Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Mark Winokur

Second Advisor

Bruce Kawin

Third Advisor

Helmut Müller-Sievers


In the judgments involved in evaluating bad movies, ―bad underscores the implicit assumption that movies should be aesthetically realistic. Where different counter-cinemas, such as the avant-garde or even self-conscious films, critique the dominant realist aesthetic from a point of distance, bad movies represent a critique from within realism, jolting the audience out of a state of passivity via their impossible-to-ignore failures to reproduce the codes of cinematic realism. Bad movies encourage attention to the extratextual elements of a film which helps viewers activate the entire film. Working within the realist aesthetic (instead of from its outside, as is the case with other counter-cinemas) demands a theoretical reformulation of realism instead of just simply expressing a formal, theoretical critique. To this end, the existing discourse on citationality as received from J.L. Austin and Jacques Derrida is a useful model for how the dominant realist aesthetic and bad movies both attempt to repeat iterable models of the real but only the former is successful at it. By couching realism in the terms of an iterable discourse, we can follow Fredric Jameson‘s belief that the problems of realism are more epistemological than aesthetic, and this allows us to reengage classical realist film theory, such as the works of Andre Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer, in a productive way. If we place bad movies at the center of the realist discussion (instead of just censuring them as the negative half of a taste binary), then not only will the stalled scholarship on cinematic realism be jump started with new points of entry, but we will also come to see bad movies as an instructional site for the demonstration of the limits of realism and the activation of the proverbially passive audience.