What's so alluring about bad movies? Village Voice critic J. Hoberman once wrote that "[a bad movie] is a philosopher's stone that converts the incompetent mistakes of nave dross into modernist gold." The low-budget shoddiness of movies by the likes of Ed Wood and Oscar Micheaux effectively calls attention to cinematic form, thereby causing viewers to become conscious of the extent to which a filmmaker's technical proficiency makes a film a work of art rather than an incomprehensible mess. However, this being an age in which movies such as Tommy Wisseau's The Room attract a considerable following through the ineptitude of their acting and the nonsensicality of their straight-faced narratives, today's connoisseurs of bad cinema are more or less in it for the laughs.
Such is the case with the Found Footage Festival, which screened Computer Beach Party (1987) to a packed house on Friday night at the Orpheum's Stage Door Theater. The Found Footage Festival is the brainchild of bad cinema devotees and former Stoughtonites Nick Pruehler and Joe Pickett, who pride themselves on their innate ability to unearth films -- usually on VHS tapes purchased at thrift stores or garage sales -- that time has tried to forget.
The plot of Computer Beach Party is, in a word, incoherent. At one point during the screening, the FFF's curators paused the film and presented the audience with a flowchart breaking down the narrative's various threads; they did an exemplary job illustrating that almost nothing about the story makes a lick of sense. There's an unremarkable beach, a nerdy-but-not-really-nerdy dude named Andy who's some sort of computing prodigy, a money-hungry mayor and his huge-chested daughter (Andy's romantic interest, of course), a hunky goon from central casting (Andy's rival), inexplicable racing and backseat coitus -- all of which takes place on the aforementioned beach.
Computer Beach Party reaches its absurd apotheosis when Andy uses his computer to plan a beach party, complete with a hair metal band named Panther and a bunch of coeds sauced off of wine coolers and Miller Lite. I'm not sure whether to classify these party scenes as kitsch pushed to its own limits, painfully accidental camp, or something else altogether. Little can be said to do justice to Computer Beach Party's willful pursuit of aesthetic awfulness. It certainly didn't help that the film's dialogue was mostly post-synchronized (leading to some incredibly clumsy dubbing) and its soundtrack was so loud as to drown out the majority of said dialogue.
The FFF's curators provided commentary throughout the screening, which was, for the most part, genuinely funny. The best moments came when Pruehler and Pickett discoursed on the film's utterly unique style, which is surely a manifestation of the vision of its auteur, Gary Troy. They mocked Computer Beach Party's awkward framings, forehead-slapping action sequences and ignorance of how to tell a story without opening up countless plot holes. Pruehler and Pickett's exercise in comedic masochism was also weirdly didactic: They persuasively demonstrated that Computer Beach Party is bad not just because it's unintentionally hilarious but also because it's put together in an adorably terrible way.