Z-movies (defined here as a subset of paracinema analogous to naïve art wherein the appeal is inextricably linked to metatextual qualities by which they fail to meet traditional aesthetic standards) have long been informally associated with an ironic viewing style. In this paper, I argue for a deeper psychic function fulfilled by these films, first drawing on psychological theories of the processes through which viewers interpret narrative film, suggesting that by failing to meet traditional aesthetic standards, and thus impeding the unification of narrative incongruity, these films create an alienation effect analogous to philosophical and aesthetic conceptions of absurdity. I…

Samantha Morton as Marilyn and Diego Luna as Michael in ‘Mister Lonely’

(Note: I first wrote this essay in 2016 as part of the Dissolve Facebook group’s “Lovefest” series in which writers mount defenses of maligned films. With the upcoming release of Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, I’ve taken the opportunity to revise and repost it here).

What does it mean for a movie to “work?”

For some, it’s as simple as the beat sheet laid out in Blake Snyder’s screenwriting manual Save the Cat (page 8, theme stated; page 20, catalyst, etc). Others might feel like the PAGE Awards judge who once told me, “The three-act structure is hundreds of years…

The world has done a disservice to Barenaked Ladies.

After three decades and over a dozen studio albums, the band is still mainly seen as a one hit wonder whose one hit is a B-list meme — not quite at the heights of “All Star” but close. Recently, a podcast host drove a stake through my heart by casually asserting, “Barenaked Ladies is basically kids’ music.”

What I’ve always most admired about BNL is the varied and bizarre nature of their chosen subjects. Where so many bands churn out maudlin love songs and hollow party anthems, BNL writes about the…

“La La Lie” will always feel to me like a train rushing through the dark away from a humiliating strikeout.

It was 2016, and I’d spent the evening at an event where I’d hoped to gladhand important people who might boost my career. This was supposed to be the first night of the rest of my life, but when my shot came, I’d tumbled into a morass of uncomfortable eye contact and awkward mumbling. I’d slinked back into the train station and popped in my earbuds to drown out the voice in my head shouting, You fucked that up.


When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, I got the most unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

This was the last bastion of impossibility. If this was possible, then what wasn’t? At the end of October 2016, we lived in a world perched precariously between comfortable certainties and impossible alternatives, and any reminder that we were just a light push from tumbling over the edge was too much to bear.

On first blush, “Cubs in Five” sounds like an anthem of hope, like John Darnielle is listing outcomes that, however unlikely, he will make damn…

Somewhere in the desert east of L.A., “‘39” found me.

My friend Russell and I were halfway through a cross-country road trip planned in desperation — I was 26, and in the midst of a multi-year crisis, tumbling through a personal and professional void, flailing wildly and finding nothing on which to catch myself, let alone drag myself back to stability.

I created various structures for our 35-state odyssey, hoping that the more external order I imposed the greater my chance of finding internal order. For one, I decided we would listen to an album from every year in the…

I’ve loved Ryan Pollie (the man behind Los Angeles Police Department) since he auditioned for my college a cappella group twelve years ago.

We asked recruits to demonstrate a hidden talent, and Ryan announced that he could convince anyone to go to any restaurant at any time. Then he launched into a passionate endorsement of Quiznos that left me equal parts hungry and bewildered by such impromptu absurdism. Before he’d sung a note, I knew — as Paul Thomas Anderson once said of first seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman act —he’s for me and I’m for him.

Ryan sent me the…

In the first 45 seconds of “To the Dogs or Whoever,” Josh Ritter sings 162 words.

It’s an expressive flurry that’s wholly out of step with most folk rock— Josh counts the relaxed John Prine as one of his primary influences, but if anything, “To the Dogs or Whoever” reminds me more of a literate version of the free-associative nerd-spitting in Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”

It reminds me, too, of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” another dense and freewheeling eruption of imagery, and you can pore over any Josh Ritter song with the same analytical eye. There’s less…

The first time I heard “Curious Hands,” I had no idea how to process it.

I had first fallen for Kuinka in their earlier branding as Rabbit Wilde, the name under which they’d released two LPs of infectious bluegrass-inflected folk very much in the mold of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. I quickly wore out those albums, and so when the band announced a new EP, I could not have been readier for more of the same.

Instead, I got something completely different. From the opening moments that blend strings with eerie percussive synths, the band now known as…

I’m not much of a memorabilia collector, but I do have one prized possession. It’s a small black pin printed in the late 1970s, and it bears the famous image of Jack Nance as Henry in Eraserhead, framed by four words: ERASERHEAD — I SAW IT.

As the story goes, these pins were handed out at early screenings as proto-viral marketing. The pins helped the film gain not just notoriety, but infamy. This wasn’t a movie you saw, this was an experience you endured, and afterwards you were awarded a badge of honor. Now you could present the challenge to…

Ethan Warren

Senior Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room, writer/director of West of Her (2018), multi-hyphenate writer

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