Last Saturday I felt a bit ill and so decided to retire to my chambers early, to watch a bit of TV and drink tea. Immediately however I faced a problem: the old tube TV in my bedroom isn’t connected to cable and I didn’t have the life force to drive down to the grocery store and rent a movie from the dispenser next to the entrance. There was nothing to watch.
Dang, I thought, what am I supposed to do now? Read a book? Ridiculous! But at that moment I spotted a black DVD case in the corner of the room. And suddenly it all came back to me: yes, theShit Shelf!
This was a brilliant wheeze I had come up with in Russia, as a means of getting free movies. I told my friends that if they had any DVDs in their collections that were so offensively bad it upset them to have them in the house, then I would perform the public duty of taking them away.
Regular readers of this column will know I have a fascination for bad movies, and once spent a year watching Tom Cruise films pretty much exclusively. This however was operating at a much higher level: I had become a toxic celluloid sludge removal man. But there was also an element of self-mortification, for I also vowed to watch all these films from start to finish. Now you might think this is strange and masochistic and perhaps it is, but in those long gone days of 2004-2005 broadband and English language films were hard to come by in Moscow. Streaming did not exist. You had to make do with what you could get.
Anyway, there was strong demand for my service and very soon I was regularly returning to my apartment with wads of atrocious pirate DVDs under my arm. Many of them were horror movies. I remember “Ginger Snaps II” for instance, which was an execrable film about a Canadian werewolf-girl and her monthly cycle. Then there was “The Man Thing”, a straight to DVD atrocity about a swamp creature based on the Marvel comic. With tears of pain in my eyes I watched them, but reader- I watched them.
Sometimes I’d get big budget blockbusters starring A-list stars. That’s how “Gigli” landed in my collection, in which Ben Affleck plays a hit-man intent on turning lesbian J-lo straight. “Gigli” is wrong on so many levels it is sublime, beyond summation, a new ontology of badness. Actually almost every film J-Lo ever made wound up in my hands.
The worst film of all however was “Nothing”, which was an incredibly unfunny zero budget Canadian comedy about two guys talking in a white void. I think I am probably one of only about four people who have seen it, and this is for the best. Let that film die, and be forgotten forever.
Anyway, I filled up a few DVD cases this way. The funny thing is that when I moved to Texas, I brought them all with me, so I would have something to watch. I had been in Russia for so long I had forgotten what it was like to live in a country where people speak English and all the media is easily accessible.
Those big black cases lay dead in a corner for years, until I forgot that I had ever performed this valuable service for my friends. But now, as I lay decrepit in my bed I saw the case and remembered and thought this is exactly what I need. Actually, I tried to find a good film first but that proved difficult, as all of those movies had the wrong region code. Only celluloid from my metaphorical shelf of darkness proved compatible with my player.
Well, not exactly. “Andrei Rublyev”, worked. I first watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece ten years ago, and had been meaning to re-watch it ever since. But next to it in the case was Lindsay Lohan’s “I Know Who Killed Me”, a slasher movie in which she plays a pole dancer. She made it in an attempt to shake off her cute image, in the days before drugs, jail, community service at the morgue, etc.
Hmm, I thought. Tarkovsky, or Lohan?
No contest: I went with Lohan. And I have to say, it was almost interesting in that the tone of I Know Who Killed Me is absolutely bizarre. Very early on Lyndsay Lohan has her hand and leg sawn off and spends the rest of film wearing a glove but forgets she’s supposed to have prostheses. the surreal awfulness kept me awake: I had to keep watching, to see what would happen next.
And therein lay my error - because had I watched Tarkovsky, I would definitely have fallen asleep after 20 minutes, and received the rest I needed. The lesson is clear. If you ever feel poorly, don’t watch a Lindsay Lohan movie. Choose quality: it’s a much better sedative.