’s an affectionate criticism. The movies included in this book aren’t necessarily bad (though of course many are) — some of them are actually among my favourites. But they’re largely junk food movies, the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie.

What is it about these kinds of movies you love so much?

Nathan Shumate: I have a little rule I call “Nathan’s Entertainment Quotient,” which states that a movie’s entertainment value and its budget should be somehow related — not that it’s a strict mathematical formula, but generally a $200 million movie should, in a sane world, be dependably more entertaining than a $200,000 movie. It’s gratifying, then, to discover movies which exceed the entertainment value one would expect applying the quotient, in which the filmmaker has applied skill, determination, ingenuity and a love of the genre to make something genuinely entertaining.
Sometimes, too, you get the equivalent of “found art” — a movie whose entertainment value far exceeds either the ambitions or the competence of those who made it. If you wanted to be high-falutin’, you could talk about “outside art at the fringes” and such. I just know that sometimes, even in a sausage factory like the world of B-movies, magic happens.

Why do you think ‘bad’ films garner the huge cult followings and have the appeal they do?

Nathan Shumate: Thanks to MST3K (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – for those who don’t know), the idea of bad movie viewing as a participatory activity — talking back to the screen instead of simply absorbing it — has grown like kudzu. Especially on the internet, where reactions and opinions form the basis of most blogs and personal sites, throwing eggs at B-movies has become almost a sport. It’s better than torching winos, I suppose. And, of course, part of it is the hipster counter-cultural posture: “I’m not going to like movies that I’m supposed to like; I’m going to like movies that I should hate!”

Any particularly interesting or astoundingly bizarre films you came across?

Nathan Shumate: Most true jaw-droppers are independent films which are largely the product of a single filmmaker — a driven writer/director/producer/editor/actor who has a peculiar, individual vision and will stop at nothing to realize it; by virtue of all of the hats that he keeps to himself, he’s also got no one around him in a position to puncture his balloon and point out to him all the flaws to which his enthusiasm blinds him.
Take Armageddon: The Final Challenge, which is included in the book. Somebody went to extreme lengths to complete a motion picture that makes absolutely no sense, though you can tell that the director THOUGHT he was making sense; in fact, he thought he was being profound. (That’s usually the biggest mistake right there.) You just watch something like that, stunned, and when it ends you conclude that the movie in the director’s head and the movie that you just watched aren’t the same movie.

How did you decide which films to include in the book?

Nathan Shumate: I decided that the book should be a cross-section of the movies which gained most of their audience on video during the mid-’80s to late ’90s, a time when the industry had just realized the profitability of content aimed at the video market. Niche movies could survive and be profitable on video in a way they never could in the theatre, and the idea that every movie would be someone’s favourite movie influenced distributors to put all sorts of things on videotape that they never would have touched previously. So the book holds a smattering of the genres that were directly targeted for video audiences: post-apocalyptic adventures, zombie epics, ninja flicks, etc.

Which of these films in particular have had the greatest impact on you, and what is your response to those who dismiss ‘trash’ cinema as a waste of time?

Nathan Shumate: Of the films in the book, I probably have the softest spot in my heart for Phantasm 2. A lot of horror movies throw in some of that “dream vs. reality” uncertainty, but Phantasm 2 hits just the right balance; all of the dreams are a little bit real, and all of the reality is tinged by dream. Add to that the structure of a stoic road trip, the pacing of a good comic book, visuals filled with bizarre imagery, and the sense that it would all make perfect sense if only you had a little more information… It’s perfect.

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your writing regime?

Nathan Shumate: As with the majority of writers the world over, I have an extreme lack of self-discipline. (That’s why the majority of writers never write anything.) To keep myself productive, I have a weekly publication schedule: every week, barring a scheduled vacation or a medical emergency, I post a new full-length review (“full-length” for me being about 1000 words). I have other projects like book reviews, the occasional short story or screenplay, and articles that I’m sometimes asked to do, but the weekly schedule of reviewing keeps my natural laziness from wholly asserting itself.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

Nathan Shumate: The mad dash to finish it. I had told myself for most of a year that I planned to have it done by this past April, but I dillied and dallied and eventually had to clear everything else off my plate to finish it up in a weeks-long marathon.

And the most rewarding?

Nathan Shumate: Every year I attend CONduit, a local speculative fiction convention, as a panelist. In between panels, I hang out in “author’s alley,” where the local writers hold signings and tout their wares. And because I’ve been almost exclusively an online writer up until now, I had nothing physical to bring with me to the convention. This year, I finally got to hold up something involving wood pulp and say, “See? I DO belong here!”

Check out some of Nathan’s other writing here at www.coldfusionvideo.com 

Enjoy.

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