Alfred Hitchcock’s most over-rated movie is now considered the greatest film of all time, at least according to the Sight and Sound Poll. Not a surprise, of course, especially since they think that Apocalypse Now is better than the Godfather films, that City Lights is Chaplin’s best, and that 2001: A Space Odyssey is a good movie. This thing has become about as valuable as Rolling Stone’s annual (semi-annual? weekly?) 100 Greatest Watchamacallit lists.
Archive for the ‘movies’ Category
I’ve never been terribly impressed by David Hajdu’s writing. His book Positively Fourth Street, about Dylan, Baez, Richard Farina, and Greenwich Village in the early sixties wasn’t bad, and had some great anecdotes, but his last book, The Ten-Cent Plague, about the comic book scare of the early ’50s, managed to take a fascinating story full of brilliant eccentrics and make it as dull as a high school social studies text. Now Hajdu has a regular column in The New Republic on music, a subject about which he seems to possess a great deal of information but next to zero knowledge.
His latest column, on Randy Newman’s Oscar win for “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, may be his worst yet. To suggest that a man who has been scoring motion pictures for over thirty years, who in doing so continues a family tradition (three of Newman’s uncles worked as composers in Hollywood), is somehow trapped and forced into a business that belittles his artistry is so insulting as to be beyond belief. Newman himself would no doubt shrug a comment like this off; he’s heard it all before, and worse. Of course he’s written bad scores, and scored bad movies (one of which, Leatherheads, I saw just the other night—Newman even makes an appearance as a speakeasy piano player), and he would be the first to admit that his Hollywood songwriting isn’t his best. But Newman, who is notorious for his long spells of writer’s block, has often pointed out that he loves the work, and that if it wasn’t for Hollywood he might not be writing music at all.
Hajdu is one those cultural leftovers who still believes that all pop art is based on trash (as opposed to merely containing trash, which can be said of work at any levels) and that any actual value it may possess is an accident, like a child babbling nonsense who suddenly says something beyond its years. Trying to prove his point, he fudges the lyrics to “We Belong Together”. Trying to prove how pedestrian they are, he quotes “Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart/I just can’t take it/When we’re apart … The day I met you/Was the luckiest day of my life/And I bet you feel the same…”
Banal enough, to be sure, but Hajdu makes it seem even worse by leaving off the final throwaway line, uttered by Newman with a perfect tone of ironic self-doubt: “At least, I hope you do”. It’s a trick Newman has pulled many times before, but it works, and no one but Newman would dare to put a line like that in a feel-good buddy song (and just about no company but Pixar would allow him to do it). At times it seems as if Newman is the last in a tradition of sophisticated, witty Hollywood songwriters (if only Newman was as prolific). A group who often, as Hajdu points out, wrote trash themselves. Hajdu seems to think he’s doing Newman a favor, but all he does is condescend.
It could be wonderful, I suppose. But it’s being written and directed by Nora Ephron, so it could be awful, as well. Or it could end up like Julie & Julia, and be both.
Out of nowhere, a new album, Funstyle. The first three cuts are essentially comedy routines about her career and dealings with the record industry. Seriously insane. Then comes the personal stuff. Then some soul-funk. Still listening, but this sounds amazing (I’m partial, of course). More later.
James Cameron will be directing the Black Eyed Peas’s 3-D concert movie.
This could end up being a disaster, I suppose, but Nellie McKay writing songs in the voice of Tracy Flick? I am so there. Just think what her campaign jingle will sound like.
Over the weekend I went to see Star Trek, which I’ll avoid talking about right now because Jaq hasn’t seen it yet. But there were a couple of moments unassociated with the movie that got me wondering about the state of the audience and its expectations.
One was the series of trailers for the special effects spectaculars that will fill theaters throughout the summer: Transformers, Land of the Lost, GI Joe, the latest Harry Potter installment. None of them looked worth seeing, but the scale was impressive. They reminded me of the graphic designer joke about customers constantly urging them to “Make the logo bigger”. That seems to be the only operating principle behind these movies: make the effects bigger. Thanks to CGI, of course, they can make the effects as big as they want–the unreality and unbelievability of it all becomes the main selling point.
Which brings me to the second moment of realization: tucked in with all the commercials and previews was an anti-drug PSA, a simply made, single-shot film in which a dancer posed in front of painted backdrops. Each backdrop had a silhouette of the dancer cut out of it, and as the backdrops moved forward, the dancer positioned himself in the shape of the cut-out, letting it flow around him and drop away to be replaced by another. It’s not a new idea, but it had a coolness factor to it that was appealing—until that is, I heard someone in the audience say: “It’s CGI.” It wasn’t, of course, but CGI is what the audience has come to expect. Anything magical or fantastic that appears on screen must be created with computers: it’s so cheap and easy, what would be the point of doing it any other way?
There’s something cynical about this attitude, this willful suspension of belief, which applies not only to movies, but to pop music, as well. Survey the comments section of just about any pop music site and you’ll consistently come across the attitude that almost all modern pop music is the creation of technology rather than human beings. Whether its autotune or ProTools or sampling, the assumption is that actual human investment in most pop music is insignificant at best, so much so as to be essentially non-existent. That people are often wrong about this doesn’t seem to phase them. One of the most frequent types of search strings on my site comes from people looking for the sources of samples, often for records that, as far as I can tell, contain no samples at all. As for autotuning, the growing assumption seems to be that no one, except perhaps for reality show finalists, knows how to sing on key.
Which may explain why, aside from their soap opera elements, reality shows like American Idol are so popular. The fallibility of the contestants, the knowledge that they are singing live, with no technological assistance (though there are tons of effects that can be added to vocals, even in a live setting), provides a welcome relief from the machine tooled perfection of most pop music. No matter how bad the material may be, or the singers often are, the appeal of hearing a real voice, singing live, without assistance in terms of pitch, is almost like that of a magic act. When a singer successfully brings off a song, it seems like a miracle—a real one. It’s not much to believe in, but it’s something.