The Madison Central Library's Bad Cinema series will screen "Gymkata" on Thursday, Jan. 16.

Since it opened in October, the new Madison Central Library has made a commitment to showing quality films in its new facility. Upcoming films include Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up,” and the Madison premiere of the acclaimed documentary “The Trials of Muhammad Ali.”

Oh, and then there’s “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

Yes, terrible moves need love too. And the library is scratching that itch with its free monthly “Bad Cinema” series, devoted to cheesy, badly-acted, terribly-written films.

This Thursday, Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 302 at the Central Library branch at 201 W. Mifflin St., the series will show “Gymkata,” an ‘80s action movie that fuses the excitement of martial arts with the artistry of gymnastics – or tries to, anyway, and fails spectacular. Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas plays an American recruited by the CIA to take part in a bizarre contest in a third-world country, where he has to fight countless baddies with the help of parallel bars and other conveniently located equipment.

“The setup is a little ridiculous, and the execution as well,” said Bad Cinema programmer Michael Knutsen. “Somehow there’s always a pommel horse right where he needs it.”

Other recent films that have been part of Bad Cinema include the breakdancing film “Breakin’ 2,” and “Invasion USA,” in which Chuck Norris single-handedly repels a Cuban invasion of America at Christmastime.

Knutsen knows bad movies – every week for the past five years, he’s hosted a Bad Movie Night for his friends at his house, showing two bad movies during the night. A library employee was one of the regular moviegoers, and invited Knutsen to curate a monthly bad movie night at the library.

“I’m always on the lookout for bad movies, enjoyable bad movies,” Knutsen said. “I’d say every fifth or sixth one is good enough to show my friends.

The library has a contract with a film distribution company to show their library of films, and let Knutsen loose in its catalog to select films for the series. He said the best kind of movies are ones that are sincerely made and just go wrong, rather than ones that are deliberately lousy.

“You have to be enjoying it in ways that were not intended by the filmmaker,” he said. “There are a very few purposefully bad movies, although that’s the worst thing to do, to try to make a bad movie. If a movie has a goofy title, it’s not going to be enjoyable to watch.”

Knutsen said that he’s surprised the series hasn’t shown a horror movie yet, given that most bad movies tend to be horror movies. That will change on Thursday, February 20 with “The Burning,” a classic killer-stalks-nubile-teens-at-summer-camp kind of flick.

After the screenings, Knutsen invites the audience to decamp to a local bar to talk about the movie they’ve just suffered through. Although he’s thinking of changing that up.

“We are thinking about having a meetup beforehand,” he said. “ Because it’s better to have a few drinks in you before you see the movie.”


Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.