This week’s question comes contributor Will Harris:
It might require an infinite amount of time for a monkey to type out the complete works of William Shakespeare, but it’s a fairly regular occurrence for a piece of pop culture to emerge with a title that’s been used before. What pop-culture title duplication do you find most annoying?
After I graduated from high school in June 1987, I celebrated my temporary freedom from education by seeing way too many movies. So I remember those three months as a summer of laughs, thanks to the comedy trifecta of Roxanne, Dragnet, and Stakeout. One comedy that didn’t float my boat, however, was The Monster Squad. Look, I love the classic Universal Monsters as much as anyone, but it didn’t do much for me then, and even after it developed a cult following and I revisited it to see if I’d missed something, I wasn’t much more impressed. To be fair, though, my opinion may be colored by feeling like the film ripped one of my favorite short-lived Saturday morning series from 1976. NBC’s Monster Squad starred future Love Boat star Fred Grandy as a wax-museum night watchman whose experimental “Crime Computer” somehow brought to life statues of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster, who then went out and fought the forces of evil. I know, it sounds goofy, but that’s only because it was… and when you’re 7, goofy = awesome. As such, the 1987 movie will never be more than a pretender to the Monster Squad throne.
I really love the band Fuel. No, not that Fuel. I’m talking about the punk band that, in its time, was jokingly referred to as “Fuelgazi.” The band existed for a scant two years, which plays a part in why it’s been overshadowed by the Fuel that had a radio hit with “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” in 2000. It’s a shame, as the post-hardcore Fuel is a great gateway into the discography of Sarah Kirsch, a transgender woman who played an active role in the Bay Area scene from its nascent days and remained a vital voice in the community until her death in 2012. As she was also a founding member of Pinhead Gunpowder—the side project of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong—Kirsch’s Fuel is only slightly removed from one of the biggest rock bands in the word; a relation that makes the fact the Fuel name is synonymous with a one-hit wonder all the more vexing.
Path Of Totality was one of the best metal albums of 2011. Unfortunately, when saying as much, I have to clarify that I’m talking about the second LP by the Brooklyn-based band Tombs, not that time Korn decided they wanted to try dubstep. The Path Of Totality—note the definite article—came out the same year as the Tombs record, meaning that Korn probably didn’t steal the title. But the nu metal pioneers did have a six-month window to think of a new one. If they didn’t care enough to do so, that’s a dick move; one of the best-selling outfits in metal shouldn’t be making it harder for people to search for the work of an up-and-coming band. If they simply didn’t know about the other Path Of Totality, that’s a missed opportunity; imagine how much better Korn might sound if they emulated Tombs instead of Skrillex.
I had to resize my skull to accommodate my newly deformed brain after I watched Twister for the first time in 1991. Twister? In 1991? But didn’t that movie come out in 1996? And why would that pedestrian piece of disaster-mongering blow anyone’s mind, even one as easily distorted as mine? Ah, you see, I’m not talking about the Bill Paxton-Helen Hunt blockbuster about chasing tornadoes, but the mostly forgotten 1989 curiosity in which tornadoes are, like, way more metaphorical and shit. Directed by Michael Almereyda and starring Harry Dean Stanton as the patriarch of a bizarre Kansas family that counts among its members none other than Crispin Glover, it remains one of my favorite movies that confuses people every time I bring it up by name. If Crispin Glover portraying Harry Dean Stanton’s son (with a cameo by William S. Burroughs!) isn’t enough to canonize a film, I don’t know what is. Yet Twister, as much as I adore its bizarro cast and dustbowl surrealism, never had the chance to become a proper cult classic—which wasn’t helped by the far larger movie that swiped its title seven years later. I mean, does 1996’s Twister contain a line of dialogue anywhere near as poignant and evocative as Glover’s utterance of the (surely ad-libbed) non sequitur “colonial squid boys”? Does it feature Burroughs quoting John Millington Synge’s riot-instigating play The Playboy Of The Western World? I rest my case.
The shorthand for the Hugh Laurie-helmed House, M.D. is House, and many a time during the series’ intense popularity when someone would name-drop the medical drama, I hoped for a lengthy discussion about the 1986 horror-comedy of the same name. Directed by Steve Miner, who had worked in horror from the onset of his career on such titles as The Last House On The Left (as a production assistant) and Friday The 13th (as an associate producer), House is a campy good time. Completely dated now, the film took the tropes of the genre and peppered them with a few laughs, one of which included a body-disposing montage set to Betty Everett’s version of “You’re No Good.” And, although I also enjoyed the television show House, and carry a torch for the Laurie’s misanthropic Dr. Gregory House to this day, I never could come to terms with it overshadowing the ’80s gem that invited me into a subgenre worth further exploration.
Back during the days of clamshell cases, I distinctly remember shuffling through VHS tapes at Blockbuster and coming across not one, but two movies by the name of Jack Frost. Released only one year apart (’97 and ’98), the films share a central hook where a character (conveniently named Jack Frost) dies in a car crash during a snowstorm, miraculously coming back to life as a snowman. That’s a frightening conceit to be sure, but, surprisingly, only one of these is a horror movie. Jack Frost (’97) resurrects a serial killer as a murderous snowman out for blood-soaked vengeance, while Jack Frost (’98) does the same with a deadbeat dad (Michael Keaton), giving him a second chance at a meaningful connection with his son in a lame attempt at a feel-good family film. Both are schlocky, both already looked dreadfully dated, and both include scenes where blow dryers are used to threaten Jack. My memories of each are a bit frosty, but my real grudge with the films is that they’re copping their title from Jack Frost (’79), a far-superior Rankin/Bass holiday classic that doesn’t include a single zombie-snowman.
You know what movie I really like? Frozen. Frozen is a great film. What’s that? No, not the unstoppable Disney juggernaut that steamrolled over popular culture and is still causing headaches for parents stuck listening to “Let It Go” over and over. Nor even the British thriller of the same name, from 2005. No, my Frozen is and will always be Adam Green’s superb nail-biting thriller from 2010. Starring Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, and Kevin Zegers, this minimalist horror film is about three college kids who try to squeeze in one last ski run, only to get stuck on the chairlift when the park shuts down for the week. I spent years telling people they should check out the movie, only to now be faced with the unfortunate reality that everyone else’s Frozen will never, ever be my Frozen again.
My problem isn’t with an exact copy but a pair of homophones: Deerhunter and The Dear Hunter. I’ve been a huge fan of Deerhunter, as in Bradford Cox’s troupe of pop-minded noiseniks, since Cryptograms in 2007, and my friends and family have been getting it mixed up with that other band for just as long. I can’t even recall how many times I’ve had someone excitedly tell me about an upcoming Deerhunter show in New York, only to be let down when it turns out to be The Dear Hunter. I’ve got nothing against Casey Crescenzo and his Dear Hunter project—its brand of clean, bombastic pop just isn’t my thing—but it can get pretty annoying when one of your favorite bands has a homophonous counterpart that runs in similar circles and plays the same venues. You know what I’m talking about, Dear Hunter fans.
I hold the entire Astaire-Rogers collection in the highest cinematic regard, so I’m still mad that these sacred names got sullied by the robbing of the title of one of their finest films. Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere absconded with Shall We Dance, originally a sublime, Gershwin-scored 1937 odyssey on a (movie set) ocean liner, now a trite 2004 rom-com and excuse for La Lopez to show off her Fly Girl dance moves. A remake of a 1995 Japanese film, the American version of Shall We Dance? features Lopez bringing new life to a sulking Gere’s marriage by teaching him to dance. This hardly compares to an unparalleled series of Fred and Ginger songs and performances, including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” (on roller skates, yet). These two films shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath, let alone share a title. That extra punctuation mark isn’t fooling anyone.
As I may have mentioned before, Kicking And Screaming is one of my all-time favorite movies, and as I often find myself needing to clarify: I don’t mean the one starring Will Ferrell as an inept soccer dad. I mean Noah Baumbach’s first feature, about a year in the life of some recent college graduates as they hide from the encroaching real world. But Ferrell’s movie, even as one of his minor efforts, made over $50 million at the domestic box office, which is about twice as much as every Baumbach movie has grossed combined. (Even adjusting the two decade-apart movies for inflation, the Ferrell title remains about 50 times bigger than the Baumbach.) Basically, no amount of Criterion cred and body of work will get more eyeballs on the Baumbach movie than on the Ferrell movie, at least not in my lifetime, which leaves me forever briefly sounding like I must really love soccer. Possibly even more annoying: I don’t even dislike the Ferrell movie! It’s an enjoyable little throwaway that I often find myself describing like a blight simply because of its annoying title.
Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” was inescapable last year, which is fine, as it’s not a bad song. But it doesn’t hold a candle to “Take Me To Church,” the single from Sinéad O’Connor’s album I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, released the same year. A year prior, I would have dismissed O’Connor as someone whose prime was in the distant past, but her latest single is as fiery (and catchy) as anything she’s ever done—a meditation on pain, loss, and regret that’s nonetheless a rollicking stomp reminiscent of “Mandinka,” the song that put her on the map in the late ’80s. O’Connor’s “Church” didn’t make a big impact—it only charted in her native Ireland, and even there only reached No. 55. Hozier, by comparison, peaked at No. 2 in Ireland (as well as the U.K. and the U.S.). But in terms of sheer heart-pumping volume, Sinéad wins by a mile.
This is an annoyance that’s developed over time, because when I was a kid, the only thing I would’ve wanted more than an animated adaptation of Ghostbusters is another cartoon about busting ghosts. Now, however, due to the very serious, very adult demands of specificity and online pedantry (and some petty maneuvering by Columbia Pictures), one must distinguish The Real Ghostbusters from what’s retroactively referred to as Filmation’s Ghostbusters. Peter Venkman and company’s ascension into the cinematic canon has effectively erased the other Ghostbusters from pop-culture history, which is too bad: My memories of the cartoon are fuzzy, but I recall it having an inventive sense of design, a great rogues’ gallery, and toys that provided a reasonable challenge to the Real Ghostbusters merchandising juggernaut. I still love the Ghostbusters films, and have many fond, more specific recollections of its Saturday-morning counterpart, but I also like imagining an alternate universe in which the internet is up in arms about Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy stepping into the shoes of Jake Kong Jr. and Eddie Spencer Jr.
I’ve been a longtime booster of Tarsem Singh’s 2006 labor-of-love project The Fall. The film took him around the world to 24 of the most beautiful sites on Earth, and had him and Lee Pace working to convince an entire film crew that Pace was a paraplegic, all to fool the film’s 6-year-old star into giving a more authentic performance. The behind-the-scenes stories from that film are audacious and outlandish, and the film that resulted is so unique and impressive to me. My interview with Singh about it is still one of my favorite things I’ve done for The A.V. Club. So of course I’m annoyed that there’s a current serial-killer-hunting drama (yet another serial-killer-hunting drama, argh) by the same name, and that it seems to be a thousand times more popular than the film will ever be. During the lead-up to 50 Shades Of Grey, when every other article about it seemed to mention it starred “that guy from The Fall,” I kept thinking “Wait, Lee Pace is doing softcore bondage erotica?” Imagine my disappointment at being fooled over that one.
I went through an intense Jill Sobule phase and still have quite the affinity for the witty singer. The first bar I ever snuck into was to see her at the Tin Angel in Philly. I thought I was being so sneaky, when in fact a family friend made a deal with a bartender that I could sit in the back if I promised not to drink. I don’t even hate the Katy Perry version, but I don’t like it nearly as much as Sobule’s take on “I Kissed A Girl.” Perry’s version is a drunken hookup, while Sobule’s version is about discovering she’s probably more into ladies than she is men. Perry’s song is catchy as hell, but the lyrics don’t come close to Sobule’s sweet tale of her awakened sexuality.
The world should have reacted to Bachelorette the way it reacted to Bridesmaids. But I attribute the relative lack of success of Leslye Headland’s 2012 film—adapted from her dark play of the same name—on the fact that whenever I ask someone if they’ve seen Bachelorette, they wrinkle their noses and squint, surprised that the ABC reality dating show is something up my alley. Despite that notable article, The Bachelorette is the reason I’ve had to start referring to one of my favorite comedies of recent years as “the film Bachelorette starring Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, and Rebel Wilson.” I’ve considered implementing a Bachelorette litmus test in my dating life: When I say “bachelorette,” what do you think of? If your answer is “Lizzy Caplan snorting coke,” we’re going to get along great. If your answer is “roses” or “Chris Harrison,” we’re going to have a problem.
Look, I try to be a responsible participant in modern popular culture. I do my best to keep up. So when The Wire ended its five-season run seven years ago, I felt a certain amount of pride in having watched the whole thing, from beginning to end. I didn’t always see episodes when they aired, but by the time the finale was over, I’d seen everything, which was maybe the last time I felt reasonable current about anything. Imagine my dismay, then, at hearing there’s another “Wire” out there—this one a British band that had been around since 1976. Oh sure, they dropped the “The,” but here was Wire-named entertainment that I had absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever, and what’s worse, people kept talking about it like it mattered. I considered trying to find one of their albums, but then I found out there’s also a British music magazine called The Wire, and you know what? Fuck it. I’ve already got my Wire needs taken care of, thanks very much.
I don’t know how annoying I really find this, but, as an avowed Bruce Springsteen fan (I mean, I did recently out myself as being from New Jersey), I always find it amusing that both he and Miley Cyrus released fairly high-profile songs named “Wrecking Ball” within a year of each other. (It’s also worth noting that neither is even close to the first person to name a song that.) What’s maybe a bit annoying is that, outside the circle of the most incorrigible Springsteen fans (again, New Jersey), it’s pretty undeniable that Miley’s 2013 song left the much bigger pop-culture dent, to the point where I’m not even sure how many situations there are in which you could plausibly mix the two up: Unless it’s obvious from context you’re already talking about the Boss, it’s probably not his 2012 “Wrecking Ball” under discussion. But nah, that’s all fine. What’s actually super annoying is that it’s been two long years and we still haven’t been treated to the sonic ridiculousness of the two covering each other’s version of “Wrecking Ball,” which is just the sort of poorly thought-out waste of time that I live to witness. I mean, Bruce already covered Lorde’s “Royals”: All things are possible.