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He'll Save Every One Of Us!!!
johnrossbowie
 When was the first time you watched something -- a movie, or a TV show -- and realized "This is so bad it's good" or, ideally, "this is supposed to be bad, and that is what makes it good?" In short, when did you discover camp?

I might be misusing 'camp' here -- Susan Sontag's Notes on Camp defines it as a way of seeing the world "not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization." Of over-the-topness. So if something has more style than substance, but is still good, still watchable, still fun -- that's camp, I guess. And it has its merits. And we run a terrible risk of living our lives in quotation marks, and I would cringe when people would say they listen to something 'ironically.' But there's a still a place for camp, even in our fragile, post-9/11 world.

But I discovered it in a movie theater on the Upper East Side in 1980 when, on a weekend with my dad, I saw Dino DeLaurentiis' Flash Gordon on its first Saturday. I was 9 (no point keeping that a secret, thank you, iMDB) and engaged in everything the way you are at that age. I was not here looking for kitsch, I was looking for more Star Wars. And Star Wars was devoid of camp at the time -- it was innovative, and pretentious, and mythic. But this movie, this Flash Gordon, this was something different. It was just a few years since Flesh Gordon, after all, so a reboot was going to be cast in that shadow anyway. And for the first minutes or so -- Max Von Sydow's sinister Voiceover ("Klytus, I'm booooored."), Topol's grandstanding, the deliberately funny football game -- i was in it. To win it. Give me more,  my eyes begged, as I chewed on Milk Duds with my pre-orthodontic teeth. And then something happened.

Flash is being escorted down a hallway by Princess Aura (I think, it's been a few years -- well, only a couple) who demands the escape to a nearby moon. Flash throws his shoulders back and announces "I don't want to go to any moon! I have to rescue my friends and save the earth!" and everybody in the theater -- including me -- started laughing. A lot of dialogue from the era doesn't age well, but at the time, when Luke first whined "But Uncle Owen, I was going to go into Tosche Station to get some power converters!" it rang true. This "I have to save the earth" shit seemed reductive, silly and ... deliberately bad. My mind was blown. I saw the movie three times in its initial release, and was struck by the name of the writer - Lorenzo Semple Jr. Shortly thereafter, in our simpler pre-iMDB days, I was watching the 1966 Batman movie, and there was that name again. And I finally realized that the 1960s Batman was supposed to be FUNNY. The world opened up -- a world where there was more than one way to enjoy something. And I owe it all to the aesthetic of the films producer, who had won two Oscars working with a man who mixed artifice with pretense. A producer who fostered a young David Lynch. Who produced 166 films in a long and storied career, and just died today at 91. Rest in peace, Dino De Laurentiis. I learned a whole new way to laugh.

www.youtube.com/watch




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