In my film noir class, we recently watched Kiss Me Deadly, a film our professor called a “cult classic.” He prefaced the screening by labeling it as an extremely low quality film and just not a good movie in general, while reminding us it remains to this day a very popular classic film noir. As the movie unfurled on screen and I watched main character search for clues hidden behind one phrase—“Remember Me”—my notes trailed off the page as a fairly conventional film noir turned into a sci-fi thriller in the last 20 minutes or so. I, along with my classmates, had no idea what to make of the film, and we spent the next 30 minutes discussing why this film remains to prevalent to this day, why some people love it, why others hate it, and what could possibly be inside that hellish box?!
Viewing Kiss Me Deadly made me think about the “bad movie” genre in general, and how certain films do become cult classics. I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly this directly was thinking as he made this film….did he know it was bad? Did he even know what was in the box? Did he even care? Did he just make the movie to mess with audiences across America? I find it hard to believe that he purposefully made a “bad” movie, for how could he have predicted the effect of this film in particular? I know it’s fairly useless to ask these questions, given my surface level knowledge of this film, the director, and the “bad movie” genre, and maybe that’s the point of films like these. They want to confuse you—to leave you wondering why on earth someone spent time choosing certain shots, sounds, and plot twists. It burns itself in your brain, leaving its mark even though you don’t know exactly what the mark is. You don’t know whether you liked it or hated it, as it is crawls under your skin and itches you to think harder and harder about a meaning that may not exist at all.
As I sifted through these jumbled feelings after the screening, I felt the same sort of stupor I feel after reading the lines of one of Shakespeare’s famous fools. They conform just enough to meld with the society they are thrown into (just as Kiss Me Deadly fits many of the film noir criteria), and yet they puzzle those around them with their seemingly nonsensical words and actions. People constantly strive to find meaning in their songs and jokes, so much so that I often wonder if they are meant to be taken so seriously. Yes, after having researched and written multiple papers on these characters I see the merit in looking for social commentary and analysis in their lines, yet their presence on stage and screen is relief for the audience that sometimes might work best as just that.
While I realize pairing a Shakespearian fool and a cult classic film such as Kiss Me Deadly might seem banal, it does help me understand the necessity of a sort of “other” in such rigid genres. When I feel unsettled by this film or the words of a character such as Feste in Twelfth Night, the purpose of this discomfort is to capture my attention and make me aware of what, if anything, these different mediums represent.