Fascination with art we won’t experience
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 email@example.com.
What art fascinates you even though you know you’ll never experience it? I trust your writers, for the most part, and have received many great recommendations for movies, books, comics, etc. from your site. I read (and perversely enjoy) so many articles on the “cinema of endurance” directors (Gaspar Noe, Michael Haneke, et al). Now, I believe all of you—I’m sure these films are technically brilliant and the directors are geniuses, but I know that I will never, ever watch one of those movies. Just could not sit through something like that. I’ve read dozens of articles in which you have discussed Haneke, though; I’ll read more when you run them—probably next week, you obsessives. I remain interested even though I know I’ll never partake. Maybe the sports-world equivalent is the guy who would rather listen to sports talk radio or watch highlight shows than go to an actual game. —Manco
I have a more than passing interest in films about underground scenes, particularly dance-offs and rap battles. Doesn’t really matter whether they’re gritty 8 Mile-style slices-of-life or exaggerated, formulaic fantasies like the Step Up movies: I’d like to think pretend both poles are really out there in the world somewhere. Which is pretty easy to do, since I’m never going to go to one, given that I’m a white, nerdy, old, suburban-bred spaz. (And also female; I’ve watched a bunch of YouTube videos of actual rap battles, and the audiences seem to be primarily male.)
To take the question in an entirely different direction, thought, there’s a lot of art out there that we’ll never experience because it doesn’t exist anymore. While it may be too soon to say “never” about any of them, given that lost master tapes and films and footage keeps turning up in old vaults, I’m just going to operate on current availability and point out how much I’d really like to see Orson Welles’ original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. The studio-butchered, happy-ending version that’s survived just doesn’t cut it. And neither did the TV attempt to recreate Welles’ version… still with a tacked-on happy ending.
I would definitely say horror films, verging on torture porn. When it comes to your average Saw or Human Centipede, I am always dying to know exactly what horrible things go on in the films. Who gets sliced, raped, garroted, decapitated, or has their mouth sewn to someone else’s anus? What else do they come up with? How much blood and brains and guts are spilled, exactly? Yet while I always want to know what happens, I never, ever want to watch, not even when it comes to little YouTube clips. (The closest I ever came was this montage of people getting sliced in various horror movies, which was disturbing yet humorous on some level.) I can take a look at a screengrab, but that’s it. Because while I’m intrigued by the bad stuff in horror movies, horror movies are scary, and I don’t enjoy being scared. I don’t like the tenseness of sitting there, waiting for that thing to happen with my hands over my eyes, my ears waiting for that bad sound. It’s physically unpleasant. I think it would be healthier if I actually liked horror films, because then I could say I was a fan of the genre in general, and the gore comes with the territory. Instead, I just feel like a cowardly, creepy voyeur. Oh well!
The first concert I saw as a kid was David Bowie, with Duran Duran opening. It was absolute magic. Every year since then, though, I’ve grown decreasingly tolerant of big arena pop/rock concerts. I’ve tried attending them as an adult—Prince was the most recent example, and that was six long years ago—but I’ve just become so accustomed to smaller shows, I can’t stand the crowds, horrible sound, and insane ticket prices. Even when I’m seeing someone I totally worship, like Prince, I’m utterly miserable, if not teetering on the edge of a panic attack. I’d still love to experience the spectacle of The Who or Fleetwood Mac or Janet Jackson in person. Maybe the next time those acts swing through Denver, they could play a house show for me or something.
Oddly, I feel the opposite of Jason. After the traumatic experience of seeing U2’s Zoo TV tour in college, I swore off large venues altogether; the bands might be great, but the experience of (barely) seeing them in an arena had zero to do with what I loved about raucous, sweaty club shows. But thanks to a steady gig as a concert reviewer for my local daily paper, I’ve seen dozens of them over the last several years, from Madonna and Kyle Minogue to Brad Paisley and Toby Keith, and I’ve come to respect that the way an artist like Beyoncé stages a spectacle is an art in itself. (Still not crazy about her music, though.)
I’ve been lucky enough to see all of the above for free, and usually with good seats. But my out-of-town clout cuts little ice in the Big Apple, which is why I’m unlikely ever to indulge my desire to see what’s become of the Broadway musical. The evidence suggests that many people don’t mind dropping a C-note or several on a few hours’ entertainment, but the obscene amounts of money that changes hands offends my populist sensibilities. Also, I am cheap. I might pay a hundred bucks to see Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits, but not to find out whether Spamalot is any good, or if that Spider-Man jobbie is as bad as they say. I hold fast to the idea that the stage musical is one of the great indigenous American art forms, but for the foreseeable future, I’ll stick to Singin’ In The Rain.
I’ll always wonder what it would have been like, being alive during the British Invasion, specifically for The Beatles’ heyday. When I was growing up, it was just assumed this was the best, biggest band in the history of music. But would my critical perspective change had I been there for the duration of The Beatles’ career? Would I have been turned off by the group’s teeny-bop origins, or enthralled by its evolution? Getting to track its career as it unfolded in real time would have been interesting, to see that transformation from teeny-boppers to soulful rock to hippie avant garde. Since the entire catalogue has been available to me my entire life, there was never a question about how I’d consume it, either. Sure, I was able to discover various parts of The Beatles’ career on my own via my mother’s old vinyl, but there’s something extremely satisfying about tracking a band’s entire arc. I have similar feelings about The Beatles’ R&B counterparts, The Rolling Stones, especially after having ingested Keith Richards’ excellent memoir, Life. Sure, it’d be fun tracking the band’s various shenanigans in the tabloid press while living through their history, but, if nothing else, I’d relish the chance to see the Stones live on the legendary ’72 tour in support of my favorite Stones record, Exile On Main Street.