Film on Fridays: Everything Is Terrible! The Movie!July 24, 2009
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve probably never mentioned this before. But I fucking love Everything is Terrible!. For those not keen on the premise, the good folks at EiT! essentially go around finding old video tapes and things from discount bins and small-town libraries and hunt through them for the most awkward and ill-thought-out bits, which they then edit humorously and display on their wonderfully basic-Blogspot-format internet-nickelodeon. It is the job that I would take if I had to kill a plump white baby with my teeth to get it.
About a month ago, EiT! came out with their first feature movie made of strung-along clips, titled, puzzlingly, Everything is Terrible! The Movie!, which you can order in DVD form from their website. So far, the DVD has received a pretty glowing review from the Onion AV Club, and has been viewed by me two (2) times. What could my impressions be? Will I be let down? Will I regret sending $20 to people for mashing together stolen intellectual property?
You better read this review to find out! This is incredibly important for you to do!!!
Everything is Terrible’s schtick is actually nothing really new to the internet — people have been refining horrible media into easily digestible YouTube clips for literally years now, and websites devoted to consolidating them are almost passe at this point. But EiT is unquestionably different, both in its approach and presentation of material. Perhaps the most obvious is that in between the lines of the spliced-together VHS’s, there’s a certain fondness for the medium. Even though its mission is clearly to point out the ridiculousness of the source video, it retains a kind of reverance for the whole mode of life encased in the video tape: the low fidelity (an issue even during the emergence of VHS), the air of having been picked out of a bargain bin or received in the mail to promote a product, the ineptness of all of it, EiT treats it with a touch of fond rememberance. Even the packaging of the DVD is peppered with facsimiles of those dumb circular stickers they’d put on the boxes at the video rental wall at Long’s Drugs. This kitschy respect almost makes other sites seem crass or spiteful in comparison.
Another unique aspect of EiT seems to be its ability to analyze the patterns of why certain horrible things are horrible in the way they are. The film presents this in an excellent way, by almost establishing a kind of narrative to the viewer: we are strung along the clips in a very directed way, moving pretty seamlessly from snippets focused on telling you not to do drugs, to awkward self-defense lessons for children, to losers telling you how to be successful. Throughout the hour or so of material on the DVD, a realization began to set on me about what it was that was terrible about each clip. What exactly is terrible isn’t so much the clear lack of craftsmanship or talent or originality, but the unnaturalness and blatant misunderstanding of what it is that people actually do and want. Most of the videos showcased are from didactic material — videos given to people to teach them something or convince them that they need something. And they are terrible at doing either of those things.
There’s a large sequence in the opening of the film where several authoratitive figures state into the camera that the video you’re currently watching might be the most important thing you’ve ever watched in your life, and that you owe it to yourself to watch intently and heed its advice. It’s only revealed later that these men are talking about things like hair growth formula and moon-landing conspiracies and transparent fraud from Kevin Trudeau. EiT seems to expose an industry that thrived in the late 80′s and early 90′s where people with obvious crippling problems told people how to live their lives through the medium of VHS, and made it seem like the most important thing in the world. The reason we don’t really remember this industry is because they failed miserably. It maybe speaks to the understated intelligence of the American consumer that this guy didn’t strike it rich with this slapshod didact crap. Even when EiT takes on feature films, which are slightly less geared towards persuasion, the actors and directors and everyone involved seem to share a common misunderstanding of what their audience could possibly relate to.
Maybe the lesson of Everything is Terrible! is actually how vain we are when we judge a piece of media — in order to appreciate it, we must see some semblance of ourselves within it; some piece that we can understand in the context of our own experience and identity. It is the lack of this, the seemingly foreign and unnatural and inexplicable that we see in EiT’s collections and react to, with both humor and puzzlement and wonder. One might even call our need to call the different and strange “illogical” or “laughably stupid” slightly culutrally imperialist. Perhaps it is we…who are terrible.
Or maybe it’s funny because the videos are creepy and weird and the dudes edit them pretty funnily. Either way I still fucking love Everything is Terrible! and I fucking loved their DVD. ONE BILLION STARS FROM ME, DAVID, DAVID HOLLINGSWORTH, SQLOG WRITER.