With atrophied masochists like me never more fervent in our love for the cinematic ego-trips of incompetent narcissists, I wanted to take a look at perhaps the best bad movie subgenre.
The term 'egosploitation' was coined by Richard Tribouilloy, a member of the nanarland.com crew, and applies chiefly to bad movies that have resulted from the endeavours of a singularly egotistical creative force. Typical egosploitation is written & directed by its star, who will invariably play a character so skilful, wise and righteous they'd make a Mary Sue blush with modesty. The movies are often self-financed, and always prone to ambitions beyond the capabilities of their deluded auteur. But Egosploitation's unique appeal lies mainly in the childish caricatures those auteurs set out to play: their dream-cyphers.
Neil Breen. A man not above being pleased with himself
Common to all egosploitation filmmakers is an almost complete lack of self-awareness. As a result, the characters they create for themselves tend to be unguarded projections of their deepest desires and insecurities. These movies offer us a glimpse into the psyches of those who made them, and their dream-cyphers are the windows through which we gaze on the horrors within.
Characters like The Room's Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) and Double Down's Aaron Brand (Neil Breen) inadvertently reveal their author's deepest fantasies. Because both men are so oblivious to how others perceive them, their filmic alter egos are, in a way, among cinema's purest, most sincere and most revealing creations. Uninfluenced by reality, logic and social norms, they become primal outpourings; completely uncompromised linear reveries. But, although Wiseau and Breen are often paired off together in conversation, they occupy opposite ends of the egosploitation spectrum, as a look at their dream-cyphers shows.
As Johnny in The Room, Wiseau just wants to love and be loved
In Wiseau's The Room, Johnny's primary characteristics are his decency and popularity. He's not the richest, toughest, sexiest or coolest guy; he's the most loved, loving and honourable guy. Contrast that with Breen's Aaron Brand, whose primary characteristic is that he's the best at everything. Breen's subsequent movies all revolve around his sense of morality being imposed on the world, leading to the mass execution/suicide of those he sees as unfit to be alive (politicians, bankers, lawyers, businessmen, criminals, etc.). The arrogance is staggering. Both men are living out a fantasy, but Johnny reflects Wiseau's vulnerability and insecurity while Brand reflects Breen's narcissism and immaturity. What makes Johnny even more interesting is the fate Wiseau assigns to him. The baubles which demonstrate his popularity (girlfriend Lisa, a beautiful blonde; Best friend Mark, an in-crowd poster boy) ultimately commit a humiliating act of betrayal. The movie ends on a note of pessimism that suggests Johnny's idyllic life was a lie. This implies Wiseau was reaching beyond egosploitation for something more sophisticated, and that he did it by channelling a darkness from his past. Such humility leaves Wiseau at odds with virtually every other egosploitation filmmaker. He might be the archetype for many, but he's not the best example. That honour unquestionably falls to Breen... so far.
The result of Breen's 'cleansing' of the human race in Pass-Thru
Beyond these two megalomaniacal megastars are numerous second tier wannabes whose cinematic catastrophes fall within the egosploitation wheelhouse. John de Hart and Steve Barkett are increasingly well known, while Andrew Stevens and Damian Capa will be explored in the coming weeks, as will mainstream genre figures like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Even William Shatner got in on the act with Groom Lake, a sci-fi atrocity so cheap and awful it's simply frightening compared to proper movies. But as long as egosploitation allows us to peek at the unguarded subconscious of an incompetent deluded man-child, proper movies are for little chickens. Cheep cheep.
Video: I, Breen
If you're not familiar with the great man, this will tell you everything you need to know.