There’s this famous philosophical thought experiment about the nature of knowledge that goes something like this: imagine a woman named Kathy who has spent her entire life locked up in a cell, deprived of colour. Her whole world is black and white – her clothes, the walls of her prison, the food that gets delivered to her every day. She has never seen a splash of red in her life. But despite this – or maybe because of it – she is obsessed with red. With the help of books delivered to her prison, she studies red: comes to understand everything about it. She even writes an academic paper on red, one so acclaimed that it wins her an award.
Now imagine that the people who have trapped Kathy, whoever they might be, allow her to leave the prison in order to collect the award. They take her to the ceremony with a blindfold on, lead her into the auditorium, and then, when it is time for her to take the stage, whip the covering off her eyes. She steps into the bright lights, stunned, only to see the master of ceremonies come at her with an award and a bunch of roses. “Oh,” she says, dazzled by the flowers. “So that’s what red looks like.”
The BBQ is Rocky rewritten by Milo Yiannopoulos
The point of the story, crudely put, is thus: the foundation of our knowledge is the world itself. You can’t gain a true understanding simply by abstractly studying something – you have to experience it, firsthand.
I have watched a lot of very bad films in my life. I have sat through Tommy Wiseau’s The Room; through the complete works of Paul Anderson, the CGI-fattened hack behind Mortal Kombat; through every ungodly minute of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. And I have written about these films; picked them apart; sought to understand them.
But evidently, such study alone could not teach me what depths truly inept filmmakers can scrape. Last night I watched The BBQ, an Australian “comedy” starring Shane Jacobson, Magda Szubanski, celebrity chef Manu Feildel, and a bunch of bit players who look as though they have been forced to act at gunpoint. And about 20 minutes into the film, I had my very own roses moment – the startling realisation that real garbage had hitherto been unknown to me. That I had been blind to how ugly art could be; how vile, and racist, and unwatchable cinema could truly get.
Like Rocky rewritten by Milo Yiannopoulos, The BBQ is what could generously be described as an underdog story. The film follows the exploits of meat enthusiast Dazza Cook (Jacobson) who, shortly after accidentally poisoning his friends and family with expired prawns, finds himself entered into an international barbecue competition. Guided by a grizzled and hard-drinking master chef (Szubanski), he battles an arrogant rival (Feildel), a domineering father-in-law, and the expectations of all that have long doubted him.
Oh, and the French. See, Dazza, loveable, grizzly larrikin that he is, can’t stand poncey Europeans. Neither can the film’s director and co-writer Stephen Amis, it seems – one character outright calls French people “dirty”, and Feildel’s character is a marble-mouthed, horse meat-eating stereotype.
Not that Amis necessarily discriminates – he hates all non-Australian people equally. A pack of Swedes are depicted as Ikea loving ABBA-types; an Indian neighbour who speaks in broken English is unnaturally obsessed with turmeric; and the film’s Mister Miyagi stand-in, a stern Japanese chef and cattle farmer, spends his time practising karate, wielding a miniature samurai sword and generally acting like a cliché plucked from a discarded Hey Hey It’s Saturday routine.
Oh, and then there’s the matter of Dazza’s ancestry. See, the wise-cracking, dad-joke dropping suburban hero isn’t just any Cook – he reckons he’s related to the Cook; as in, Captain James. Dazza just loves the guy – although, as he hastens to add early in the film, it’s the historical Cook’s “sense of adventure” he’s into, as opposed to what he represents as a colonial power that murdered and displaced Indigenous Australians.
It is hard to explain how continually and catastrophically wrong-footed The BBQ is. One racist, ugly joke follows the other at such an unbelievable clip that you’re barely done picking your jaw up off the floor before you’ve gotta drop it again. It’s a film that seethes with a barely contained hate; a film with utter contempt for women, for gay people – even for vegans. Everyone is hypocritical, and dumb, and twisted, and weird, except for Dazza and his son, two shining bastions of ’Strayan maleness that succeed just as all those freaks around them fail.
That’s not even to get into the film’s technical issues, which are numerous. Shot on ugly and overcranked digital, The BBQ has all the style and panache of a snuff film. It’s just so ugly; as pleasant to watch as dental reconstruction. Cinematographer David Richardson can’t even seem to frame a simple mid-shot – he cuts off characters’ heads, fails to keep his leads in focus, and generally struggles to achieve a level of technical skill you’d expect of a workplace training video, or cheap porn.
It is hard to explain how continually and catastrophically wrong-footed The BBQ is.
Nobody escapes The BBQ with their reputation intact, but Jacobson comes off the worst. The man hasn’t been funny for ten years now, and he struggles and whimpers his way through the film like a gout-riddled, sherry-fucked grandpa trying to touch his toes.
Not that it’s necessarily his fault. In its emphatic awfulness, The BBQ feels like the fault of all of us; like some kind of curse wrought upon Australia as a nation. None of you should see it. Not one of you – not even those who want it to be some Room-like anti-art masterpiece.
The BBQ should sink without a trace. It should disappear into the folds of our history, and we should treat it like a covered-up crime – calling it to mind only occasionally, with a cold shiver, before going back to the great, thankless work of forgetting it.
You can read more about The BBQ over at the film’s Facebook page, here, but you really shouldn’t. You should forget it ever existed.