At the National Zoo…
At the Bohemian Jazz Caverns…
Odds are that you’ve heard at least something about “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the “documentary” that, on the surface level, is about street art, the infamously elusive Banksy, a fame-hungry imposter, and the stupidity of the art world….I think.
As will come readily apparent after even a simple trailer viewing, the movie is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek, leading many to wig out when it was recently nominated for an Academy. (For much, much more, on the debate over what the movie shows, start clicking here, here, and here–after you watch the film.)
Some of my friends have called it a “snooze fest” with an obvious, depressing message. (I disagree with the former and shrug my shoulders at the latter.) Really, there’s a lot more at stake than that; above all else, I thought it was a phenomenally entertaining experiment with narrative and audience expectations. Yes, on a certain level, you’re being screwed with and yes, perhaps that’s an obvious angle that’s been done before.
If for nothing else, I love this movie for how well it crystallizes so many discussions into one narrative. In the end, yes, this is a meta-narrative about other metas…but I’m completely willing to go along for the ride, thanks to the humor and grace it extends. (Unlike other recent plodding meta-narratives; “Inception,” anyone? Anyone? OK, it was worth a shot…)
In the end, I think you can get depressed at the “meaninglessness” of it all…or you can allow yourself a bit of a warm hearted chuckle.
Regardless, I highly recommend following up “Exit Through the Gift Shop” with Vic Muniz’s “Waste Land.” There are some surface similarities–both feature contemporary artists directing others, both play around with the almost-ridiculously easy trope of “art out of everyday objects,” both explore the absurdities of the modern art scene…but for any and all similarities, the difference between the processes showcased couldn’t be more stark; the movies are, in many ways, the antithesis of each other. “Exit” purposefully highlights the absurdity of haphazardly slapping a blank label and a high price tag on the mundane; “Waste Land” very sincerely tries to find true, unironic beauty and meaning in one of the dirtiest corners of the world. As such, perhaps these films, back-to-back, chronicle the much-heralded evolution of a po-mo generation hungry for even a glimpse of sincerity and purpose…?
It’s true that I’ve increasingly heard artists talk longingly about making “redemptive” art, art marked by meaning and message. It’s extremely interesting to me to see these two films grapple with just that and come to very different conclusions…and to see how the processes behind the art they highlight affect people in completely different ways.
Both titles are currently available on Netflix streaming.
The first time someone asked me if I wanted to be in a band when I grew up, I laughed in their face. My friends had been reluctantly pounding out classical riffs since the days their mothers first held their diapered rears down to piano benches, whereas I was just starting to train my teenage ear to recognize notes that were not in key–a fact that many of the first musicians I played with were quite happy to point out.
That was a long time ago. Long enough ago to finalize my mirth at such an idea. Nope, unlike countless po-mo peers raising their eyebrows behind the coffee bar, guitar picks swinging on a tiny chain around their neck, I never wanted to be a rock star–which was rather fortunate, both for the inevitably-crushed would-be ego and for any hope of a financial future.
Instead, I chose “creative writing.” Yeah, about that…
Delusions of grandeur never deluded aside, I’ve enjoyed playing music with friends for years. Recently, Kirsten and I got the chance to acquire a very simple microphone interface for our computer, thanks to a few photography jobs (email me). It’s been a blast to hang out with some quite talented friends and help lay down a few of their tracks. And Kirsten has more talent in her humming than I do in all of my fingers, years upon years of practicing scales and all–she just grins a little bit when I play out of key. C’est la vie. I guess I’ll keep her around.
So while relatively few people read this site or click on my Facebook links in the grand scheme of things, I’m trying to not let my friends’ work sit dormant on my computer. I’m temporarily rotating a few in-progress demos through Purevolume (any recommendations for a better site to host more than four songs at a time for a very low cost?) In a world saturated by singer-songwriters, this is not too much more than a bunch of friends having fun.
I’ve been thinking a lot about art that is so bad it’s good. Why is it that movies so often fall squarely in this category?
And yes, Reign of Fire definitely qualifies. The plot has more holes than the proverbial cheese enjoyed by yodeling boys and girls on snow-laden mountains, accompanied by cgi worthy of last year’s video games and acting (by plenty of famous faces) that is truly cringe-worthy…
That’s not to say it’s another King Kong. When I watched that LOTR-profit-fueled epic disaster in the theater, it ended up becoming one of the most enjoyable movie-going experiences of my life. The audience laughed their heads off (at all the wrong moments) and all but threw things at the screen. Yep, truly bad art has a way of uniting all of today’s MST3000-lovin’ hipsters into singing kumbaya and collectively sneering at Hollywood’s excesses from behind their designer eyeware.
Reign of Fire is more of a guilty pleasure, on the lines of The Mummy, or (yes), Avatar. What can I say. It has a castle. And skydiving. And dragons. (Interestingly enough, it was apparently titled “Salamander” in Japan…I’m not sure if that makes their culture utterly badass for a nonplussed relegation of fire-breathing killing machines to that level or complete wimpified in that they consider salamanders “dragons”…)
In my defense, I’ve never spent money on the movie–I first watched it at midnight on tv while on a trip, trying to fall asleep, chuckling quietly as to not wake my wife.
…she’s laughing at me now, so I guess it’s time to go watch a French film with subtitles to redeem my reputation.
Every now and then, I miss working outside all day long. And watching this documentary, it’s easy to prescribe reasons why these “cowboys” should continue sheepherding in the wilds of Montana. Still, this isn’t a romantic look at a dwindling profession (the way the farmers sling newborn lambs is far from PETA-approved, there’s more than one amusing profanity-laced meltdown, etc); Sweetgrass shows it how it is–as much as any film can–in part by avoiding narration, musical cues, or overt narrative. As such, it requires quite a bit of patience from the modern viewer (but not nearly as much as the monastic retreat that is Into Great Silence!)
Since I’m stuck in the suburbs for at least another year, for now, I’ll content myself with a lustful visit to Land and Farm after a long day–and, of course, watching this (exquisitely photographed) documentary.
For anyone that enjoys watching the trainwreck that is the contemporary recording industry:
Citigroup (yeah, the bank) has apparently bought the struggling EMI record label, along with its “modest level of debt”…aka, 1.2 billion pounds (yes, as in English currency…as in awfully close to 2 billion US dollars).
And that’s after a “65% reduction” in said level of debt.
I don’t think that needs too much analysis from my end…