‘Space Jam’ and Pauline Kael’s ‘Trash, Art and the Movies’ (Stewart Clark)

In Pauline Kael’s ‘Trash, Art and the Movies’, she discusses audience interaction with movies that have a general consensus of being bad. She writes, “when movies are bad… our awareness of the mechanics and our cynicism about the aims and values is peculiarly alienating.” [1] Kael is implying that we gain more appreciation for aspects of good filmmaking by viewing considerably bad ones. Despite obvious examples of ‘so bad they’re funny’ films, my mind was immediately cast to Space Jam (Joe Pytka, 1996), for its numerous examples of bad filmmaking.

Space Jam, starring NBA star Michael Jordan, is a live-action/animated comedy film in which Jordan has to help Bugs Bunny and the cast of Looney Tunes beat ‘The Monstars’ in a basketball game. The film was evidently a cash grab by combining two aspects of popular culture in an attempt to create a box office hit. The acting from Jordan is shaky and the script is particularly poor. Despite these bad qualities, Space Jam is a hilarious film for all the wrong reasons. In the scene attached, Stan Podolak (Wayne Knight) is crushed in the basketball game and blown back up by the medical staff and then popped to hilarious effect.

Although comedy is created in this sequence due to slapstick nature of Podolak’s deflation, the main comedy is created through the terrible computer-generated imagery of Wayne Knight as his character looks digitised. Humour is primarily created through the bad filmmaking techniques in this sequence rather than the comedy of the set piece itself. Kael asserts that “the movie doesn’t have to be great: it can be stupid and empty.” [2] This description from Kael about bad movies is particularly poignant in relation to Space Jam. The film is “stupid and empty” as it features scenes so laughable due to their poor execution. However, this doesn’t mean that Space Jam is not thoroughly entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

 

[1] Pauline Kael, “Trash, Art and the Movies,” American Movie Critics, ed. Lopate (Washington: Library of America, 2006), p. 127.

[2] Ibid., p. 127.

5 comments

  1. This is a really great example of how the technical failings of a film do not necessarily have to be its downfall, and can actually contribute to their comedic content. Do you think Space Jam was fully self-aware or are some of the funny ‘failings’ accidental? Could some elements have become funny with age, as technology becomes outdated?

  2. I totally agree. Comedy can occur for the opposite of what film is trying to accomplish. Notice how most of these films become cult classics, such as ‘The Room’ or ‘Showgirls’. I think it would be interesting to highlight the difference of the poor quality of Space Jam when you compare it to a successful film like ‘Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?’.

  3. You make a really great point. Comedy can easily happen when it is least expected for being the opposite of what film is trying to accomplish. Notice how most of these films become cult classics, such as ‘The Room’ or ‘Showgirls’. I think it would be interesting to highlight the difference of the poor quality of Space Jam when you compare it to a successful film like ‘Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?’.

  4. By combining popular icons of sport and cartoon Space Jam conflicts with Kael’s view that we go to the movies to escape the need to have a proper responses to our culture. By playing off their “cultural image” intentionally yet while maintain a sense that this is unintentional results in this failed use of the star image and why I think it is a “bad” movie.

  5. I read the article in a different way. While I agree that Space Jam is certainly not Oscar worthy, I would argue that people see the movie not because of its failing but precisely because of the cultural image its created. As Kael described earlier in the article, people can enjoy movies despite filmmaking that they perceive as bad because of singular lines, scenes, or gags that they want to see. Space Jam is full of these.

Leave a Reply