Ask The A.V. Club - February 15, 2008
The Wide Divide
The other day, my wife was watching a True Hollywood Story or something similar about Elvis. I made a disgruntled grunt as I passed by. A lively debate ensued about his quality as a musician. I normally have no problem with people disagreeing with me on subjective matters, but I can't get over the combination of her Elvis worship (we have an Elvis Christmas-tree ornament about five inches in diameter) and her utter ambivalence toward The Beatles.
I figure our diverging opinions on this result from our parents. Hers love Elvis. Mine like The Beatles. Hers were born in the late '40s and raised in highly religious homes. Mine were born in the early '50s and weren't quite so religious. Do their tastes, and thus ours, spring from those environmental differences?
I guess I just see Elvis as Britney Spears plus underwear. He was a performer, a pop star. I know this was recently covered, but all his big hits were others' creations. His music styles varied from gospel to country to rockabilly. Wow. He called J. Edgar Hoover "the greatest living American." He volunteered his "services" to Nixon and the FBI to combat the "evils" of drugs while on his way toward pickling himself in prescription meds. He said The Beatles were largely to blame for the wayward direction of American youth. Then he literally crapped out at 42.
The Beatles, on the other hand, were musicians. Even Ringo wrote a few songs. They took risks, experimenting with their music (and LSD) to try and create something unique. While The Beatles were preaching peace and tolerance and trying to expand the limits of music and minds, Elvis was playing with loaded guns and expanding only his pharmaceutical hoard and his waistline.
The suspicious-minded Keith Phipps has a response:
Did you ever watch the deleted scenes on the Pulp Fiction DVD? Take a couple of minutes and watch this one. You can skip past Tarantino's yammering to about the 3:45 mark:
I could leave you with that as the answer, since its dualistic way of looking at the world works better than you think. Or I could just take apart the logic of your argument. Sure, Elvis' private life and opinions could be embarrassing, especially in those later years. But if we follow your logic, we'd have to say that "Penny Lane" sucks because Paul McCartney lent his art to an insurance company. It just doesn't add up.
You lay out a pretty good explanation as to why you and your wife might have the preferences you do. Me, I grew up with parents old enough to consider both Elvis and The Beatles wild and ungodly. Maybe coming into rock music as something of a blank slate is why I love them both. But that's neither here nor there. I don't have to tell you why The Beatles matter, and I'll probably never talk you into liking Elvis. You either feel it or you don't. But the reasons you cite for not liking Elvis don't add up. "His music styles varied from gospel to country to rockabilly." Well, sort of. But it's the weird hybrid of country and R&B; called rock 'n' roll that he defined, even though he didn't invent it. Elvis singing "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" in Memphis' Sun Studios like it had never been sung before is something of a musical miracle, a convergence of traditions that were floating around a singular place, looking for the right man to give them voice. And doing so was as huge a risk as anything The Beatles ever attempted. Elvis could have conformed to one of the day's popular styles, but he didn't. And from that decision, a whole style of music came to dominate popular culture.
Elvis' genius was interpretive. Most professional singers at the time were interpreters, not originators. He didn't write his own songs, but neither did Frank Sinatra. Pre-Beatles and Bob Dylan, there was a much clearer division of labor in the music industry, and no one thought less of a performer for not taking the pen in hand. Sometimes just giving life to what's on the page is enough.
Like I said, I can't argue you into appreciating Elvis. But I can leave you with a song. Here's The King covering "Hey Jude" with passion and pathos that Paul McCartney probably never imagined:
The White Elephant Graveyard
It's that time of year where aspiring filmmakers bring their movies to festivals like Sundance in hopes of getting them picked up and released by studios, big and small. However, not all of these films get picked up for distribution, even when they have major stars in them. A recent example that stands out is Hounddog, which is best known as the film with the Dakota Fanning rape scene. There was a fair amount of buzz when this premièred at Sundance in 2007, but I haven't heard from it since. What happens to these movies that weren't lucky enough to get scooped up in a major distribution deal for millions of dollars? Are they destined to gather dust on a disillusioned filmmaker's shelf forever, or are there other ways to get these films out there for the public to see?
Nathan Rabin has a poetic response:
You ask a good question. What happens to the theatrical dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Is cable distribution somehow involved? How about ancillary and foreign markets? And what does Langston Hughes have to do with it anyway?
Obviously, a big, flashy theatrical release augmented by a full-on advertising blitz is the goal of just about every plucky filmmaker, independent or otherwise. But that's becoming a less realistic option, giving the spiraling costs of theatrical distribution and marketing. So more and more films and filmmakers are finding other ways to reach audiences.
Self-proclaimed "low-budg" specialist/grating jackass Ed Burns recently made (very small) headlines when his 2007 directorial effort Purple Violets became the first film to première exclusively via iTunes. Other films are sold to cable channels or overseas distributors, or released direct to DVD. For films that are skipped over at various film festivals while the belles of the ball go home with those feisty Weinstein brothers and that dashing James Schamus fella, niche cable channels like IFC or Sundance can provide invaluable exposure. There's also On Demand and Pay-Per-View.
There's still a bit of a stigma attached to films that go direct-to-DVD, but it's growing weaker by the day, and studios learned long that there are huge paydays in cranking out cheap direct-to-DVD sequels and prequels to sturdy franchises like the Land Before Time and American Pie movies. At The A.V. Club, we've been offered a lot more interview opportunities in connection with DVD releases as of late, a sign perhaps of the DVD market's ever-increasing power and influence.
As you accurately surmised, some unsold film-festival fare has to wait years for a theatrical or DVD release. I recently reviewed Alan Rudolph's Investigating Sex, which was filmed in 2001 but was only released on DVD about a month and a half ago under the title Intimate Affairs, even though the cast includes Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard, Julie Delpy, Neve Campbell, and Dermot Mulroney.
There are countless reasons worthy and unworthy films go unseen for so long. Legal rights are often involved, and production and distribution companies have an unfortunate way of going out of business, sometimes sabotaging their films' theatrical dreams in the process.
Then there's the curious case of Crispin Glover, who uses the big paychecks he picks up from soul-crushing gigs like Epic Movie to fund wildly personal, almost comically uncommercial films, which he then travels the country with. David Lynch self-released his 2006 film Inland Empire, while cult filmmaker William Richert released his director's cut of the 1988 film A Night In The Life Of Jimmy Reardon on his website, under the title Aren't You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye?
Some unreleased films border on legendary, particularly Jerry Lewis' The Day The Clown Cried, a much-buzzed-about Holocaust drama filmed in the early '70s but unreleased for legal reasons. Other prominent fare that has never and perhaps will never receive a proper domestic theatrical release includes Deadhead Miles, a Terrence Malick-written '70s stoner comedy starring Alan Arkin, and The Brave, Johnny Depp's 1997 directorial debut.
So there are lots of different ways for films to be seen without theatrical distribution. You might just end up seeing Hounddog on cable or at a video store one magical afternoon, even if it skips the multiplexes altogether.
From The Short-Lived Era Of 3-D-sploitation
Sometime during the mid/early '80s, my cousin and I were watching TV when a trailer for a movie came on. The only thing I remember is that the trailer shows people sitting in a movie theater, and all of the audience members are wearing 3D glasses. A member of the audience says something, and, hearing him, one of the actors in the movie they are watching reaches out from the screen and punches the guy the audience. I remember my cousin and I thought this was hilarious and spent the rest of the day quoting whatever the hell it was that the audience member had said. I know I haven't given you much to work with, but do you have any idea what this movie might be?
Noel Murray ducks and answers:
Adam, I remember this trailer myself. It's for Comin' At Ya!, an Italian-produced 1981 comic Western that helped revive 3D movies for a few years in the early '80s. I never saw the movie—mainly because it was rated R, and I was 11 at the time—but the general consensus is that it's a crude, violent exploitation picture with decent 3D effects and nothing else to recommend it. I couldn't find the trailer online, but please enjoy this footage of the opening credits. (Glasses not included.)
The Geek Squad Finds Love
There's a lot of joking and carrying-on on The A.V. Club about all the writers being geeks. And yet most if not all of you appear to be married or otherwise attached. The question is, how did a bunch of nerds end up with someone to cuddle/discuss the films of Robert Altman with on V-Day? Please feel free to include any advice and erotic stories you have in your answer.
The AMOROUS Joe11
Tasha Robinson feels perfectly free to include erotic stories in her answer, she just isn't going to:
Oh, Joe11. (Or are you one of the fake Joe11s? Sorry, you all look alike from here.) In a world where Elvis Costello and Billy Joel have both had a string of hot wives, isn't the whole "How could a geek possibly end up in a relationship?" question pretty passé? You do know that geeks come in both genders and all sexualities, right? That they don't all look and act like the cartoony spazzes in Revenge Of The Nerds? And that it's possible to be a geek—i.e. someone who knows and/or cares way more than average about something, from indie-rock bands to comic books to Simpsons references—without being the kind of socially repulsive geek who talks about nothing but that interest, turns every conversation toward that interest, and displays overwhelming contempt for people who don't share that interest? (And just as often for those who do, but don't have the "right" opinions about things.)
The fact is, while we're all pop-culture obsessives over here, and we wrote our inventory of super-nerdy obsessions largely from experience and memory rather than from Internet archeology, and we sit around the office cracking weird jokes about obscure artists and arguing about all the places where our tastes differ (I still say Knocked Up is overrated, Scott), we're also perfectly capable of socializing and dating. We met our significant others in the usual ways—in college, through friends, through mutual interests, in at least one case through a dating website. In most cases, we're in relationships with people who are also "geeky," and who share our fiddly little interests. (If anything, my boyfriend is a bigger film buff than I am; while I'm at home writing reviews, he's likely in the basement watching a movie.) But also in most cases, we have, y'know, three-dimensional personalities, and we don't necessarily need to talk music and film and books all day at work and then go home and do it again, leaving no room in our lives for other things.
So do we have advice for geeks who want to be in relationships? Sure, and it's the same advice we'd offer to anybody: Don't be an asshole. Having strongly held, precisely detailed opinions on Yasujiro Ozu or Badly Drawn Boy or Brian Michael Bendis isn't the problem. Forcing them on people who didn't ask, or sneering at those who disagree or don't care, is a problem. Being able to hold forth for hours on end about the ups and downs of the last five seasons of The Simpsons, but not having any idea who's running for president? Also a problem. So develop diverse interests. Become comfortable discussing them in non-strident ways, as though the fate of the earth does not actually ride on who's right about whether The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers' best film or their worst. Don't forget to bathe regularly and brush your teeth once in a while. And stop thinking that being a geek is a bad thing in and of itself. It isn't, and it certainly isn't a relationship deal-killer. Being an unsocialized jerk is the problem.
Next week: A paucity of Welles, a question of order, and another round of Stumped! Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.