Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are there any pop-culture figures you’d especially like to see make a comeback after a number of flops or projects that didn’t take full advantage of their abilities? (For example, I’m sure everyone would like to see Robert De Niro make at least one more film worthy of his early performances.) Personally, I have an inexplicable fondness for Sylvester Stallone, and it would make me unreasonably happy to see him in a film that validated the early promise of Rocky, either artistically or commercially. —Ryan
We once did an inventory on actors who deserve better careers, and my top pick in the comeback category was at the top of the list: Jamie Lee Curtis, whom I personally don’t feel has ever really lived up to her starring role in A Fish Called Wanda. I’d love to see her in another role worthy of the talent she showed in that. Similarly, I know all about Julie Andrews’ depressing vocal-cord woes following her 1998 throat surgery; it’s just a sad fact of life that she may never really have a singing comeback. But that honestly shouldn’t keep her out of cinema; the songs are great in Victor/Victoria, but her acting and her interaction with Robert Preston are what really make the film. I’d love to see her taking on dramatic roles again; Judy Dench doesn’t generally sing in films either (Nine aside), and she does just fine projecting exactly the kind of stern, capable presence that makes Andrews’ roles so perfect. Hell, I was so starved for the Julie Andrews I grew up with, I even enjoyed her in The Tooth Fairy. Over on the musical side, I doubt if anyone else reading this has ever heard of Minna Bromberg, a formerly Chicago-based “singing sociologist” and songwriter with a hell of a voice and a hell of an attitude. She hasn’t put out a CD since 1999, one of her two albums is out of print, and these days she seems devoted largely to sacred music. But if I could wave a magic wand and bring one artist back into the recording studio, it’d be her. Of all the local/obscure artists I’ve ever loved and hoped would find a bigger audience, she’s the one I return to most often, and the one whose music still most moves me. Oh, and I think it goes without saying that we’d all like to see what Calvin And Hobbes’ Bill Watterson is working on these days.
This one is easy: Prince. Yes, he made good albums after the ’80s: I’m happy to rep for 1992’s “symbol” album, 1995’s Gold Experience, 1996’s Emancipation (too long at three CDs, but good far more often than not), and 2006’s 3121. But after you’ve spend a decade making most everything in your path seem weak or negligible, work that’s merely “good” isn’t enough to convert anyone. I have no idea whether Prince can pull himself out of his journeyman path, quirky and self-made though it may be; maybe we’ll get a funk equivalent of Time Out Of Mind or Love And Theft one of these years. And Jehovah knows he still mows down the competition onstage, as his justly legendary Coachella and Super Bowl halftime shows attest. But his remoteness, so enticing early on, has hobbled him as a songwriter, and it doesn’t seem like he’s about to change that anytime soon.
As such as I rag on the guy, as much as I’ve invoked the “Coppola Line,” as much as he brought his latter-day career nosedive on himself through a combination of greed, hubris, and overweening ambition, I’d love to see Francis Ford Coppola make at least one more great film. From 1972 to 1979, the man seemed incapable of cranking out anything but pure unvarnished genius, but he took a tumble with the whole American Zoetrope idea, and spent much of the ’80s floundering with movies that weren’t as bad as they seemed, but weren’t as good as they should have been. The 1990s were a complete artistic write-off filled with misbegotten sequels, big-money studio duds, and utter embarrassments. By the 2000s, he at least seemed cognizant of what he had lost, and started creeping back toward respectability with well-intentioned but seriously flawed projects like Youth Without Youth and Tetro. But for all the years I’ve used him as a cautionary tale, I’m still not ready to admit that the man who made The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now doesn’t have one more round in the chamber.
Not to go after the entire Coppola clan—last I heard, Sofia was doing fine—but Nicolas Cage has gone from being a sporadically thrilling live wire to an almost constant embarrassment to himself and his chosen profession. The near-unremitting river of shit that is his recent output would be disheartening even if it weren’t clear that the main source of his troubles is Cage himself. After he won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, Cage followed up with The Rock and Con Air, both helmed by noted actors’ director Michael Bay, whose over-the-top machismo seemed designed as much to push back Cage’s fading hairline as to shore up his box-office cred. Ethan Coen said that the secret to Cage’s brilliant sad-sack performance in Raising Arizona was knowing when to “sit on” the actor’s volcanic energy, but it seems few have had the desire, or the clout, to do so since. As recently as 2002’s Adaptation, Cage has proved he still has the ability to deliver graceful, nuanced work with a minimum of scenery-chewing. But at the moment, all he seems capable of is camp, whether unintentional (the risible Knowing, his wince-inducing turn in Kick-Ass) or deliberate (the release-the-hounds frenzy of Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans). Someone, please, sit on him soon.
You know what I’d like to hear? A Belle & Sebastian album that doesn’t urge me to skip a bunch of its tracks. I’m not saying I dislike everything post-1998, but it’s obvious that they’re capable of perfection—or something close to it—so why mess around? I know, I know, it’s all about the art, maaaaaan. But you know what records B&S is going to be remembered for at this point? If You’re Feeling Sinister, and to a lesser degree, Tigermilk. Get back to basics, kids, when you were poor and living in a cold-water flat in Glasgow. Or at least pretend you’re still there and make another album in that mindset. So I guess I’m not looking for a comeback—they seem to be plenty popular—but rather a go-back.
It’s been eight long years since Blake Schwarzenbach released an album—that being Perfecting Loneliness, the third, final, and mostly yawn-inducing album by his indie-rock group Jets To Brazil. Jets started out strong, though, with 1998’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary, even though the disc felt like a cleaned-up, toned-down version of the singer-guitarist’s previous band, the post-hardcore legend Jawbreaker. Rumors of a Jawbreaker reunion have been swirling since the band regrouped for a private rehearsal two years ago, but nothing came of it; since then, Schwarzenbach formed the short-lived Thorns Of Life, which broke up after a handful of shows and an aborted recording session with Jawbox’s J. Robbins, and a new outfit called Forgetters, which features original Against Me! drummer Kevin Mahon. Forgetters has yet to record anything or even put up a lousy MySpace profile—although there is a fan page that already has cobwebs growing on it. With Schwarzenbach’s recent track record, though, there’s little reason to believe this band will fare any better than Thorns. But Jawbreaker worshipers like me will cling to even the faintest, flimsiest hopes that one of the best songwriters of the past 20 years will somehow, someday climb back into the saddle.
Well, Jason took my answer, so I’ll be a dick and take what would surely be someone else’s: Jeff Mangum. If the indie-rock world pines for anyone to make a triumphant comeback, it’s the reclusive leader of Neutral Milk Hotel, whom Slate once dubbed “the Salinger of indie rock.” Mangum dropped off the radar more than a decade ago, not long after releasing one of the most celebrated albums of the ’90s, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It was the product of a fragile mind, so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that Mangum had a mental breakdown in the years after its release. For years, no one seemed to know anything; Taylor Clark’s piece for Slate in 2008 uncovered that Mangum was living in New York, happily married to filmmaker Astra Taylor and making art on his own. Since then, he’s emerged from hiding a bit; he made a few appearances on the “Holiday Surprise” tour organized by former Elephant Six compatriot Julian Koster in 2008, and in early May, Mangum is going to play a short set at a benefit in New York. Fans can only hope these are the tentative beginning steps of an artistic re-emergence.
Hopefully, this desired comeback will become reality, but I’m pretty excited for Paul Simms’ return to network TV. Since his NewsRadio, maybe my favorite sitcom to watch over and over, left the air, he’s tried and failed with pilot after pilot, never getting back on the air. For a while, it seemed like he’d just faded off the face of the Earth, taking whatever money he’d made from NewsRadio and living the life of a houseboat captain or something. (In his chronicle of late-’90s TV, The Showrunners, David Wild spent lots of time with Simms, who almost always seemed like he’d prefer to do anything—particularly traveling—rather than dealing with network pressure.) However, a few years ago, Simms’ name popped up in the credits for Flight Of The Conchords as a creative consultant, but he seemingly had little to do with the series, which had some Simms-ian touches, but was far more a product of the actual group. But now, his Beach Lane is in the process of going up as a pilot, and hopefully the combination of Matthew Broderick and Lorne Michaels as two of the other big names on the thing will get the show—which sounds like nothing less than Simms’ proposed sixth season of NewsRadio—on the air.
The term “comeback” implies a drop-off in quality. That doesn’t really apply to Whit Stillman, whose The Last Days Of Disco was as fine a comedy of manners as his other two films. But that was 12 years ago. And since then...? If Noah Baumbach can come back from a long break, surely Stillman can as well. Besides, Chris Eigeman could land a sitcom pilot someday, and then who would play the lead?