I actually can’t (quite) remember the circumstances around first seeing this film – but I remember that I saw it. And I was appalled and intrigued and I found it wonderful and funny and wise and profound and I could tell – right away, that first time – that I didn’t quite get it. Not all. Not all the way. I loved it. Well, love is a funny word. I felt like I loved it. But I was consumed by it, certainly.
Call anything ‘cult’ and there’s a bit of a double-edged sword effect. Bad Boy Bubby is a cult film. No two ways about it, even though I just said double-edged sword, and that immediately announces two ways…
You see, the first few times I saw this – well should I say, the second, third and fourth times – there was an extra effort made to ensure the humour. It’s a funny film. Hilarious, actually. But it’s the kind of humour you might best enjoy alone. Maybe don’t even tell someone else that you found it funny, just keep that for yourself. But after that first – vital – screening I returned to this film. And often as part of a group. It was probably the “2 Girls 1 Cup” of its time, in a way. It offered, among all that it offered, a eureka-styled “have you seen it? Have you really truly seen it?” experience. It was a challenge. Could you make it through? The whole way? Did you need a hand-hold or could you do it alone? And if you did it alone could anyone believe you? You see if you watched this – or claimed to – alone you needed, then, to front up and watch it with a group, as part of a group; maybe introduce it to some people.
There were walk-outs. People refused to watch it. People felt a sense of outrage.
I always know that a film means something, really means something, if someone refuses to watch it. Especially if it’s someone I respect. With Bad Boy Bubby I know a lot of people that couldn’t do it, that refused to, that thought it was sick and that thought people were only watching it for sad and sick kicks.
It seemed like, the first few times, as much as it was important to watch it and re-watch it – the film itself begging you – there was an aspect of bravado, a survivor’s attitude. Notches on belts. Who could go the furthest? How many tours of duty?
I’ve picked up more from this film each time – but it really all started to sink in a few years ago now – I haven’t watched it in years. But when it was released on DVD in a deluxe edition – those elaborate double-discs in the early days of DVD, when it was so important to get VHS buyers to convert, I remember watching all of the special features. And hearing about screenings where people were openly weeping, meeting cast and director after the film and thanking them – saying “thank you for telling my story”.
You never actually quite know what someone else’s struggle – what anyone else’s struggle – really is; unless you get them on that level. And even if you think you can, or think you know, you really only – truly – get a small handful of people on that level in your lifetime.
Bad Boy Bubby is brutal and strange and, yes, sick. But it’s profoundly beautiful. It features almost the most astonishing lead performance I’ve ever seen – certainly the very best effort from a pretty-much unknown, a rank outsider. It features an amazing support effort from the woman (Claire Benito) playing Bubby’s mother – that’s got to be one of cinema’s most thankless tasks/most thankless roles. You could imagine her being lambasted in the streets for years, even now. All this time. You could imagine someone still wanting to give her the news. To really sound off – as if she really was Bubby’s mother, and not an actress committing to a role. Nailing it. Fucking totally nailing it. Brutally. Frighteningly.
You can watch Bad Boy Bubby for many reasons. You can absolutely watch it as a comedy. A hilarious, quite pithy, comedy. You can view it as the most horrific tragedy too. You’re not wrong to see both. You’re not wrong if you only see one and not the other. You’re not wrong to alternate, watch it twice, see both sides, but only ever one side at a time.
If you can see anything through that first claustrophobic half-hour you are doing well.
Other movies judge you in the way you judge them. You don’t ever quite know that – perhaps. But it’s true. And the fans of the film will tell you the big news if they think you missed it. But Bad Boy Bubby doesn’t judge. It’s a beautifully surreal – and say it slowly, that also means ‘so real’ – take on a life ruined before it got the chance to start. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about the bandwagon-jumpers, and how a pop-culture icon can be made in far less time than overnight. That 15 minutes that’s attributed to Warhol, that can not only give you fame – which could end being fleeting – it can give the world, or part of the world, a pop-culture icon; a moment. A trope. A trace. A taste.
Funny that Bad Boy Bubby – the film – ended up becoming something of a pop-culture moment, if not an icon, when part of its focus is to send this up; pre-social media, pre-narcissism is the new black.
Just the other day, a friend announced on the Facebook that he was introducing the film to his lady-friend. And so I joined in the revelry – “gosh, ya got great tits, Flo” and “Christ you’re a weirdo!” and “cat be still!”
Because in the end it’s easier to say that – to play along with the riffs, the lines, the moments, the mantras, the cruel, disturbing – but funny – mangling within the film than it is to just stand up and say how deeply beautiful and profound and wondrous and joyous and strangely uplifting the film is.
But now. Now, it’s 2 in the morning, as I’m writing this. I’ve nailed a couple of bottles of red and Max Richter is going straight to my heart as the wine aims for my head. And I haven’t seen Bad Boy Bubby in years. Maybe a decade, even. Or close to it. But I watched it so many times in that first decade that the film was alive – when it thrived. And it meant the world to me. Always. Even if I didn’t know it for the first few times.
I wondered what I might write about tonight. Or today, as it is for you – when you clicked on that link to have a read, to kill some time. And as soon as I remembered back to the gentle Facebook ribbing around a new initiation – but tried to balance that with a weekend alone, a life that I love and that music from Richter – I cried. I cried. I felt a few tears. I haven’t felt any in years. It wasn’t (just) the wine. Not this time. It was thinking of Nicholas Hope and all the hope he offered to the real survivors of the strange tale he lives out in that film, it was to the risk of the art, to the challenging part of taking that film in when you’re around your mates and the easy ticket is to laugh and have a few and wonder what the big deal is.
But Bad Boy Bubby is a really big deal. A huge deal. The biggest deal. It’s moving. It’s beautiful, wonderful, an amazement – it’s a film that’s burned itself to me, attached itself. I may never watch it again. And yet just the thought of it tonight, at the right time, in the right state, I was driven to tears. Well, you don’t get that nearly enough with film these days.
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