Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Weird Things We Like

Every peer group has its own cultural touchstones. In your circle of friends (and if you're reading this, you're probably part of mine), there are certain pieces that everyone can agree on. In fact, some social groups are even defined by the things they like - punk, mod, geek and Trekkie come to mind.

But everyone's got those few things they like - either movies, or bands, or comic books, etc. - that among their circle of friends, they're on their own. Those works that only they seem to have any affection for, usually quite a bit of blind affection for, that others don't even dislike mildly. These are the works that one person loves that everyone else hates, that we sometimes even evangelize for, that only end up having everyone call us crazy and question our taste.

I probably have more than a few of these solo fan obsessions in my pocket. Works that I can't even talk about with friends,a or that I've shown and been derided for. But what the hell. I still love them. Here's a partial parade of shame, with as many YouTube links as I can cough up.

1) Rock and Rule

This film blew my mind when I was twelve, and although I'm aware that it's a practical impossibility to view with a critical eye those icons from our childhood, I finally saw this again after a twenty-year break and I still think it's a really daring and cool movie. If nothing else, it's got a great soundtrack, with Lou Reed doing his best version of a glam-ified Mick Jagger and a duet from Debbie Harry and Robin Zander. But there's so much more than nothing else: great design, a vivid re-imagining of the New York new wave scene as a dystopian post-apocalyptic wasteland dotted with lumpy cities (that owe more than a little to Moebius) and inhabited by anthropomorphized dogs, cats and rats. Really slick and impressive animation and - what the hell, it's got a demon made of meat. Literally: they filmed a transparency with cow's brains right on the animation stand.

I think where most people lose interest in the film is in the slack and off-center storytelling, where major things happen off-screen and character development is delivered in mumbled asides. I, of course, actually like that aspect of it. When I showed it to some friends a couple of years ago, they were genuinely mad at me for forcing it on them. Oops.

At least Yesenia liked it. She said it made her feel like she was tripping.

2) Howard the Duck

I really have no excuse for liking this film, beyond saying that it is a genuinely faithful adaptation of the comic. Of course, I saw it when I was fifteen, and I didn't read a comic written by Steve Gerber until my late twenties, so go figure.

Really, I like this film for three reasons only: the soundtrack is one of John Barry's best, with a really lovely and rising main theme (I bought that sucker on vinyl as a kid, and not for the Thomas Dolby songs on the b-side); the casting of Lea Thompson at her peak hotness when I really had a major crush on her (still do); and the cool traditional F/X work from ILM, which could almost be a showreel for their effects animation and highly-refined stop-motion techniques. The monster designs are also boss, what can I tell you?

I won't even try to defend the film on other grounds, because that's a fool's errand, but I will note that I was emotionally affected by the story. So sue me. I was fifteen. They'll never release this one on DVD, but I would be the first at the door if they did. I do have a bootleg, thanks to my friend Jim's convention hopping ways.

3) Mirrormask

A more recent addition to the pile, one that other people watched first and told me of its lousiness. It suffers from a lot of the same narrative issues as Rock and Rule - being murky storytelling and emphasis on visuals over narrative - but Mirrormask Dave McKean takes it a step further by covering the screen in fog and haze and scribbling so that every frame of film is like a bunch of pages of a copy of Griffin and Sabine got wet and were stuck together. Add to that really cloying dialogue from Mr. Cutesy himself, Neil Gaiman, more puppets and masks than any adult should have truck with, and a soundtrack that sounds like the worst pileup of electronic fusion imaginable.

And you know something? I was totally charmed by it. I even bought the damn thing on DVD, and I've watched it a few times, and I remain charmed by it. I'll definitely see the next thing that McKean does, and I guess I have some hopes for Gaiman's Beowulf script.

I think I may by the soundtrack on CD, too. God help me.

The thing is, are these just hopeless bumps in my otherwise hip aesthetic sense? Anomalies that stand outside my taste like barnacles on a ship? No. In a way, these films (and others like them) are pretty key to my central self - that's why I end up attached to them while others see nothing of value in the at all.

And no finger pointing. You know you all like your indefensible crap, too.



Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Lord knows we've debated these very kind of things ad infinitum.

Rock and Rule- I didn't see the movie for a very long time but I found the comic at my local convenience store long before the movie came out. I was enamored with it and waited with anticipation for it to come out. It never did, at least in my town. I finally saw it about 15 years ago and enjoyed a lot but somehow it didn't live up to the comic. I know that sounds weird but I filled in the space between the panels differently than the movie and therefore it was a very different experience.

Howard the Duck- No comment. You're on your own with this one but I feel the same way about Legend. I can't fully justify it to others but I still love it.

Mirrormask- I really enjoyed this movie. Hats off to Dave McKean for bring his visuals to life. Was it perfect, no. but very original and unlike antything I'd seen before. It really slipped throught the carcks when it came out too. I may have to buy it as well.

Anyone remember American Pop? I loved that one too but I have a feeling it didn't age well with time.

Peace out,
Rick h

Dave Kopperman said...

1) What you were responding to in the leap from the R&R comic to film is the same thing that all the people I showed it to here did - that odd narrative slackness. The film has a strange way of NOT showing the speaking character, but the reverse take, or other bits of business going on. I'd like to think that was a stylistic choice, but I think what really happened was that they plowed ahead with animating before the script or songs were finished,so they ended up having to save time and money by avoiding a lot of speaking shots. I know that the even re-recorded the lead character after the film was finished.

2) Yeah. I really can't stand "Legend," but I'll at least give props to anything involving TIm Curry's character. Some of the best make-up ever.

I think that film alone is responsible for all of the 'gay' rumors Tom Cruise has had to field over the years - whereas "Howard the Duck" is responsible for the rumors that George Lucas suffered severe brain damage in 1982, shortly before "Jedi" came out.

3) McKean did a good job, no doubt. Visually stunning, nice heart to it as well. Poorly structured, though, and I think that hurts it - the opening sequence at the circus is a HUGE mistake, and the build-up to the dream-sequence takes way too long. Also, the stakes don't feel high enough, because of a) the aforementioned cutseyness of the script, and b) the fact that the dream-sequence is pretty much presented as JUST a dream, and the pressure for Helena to succeed in her quest is something that we just carry into the film from other fantasy films, and not something that's actually there on the screen.

Again: I like those off-center things, but the film could have done a better job presenting the story by upping the stakes and making the dreamland more of a real place with rules and an existence that are established BEFORE Helena enters.

4) I didn't see American Pop until much later (when it came out on DVD a few years ago), and I liked it quite a bit. Big, sloppy mess, which is what Bakshi was aiming for.

Actually, it's the only Bakshi film I really liked, now that I think about it...


Dave Kopperman said...

Also, try R&R again: you'd be surprised as to how excellent the soundtrack is and how well the feel of the new wave era is captured.