One of the results of the counterculture's loosening of restrictive codes for moviemakers since the late '60s is that bad serious movies aren't as funny as they used to be. All of Joan Crawford's melodramas from A Woman's Face in 1941 to Trog in 1970, for instance, or Cecil B. DeMille's moralizing biblical extravaganzas, hinted so mightily at what censorship kept them from showing, and so transparently used final punishment of transgressors as a license to hint, that anyone with a brain was bound to get the giggles. As college students my parents were thrown out of a theater for laughing out loud during DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), and they raised me on the old definition of camp: something so bad it's good. The golden age of Hollywood was in this way the golden age of unintentional camp.
Since moviemakers can be explicit about any subject now, there isn't as much huffing and puffing around controversial topics, and this has taken the helium out of the balloons of unintentional camp. Movies like The Hours and Far from Heaven are dull but basically unrepressed and so don't trigger laughter to the same extent as the Douglas Sirk movies that inspired Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven do: nasty nympho Dorothy Malone doing the cha-cha while her old man croaks of a heart attack in Written on the Wind (1956), for instance. (Sirk's fans claim his work as intentional camp because he can't have taken the material seriously, but the material, vetted by its Hollywood producers, takes itself seriously. His fans include the gay directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who druggily pushed camp in the direction of amorphous naturalism; Pedro Almodóvar, who turned unintentional camp into intentional camp and transcended it; and Todd Haynes. In any case, superficially Sirk's work has a pokerfaced luridness that has all but disappeared from our movies.)
Hollywood also used to make intentional camp. James Whale (the movie director played by Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998)) was the master and his 1935 Bride of Frankenstein is deliriously funny and yet still adequately creepy for a monster movie. The hallmark of Whale's intentional camp is the ability to turn self-consciousness about the silly aspects of the project into high style. John Waters, the director of the classic independent low-budget drag-queen travesties Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), by contrast, turns self-consciousness into low style, wearing his amateur standing like a crown of laurels. Both roads lead to Rome. But Hollywood didn't make very much intentional camp and in any case such efforts were far outnumbered by the ludicrous self-seriousness of the unintentional variety. (Certainly the best recent effort has been SoapDish (1991), a spectacular send-up of TV soap operas starring a brilliantly unhinged Sally Field.)