Don’t Be Pumaman

Don’t Be Pumaman May 10, 2017

This beautiful creature has nothing to do with this ugly film.
This beautiful creature has nothing to do with this ugly film.

The funniest single bit of video I have seen in the last year was MST3K: PumamanSomehow I missed this Laff-Riot when it was on the air, MST3K was must watch television in those days, but now my children are watching it and I joined them.

For those who have been deprived, MST3K is a chance for witty comedy writers to riff during a very bad movie. At its best, with films such as Manos: The Hands of Fate , cinematic straw is turned into electroplated gold chains. This may not be greatness, but it is good for a LOL.

Netflix has brought the show back and it looks as funny as ever, though I am watching the greatest hits of the old stuff before giving the new gang a chance. It looks promising. Here is hoping that they remain a bit in love with the cheesy movies and Midwestern sensibility. We have enough coastal riffs on film. Give us geekery for the flyovers, gang!

I have taught some film as text and helped start a fine film program, so I have seen my share of bad student movies. However, I shan’t mock them here, because the worst student film meant well. There was a genre of sincere movie making by Evangelical students in the 1990’s I call: “F Word Evangelical.” This type of movie refused to be Christian. In fact, it went out of its way to avoid anything resembling religion and also showed that (if he or she wished) the film maker could do naughty things. Generally this produced minutes of sincere, overwrought dialog about darkness, pain, and gritty realism. The dialog often was written by a kid whose actual life was super-pleasant, but his peers would have mocked any realistic film about his childhood as “fake.”

The merit of this sort of movie making was that a person (generally!) outgrew it and started telling stories again. You could always praise the movies in the same way a parent could put a kindergarten picture on the fridge: it isn’t objectively very good, but you loved the kid and the effort. Many a student film made it to our mental fridges as we praised progress and hoped (someday) for something watchable.

There was also the film made by the talented amateur for fun.  If my dad’s generation shot home movies with a super 8, some dads and grandads my age shoot motion pictures. If you know the family, these can be fun and even entertaining. Our Victorian ancestors did weekend amateur theatricals and so we make amateur film.

All praise!

We need more “just for fun” stuff. Just don’t sell it, raise money for it, or get your non-profit to make it part of your job . . . that way lies Birdemic. Don’t go there. More “nones” have been created by witless Christian films that should have stayed family projects rather than anything this side of mega-church pastors and faith healers.

From Wikipedia for a fair use review of the film.
From Wikipedia for a fair use review of the film.

Pumaman is not a film by an amateur. It is not sincere. It is just bad . . . ragingly bad and shot on a budget. 1950’s Superman had a better flying effect than appears in 1980’s Pumaman. That is not o.k. Budgets are real, but nobody should ask somebody to pay for something like this film.

The script uses a standard superhero origins story, mixes in some casual racism, and then a dollop of self-knowing humor. If the writers had actually been self-knowing, they would have quit, kept their names out of the crawl, and burned the reels in a bonfire to preserve sanity.

People who make films like Pumaman deserve all the ridicule, because they can do better and have done better. They have sold out and then poured the pottage they got on our heads.

So why think about Pumaman? 

First, the MST3K folks show us what can be done with dreck. We can make something of it. Those Midwestern comics turned their own cheap sets, bad films, and a low budget into something so good that it has been on the air for decades. Netflix revived a series that the coastal elites would not have made, because they did their best and that turned out to be delightful.

Be like MST3K.

The other reel contains films made by people who took talent and made wretched movies. Pumaman did not have to stink. It stank, because the challenges of a low budget, cheap sets, and a grinding schedule overcame them. They didn’t do their best, they churned out the movie.

And so it goes in life: some of us get challenges and make something good, even something that endures. Others of us give up, blame “them,” and churn out Pumaman.

We all will make something not-so-good, but we can all do our best even when we fail. Our friends will be kind and even take joy out of our meager efforts. Sometimes we will be blessed with some genius in the midst of our mediocrity.

Or we could make Pumaman: the shoddy product of a people who knew better, but turned in a half-effort.

Don’t be a pumaman.


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