October 25, 2013

What is riffing, anyway?


Well…go on, then. What is riffing? What makes it so popular?

Why do we think we improve a movie by adding our own glib comments? What accounts for the ability of a show that riffs bad movies to last ten seasons, put out a full length movie of its own?

How can we explain people paying to go watch people watch a movie and tease it, live, or to attend a class on how to do it?

Bill Corbett, MST3K alumn, is quick to distance riffing from mere heckling. In his mind, riffing must come from a more appreciative place. “You can’t just be the voice of generic sarcasm, you have to be funny and clever and occasionally a little more generous, and shift your point of view here and there so you arent making fun of the movie so much.”

Indeed, riffing is almost never as well-received when it is mean spirited. Joel Hodgson, MST3K creator says that it’s pointless to endlessly mock something you can simply leave. Riffing, then, is interplay, friendly competition between movie and its audience, and never done alone, as half the fun is building off the other riffers.


This is not to say that the movie’s weaker moments aren’t acknowledged. But they are touched instead of dwelt upon, one note instead of the only one. The riffs are exercises in critical thinking, an introduction to the basics of film theory, a tribute to the pop culture absorption rate.

Riffing is as much a remix as anything by Girl Talk, and for the same reasons. Riffing changes the dynamics of the movie, and, to quote RiP! A Remix Manifesto, “makes the creative process more important than the product.” Riffing is what the audience sees in the movie. Riffers are actively engaged instead of passive viewers, and even if the comments are not archived, the riffs change how the movie is received.

In talking back to the tv screen, or the laptop, or the movie projector, in altering the text, riffers are giving the text new meaning. Need an example?

Before MST3K, Manos: The Hands of Fate was an obscure, nearly forgotten disaster of a movie that didn’t show outside the Southwest; the only copy that the show could find was a 16mm film. After being one of the show’s most popular episodes, Manoshas somehow justified two restored DVD releases,a documentary about its making, and a video game.

When you get down to brass tacks, riffing is community in the most basic sense of the word: it’s people talking to each other.

> Written with [StackEdit](http://benweet.github.io/stackedit/).

Advertisements

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. By riffing on an artistic work and giving it new meaning, we’re poaching it and assigning our own experiences to it. I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoyed The Room on it’s own merit, for example, but it’s now become a cult classic for being the best worst movie ever made (one of the actors recently released a book on filming the movie, which I must read soon).

    Game Informer, one of the biggest game news sources around, hosts a show called Replay on their website. They play all kinds of games, including classics like Super Mario and such, but the fan favorite episode are the ones where the editors play old, bad horror and sci-fi games like Blue Stinger, Cyberia and — the game that will always live on in Replay infamy — Overblood 2, which took over 20 hours to complete. The game is an unmitigated disaster, with pathetic voice-over work, nonsensical design and horrible graphics, but the commentary created an experience so hilarious that Game Informer readers created a Facebook group called “I watched the entire Overblood Replay” as a sort of badge of honor for sitting through the entire “game.”

    I will add links to this later, I can’t right now because I’m at work. It’ll be great, I promise!

    Reply
  2. “Friendly competition between movie and its audience.” I liked how you explain riffing in such a detailed way. You build up to a good point, however, when you talk about “Manos”. The movie itself could have been long forgotten in the dust but it wasn’t, instead the MST3K crew saved it and made it a wonderful movie to watch. I take it one step past riffers giving the text new meaning. I feel that it makes a whole new form of media that really shows people that every film creation can either be enjoyed, or enjoyable. Enjoyed perhaps in the sense of watching and shutting your own brain off and enjoyable in the sense that you can make a few jokes and have a good time regardless of its quality. Almost the purest example of rummage, I’d say.

    Reply
  3. By riffing on an artistic work and giving it new meaning, we’re poaching it and assigning our own experiences to it. I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoyed The Room on it’s own merit, for example, but it’s now become a cult classic for being the best worst movie ever made (one of the actors recently released a book on filming the movie, which I must read soon).

    Game Informer, one of the biggest game news sources around, hosts a show called Replay on their website. They play all kinds of games, including classics like Super Mario and such, but the fan favorite episode are the ones where the editors play old, bad horror and sci-fi games like Blue Stinger, Cyberia and — the game that will always live on in Replay infamy — Overblood 2 , which took over 20 hours to complete. The game is an unmitigated disaster, with pathetic voice-over work, nonsensical design and horrible graphics, but the commentary created an experience so hilarious that Game Informer readers created a Facebook group called I watched the entire Overblood Replay as a sort of badge of honor for sitting through the entire game.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About tomwink

Graduate student at Rowan University currently researching public spaces and their impact

Category

fandom, participatory culture, short post, Uncategorized

Tags

, , , ,