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.
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