Recently, Slate discussed a trailer for the is-it-or-isnt-it-a-movie Bad Ass. Starring Danny Trejo, the ultra-grizzled character actor from the movie Heat and star of the Robert Rodriguez fake-trailer-turned-movie Machete, Bad Ass had David Haglund debating whether the trailer was real or not, and mentioned that some of the first movie sites to preview the trailer also wondered if it was a joke. Further blurring the line is that the movie appears to be entirely based on a controversial YouTube video called "Epic Beard Man," the subject matter of which has brought up racial tensions and unchecked hero worship.
Irony Has Been Twisted And Folded Into Knots, And Unrecognizable
Here's Epic Beard Man, and you should take note that there is offensive language of every degree in this video, plus violence:
Now here's the trailer for Bad Ass, which has a YouTube sensation going around beating the crap out of people, and actually remarking, "I can't wait to see what this footage looks like":
Haglund brings up good points about exploiting a real situation, changing the dynamics of the story, not paying the real people involved, and making a hero out of a guy looking for trouble.
But what I want to discuss is the "real" aspect of it. This is a B-movie winking at B-movie conventions and thus is like Machete, the 2010 Robert Rodriguez film based on a fake trailer from 2007′s Grindhouse. That trailer was knowingly fake. It worked like a Saturday Night Live skit. Then they made a real movie out of it. A real movie that nodded to its B-movie roots, making fun of it, but also being it.
Out of Grindhouse came a contest for making fake trailers, and the one that won was Hobo with a Shotgun, which was then remade into a movie starring Rutger Hauer. So now you have to take trailers as both serious and jokey, because these fake trailers begin as a comedy idea and invite everyone to wink and nod. I had great enjoyment watching the Machete trailer on Grindhouse. Now, it's just another movie trailer.
So you have fake movie trailers turning into real movies and real trailers for movies that look fake. Slate could have just as easily brought up this Will Ferrell movie called Casa de mi Padre that opens March 16. Tell me you think this even looks like a real movie when you see the trailer, which has a Spanish-speaking Ferrell and all the 70′s camera tricks:
When I try to wrap my head around the presentations of these movies/trailers, I am reminded by an article from Daniel O'Brien at Cracked called, "I Can't Tell If Movies Are Being Serious Anymore," which discusses real trailers for real movies that aren't even really trying to be anything but something you've seen before (I love his breakdown of The Hangover II trailer compared to the original Hangover trailer). O'Brien followed it up with an article called, "I Can't Tell If The World Is Being Serious Anymore," citing real-life situations that would be jokes in any other context.
O'Brien brings up "Poe's Law," which states:
Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.
It has been summed up like this:
…without a clear indication of the author's intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism.
Poe was talking about religious extremes on an Internet forum. But it applies to almost anything involving parody. Where this is going is…where is the sincerity, and if there's no sincerity, where's the joke?
Ultimately, I'd like to know what the joke is, too. Bad Ass is piling on something that became an Internet insta-meme. I mean, look at just a couple of these parodies (language and violence warnings still apply):
Epic Beard Man + Mortal Kombat:
Epic Beard Man, Animated:
Because the Internet is quick to snark, a race to be the most clever human being on a subject ever, it has become a home for quick, biting satire, some good, mostly bad. In that realm is the fake movie trailer, usually making fun of genre conventions. So when we see a trailer for Bad Ass or Casa de mi Padre, especially when they feature actors who do Funny Or Die skits, it's impossible to tell if it's seriously advertising a real movie.
That's why the fake trailers in Tropic Thunder work, because they aren't seriously advertising real movies, but are making fun of the type of movies we've seen or might see. When a fake trailer from Grindhouse becomes an actual movie, then we're crossing the line of satire. Fake trailers with the goal of satire lose their bite when they become the basis for something larger. I think this is why almost every Saturday Night Live sketch turned into a movie has failed so miserably. Something is lost in the translation from taking a premise that lasts minutes into something that lasts nearly two hours.
This Kind Of Entertainment Is A Marketing Nightmare, Yet Can Be Profitable
While this ironic entertainment is amusing at times, it doesn't appeal to most people. I think most people don't really get the joke, or would rather be entertained in an honest way rather than being told, "Well, it's supposed to be bad." [Shrug]. Luckily this type of entertainment is kind of cheap, too, so no one is breaking the bank making fake trailers or real trailers that look fake. Snakes on a Plane was pretty much a bomb, but it made its money back for the most part. Machete made 4 times what it cost to produce. Hobo with a Shotgun didn't even make a million dollars, and with no budget stats it's hard to see whether that movie was worth it.
A movie like Casa de mi Padre looks like something that will bomb very hard. No matter how funny that might be as a trailer, you're going to have a hard time getting people to pay money to see it. If it looks dumb, people tend to stay away, and yet you have to advertise it as something that looks dumb. That's why I think this kind of entertainment only works as a trailer. A trailer's job is to sell the movie, make it something you think you could sit through for 2 hours. It's job is not to make it "look bad for the sake of bad." People end up just agreeing with you that it's bad.
In fact, it would be great if the makers of Casa de mi Padre had a contest for people to edit their own trailers to try to make that movie either look great as a comedy or serious as a drama (I'd say probably impossible considering Ferrell's performance). As is, it just looks unusual in a bad way. We want to see something different, but not if it makes us uneasy.
As this exchange in The Simpsons episode called "Homerpalooza" goes:
Teen1: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Teen2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen1: I don't even know anymore.