At its most basic, the line between “good” and “bad” cinema rests on the shoulders of Intention. Is what you are seeing onscreen, particularly if it is bad, on purpose? And if so – and done well – does it then make it good? Is this the purest form of satire?
Take the early work of John Waters: over-the-top acting, cardboard sets, garish dime store costumes, and home-video style cinematography = all on purpose. Waters is paying homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis & Russ Meyer, two of the schlockiest directors to come around since Ed Wood. (One could even argue that Lewis and Meyer are intentionally bad, having aided in creating the exploitation film, which is infamous for having tongue firmly in cheek)
And then there is Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s epic journey of infidelity. For those of you who have not seen all 30+ chapters, stop reading this right now, get stoned – blazed! – and find it online. For those who have already witnessed the trials of Sylvester, Rufus, Gwendolyn, Cathy, Chuck, and Pimp Lucius, you know that what I am about to say is true: Trapped in the Closet is a masterpiece.
The original incarnation of TITC was contained to five chapters, up until the point we learn that Gwendolyn is sleeping with the police officer. These chapters make up the last five tracks of Kelly’s 2005 TP.3 Reloaded album. Due to audience outcry, Kelly continued his “hip-hopera” (all sung by Kelly; amazingly, by the way) to interconnect even more fools with even more infidelity, culminating in – what else? – everyone worried that they got “the package” aka HIV.
R. Kelly pushes the satirization of the black community, especially its men, to where the sidewalk ends. His over-masculinized males pull guns on each other at the slightest question of their manhood; unless they are gay. Then they have AIDS. What could be construed as offensive if out of the blue, unnecessary, and played for melodrama in say, oh, a Tyler Perry movie (i.e. Janet Jackson’s down low hottie husband in For Colored Girls) actually infects the satire with a very real world problem: the greatest achievement of any parody. Taking a look at the title, Kelly also is poking fun at the inherent homophobia within the black community.
The film works as a Masterpiece of Trash because everyone is in on the joke (if Showgirls was on purpose, Paul and Joe definitely kept it a secret from Elizabeth Berkeley…). It is almost the definition of bad narration (everything he tells us we also see). The technical aspects of the film meet and exceed Hollywood standards, which only enhances its laughability. If you didn’t know any better, you would think you were watching some drama starring Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson. Instead, you get a thoroughly above adequate R. Kelly (who at the time was embroiled in his own real life sexual drama; the one where he was caught on tape, pissing on a minor…) and a cavalcade of brilliant actors, turning in award worthy performances, absolutely going for it in every single moment. Never for an instant do they play into the humor. Which, of course, makes it wet the bed funny.
Began as a joke, Trapped in the Closet has taken on a life of its own. Kelly claims to have 85 chapters of the saga tucked away to record and film and, no lie, TITC is headed for Broadway. If anyone is trying to get on my good side (or in my pants), two tickets down center would be nice.