I went with Jeremy Smith to see “Rifftrax Live” tonight. He did a great interview with guys for Ain’t It Cool, and so he had an invite to attend. The Rifftraxers mocked Reefer Madness, which is a terrible movie but nice and short. They did some split screen so you could see the performers, and the material was solid, though the shorts they did were the highlight (one featured a woman doing laundry with gasoline. Seriously. Laundry with gasoline). As we sat down, I noticed an attractive woman attending alone. I was curious what she might be doing there, as the event at downtown Los Angeles was sparsely attended. Was she a superfan? My immediate response was that she had to either be super-cool or super-crazy (possibly a mixture). She might also have been a theater-hopper, or an event specialist. But it’s really not fair to judge her like that, because if the last two decades of pop culture have taught us anything, nerd culture is no longer just for the socially inept, and funny is funny.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CANON (not the studio)
There is a very obvious echo-chamber effect on the internet, hastened by the fact that a number of sites have a talkback function. Where message boards have trolls of varying shapes, sizes and acceptance, talkbacks are often populated by people or peoples unknown. And from talking with people who’ve written for Ain’t it Cool, often multiple comments come from the same person under various different pseudonyms. The illusion of such can create the idea for the reader that a lot of people feel the same way about things, when it’s hard to know who is exactly saying what. I believe Matt Zoller Sietz wrote something about what is lost when people have to register in that such anonymity, in that there’s a truth to such horribleness. People know it’s smart and important not to use the word nigger, or turns of phrases like “lezbo dyke bitch,” or “baby rapist” – anything that has been ordained by good taste to not be polite conversation. But anonymity can provide insight into – if not everyone – some people’s true feelings (at least those not afraid of having their ISP’s tracked). The written word is still the most frequent mode of communication on the internet, which makes things like sarcasm tricky, especially for sites that traffic in nerdery.
But the lopsidedness and freedom of such commentary makes it hard for authors on the internet to interact with its readership. As Devin – or most people who write for the internet can attest – talkbacks and message boards account for a small percentage of traffic. That’s not to denigrate anyone who responds, and I must say – as I have in the past – these articles tend to provoke interesting discussion, and I appreciate that. But I spent years writing for DVD sites that had no such functionality and I found that my feedback was mostly relegated to two things: copy corrections and strong feelings – either positive or negative. When you have thousands of readers, and you receive only a handful of emails for your work – as an editor would always say – you know you’re doing good work if that’s the case or else you’d hear about it more.
Which leads me to an article I read this week that asks a question it ends up side-stepping. Screen Rant wrote a piece entitled “Why do Critics Care if Audiences Hate the Movies They Like?” The author gets distracted by the very nature of the internet, which I think reveals a lot about the future of criticism. The author discusses more the nature of movie critics (or more to the point, the vaunted old guard) versus Movie Bloggers. I guess to that point, it wasn’t until the internet that critics could publicly – after a film didn’t open or perform – berate their audiences for not listening other than in the ocassional think pieces, or “mvies you might have missed” type columns. For the most part, the critics I’ve known don’t waste a lot of time on that stuff (and still don’t except in passing and often passive commentary), because if you see what is wll reviewed – other than the Pixar material – rarely does it jibe with the box office results. In that way I enjoy that Armond White likes to poke at Pixar as that cow is not sacred (even though his attacks are usually wrong-headed, I enjoy someone who wants to write contrarian pieces, though I prefer them when they aren’t done out of spite or simply to generate traffic. I don’t think there’s a lot of worth in an unchallenged opinion). Fans might freak out when their revered or hoped for franchise hits the shit (re: Serenity), but I think you see more apologists for musicians.
But this leads to an interesting crossroads we are at in pop culture. Cinema has always been the province of popular entertainment, so it has – at least in America – been skewed by popular successes. With literature and music (though music is also effected by this now), there has been a sense of the – for better or ill – purification of time. There are a handful of William Shakespeare’s contemporaries that English majors would be able to name, but there were more playwrights than that. The same goes with musicians, philosophers, etc. It’s the central joke/conceit of Amadeus. Of course not everything has been lost to time, but there is the material that has shaped our culture, and has resonated, and the material that is best left to scholars or to be lost forever.
The paradigm shift for cinema began with the creation of television, which gave greater province to the possibility to repeat things. With movies there were the films that were re-released, and then arthouses and revival houses,but after that you were out of luck. But the rise in re-running can also tied in to boomer culture, the rise of teenagers, and the industrial revolution if you want to (or hell, the printing press), but the point is that television could re-run movies and old TV shows. With record players, music could be owned and looked after. With video, television could be recorded and watched endlessly. And it’s interesting that you can watch – from the seventies into now – pop culture folding in on itself. Growing up in the eighties, I was inundated wih re-runs of I Love Lucy, Star Trek and The Brady Bunch. Three decades of pop culture favorites vying with reruns of the popular recent shows. As television exploded exponentially, the material it offered grew and expanded to the point of where we’re at now with Vampires Suck, which – in its way – encapsulates a generational gap. Airplane! is and was funny because it was funny first, but added a level by being familiar with the genre it was toying with, whereas Vampires Suck is predicated on and marketed to people with an inherent knowledge of the material. When I first saw Airplane, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen The Swarm or Airport, or The Towering Inferno. The Friedberg/Seltzer model is based on the immediate awareness of what is being satired, often paying homage to things no more or less than five years old, and often with the refernece being the joke. Because of the expansion of pop culture to such a degree that it is literally impossible to track everything, or be expected to be exposed to old or weird stuff, there’s no point in going after anything else but pop culture phenomenons.
Because of the high-brow nature of great literature and English majoring, there will always be a revered place in literature for books like A Confederacy of Dunces, and the works Tolstoy and Hemingway. For Plato and Nietzsche. And even though Stephen King is still a major figure in pop culture, I’m sure more professors teach Don Delillo. But pop culture art like cinema is hitting a place where what is available is not based on quality but often nostalgia for people that have been taught to indulge those desires. And because cinema is not treated by academia with as much seriousness, it doesn’t have the same purification process over the last eighty years or so, because of how cinema has become commodified. Unfortunately cinema has created both great art and great pop art, and those films need their champions, but easy availability to a library of material that in another generation would have been washed away is both amazing and confounding. To the level that – at least right now – Lassie and Herbie the Love Bug were huge successes but have not enjoyed the cultural resonance of – say – The Goonies. Cinema has relied on a mixture of critics and popular reaction for much of America’s greatest films (It’s a Wonderful Life was a bomb, says pop culture) and critics have often railed around stupid causes and self-importance. E.T. is surely the more important and etc. film than Gandhi. No one is right all the time and often were wrong at the time. But currently home video’s catalog titles are dominated by what is most marketable. There is good to this and bad to this. I’m happy to have Flash Gordon on Blu-ray, but in no way shape or form would I argue it belongs in the pantheon as more than an engaging footnote.
The problem is that studios have extended copyright laws to the point that they will release films that they know they can market, so what is available isn’t what has necessarily survived the test of time. There is no sense that Blu-ray or DVD showcase what has passed the weight of time as a film like Humanoids from the Deep is now available on both formats. But then also between all those formats, and digital means, there is a wide swath of films out there to be seen, in various – but not untenable – states of availability (that is to say, if you dig, you can find films that have never been released on video with the right tivoing skills, or collector friends). Much like television there is no filter but for those who seek it. But people will always seek a filter, and people will always want to explore the past. And there will always be the artists and films that disappoint in that canon, but it exists for a reason. There needs to be a shorthand for good.
And – to tie it up – the internet is a bubble of immediacy, and often has no sense of anything but that. With Scott Pilgrim there were some strange negative reactions and a backlash against that from some critics. If the internet existed then as it does now, what would happen to a film like Office Space? That film did little business, but does play to the majority of people who traffic in the online set. If Devin championed it, would there be a backlash? Would people be happy it came in eighth place? As Chud friend Evan Dickson noted, the film opened against October Sky and Jawbreaker. Who talks about those films now? That’s why box office is tricky business. The numbers are the numbers, and I write about them all the time, but – most of the time – they say very little about the films themselves, or what can stand the test of time.
HEY MISTER, YOU GOT A PREDICTION?-
There’s five new films this weekend. Vampires Suck is the only one that looks strongish, though Piranha 3-D might do some business. The Expendables is going to fall off, and Eat Pray is going to play.
1. Vampires Suck - $15.7 Million
2. The Expendables - $14 Million
3. Eat Pray Love - $13.7 Million
4. Piranha 3-D - $12.5 Million
5. Nanny McPhee: What the Fuck is the Sequel - $10 Million
The Switch misses, as does Lottery Ticket, though that could usurp Nanny McContractualobligation. Ticket is an urban movie, so likely they’ve sold it well to their target demo, who may turn out, and the film was likely done on the cheap. I could see a front loaded Vampires falling to either Stallone or Julia Roberts, but it’s the end of the summer season, so we could also see Inception or The Other Guys crack the top 5 section.
When filming “I Love Lucy” producers used tactics to make Ethel, Lucy’s foil, uglier on screen than she was in real life. This was done to put the focus on Lucy. A similar tactic seems to have been used in 2020’s Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, by not giving any of the supporting actresses … Continue reading — By Sushi-X