Tuesday, September 23, 2008


There's a quote, often attributed to Brian Eno, that even though only six-thousand people bought Velvet Underground & Nico at the time of its release, they all seem to have gone out and started a band.

I always think something similar can be said of the '70s Jack Kirby. Not necessarily that they all drew comics, but the folks who read The New Gods, Kamandi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc. did seem to become creators in higher numbers than other groups.

Obviously, Star Wars also seems to be a touchstone of aspiring moviemakers around my age. I think the jury remains out on the Star Wars Saga as a whole, in those terms, but it seems unlikely to be quite the zeitgeist that the first movie was.

It seemed that The Matrix could have taken on the mantle, but I suspect The Matrix Trilogy pushed it away from today's zeitgeist, too. I'd guess Spy Kids had the same problem for the generation below that, too. Perhaps there's a lesson in here.

Sin City will almost assuredly inspire some, but it's so specifically and blatantly tied in to the cinema of the past that I can't imagine it being the gateway to the cinema of the future... but I'm prepared to be wrong on this.

MirrorMask seems a top choice to sneak in there. Like the Velvet Underground record, it was decidedly limited in its success upon release, so it has a bit more of the "my weird discovery" quality that's so often appealing to a creator.

Having now seen it, I'm ready to suggest that Speed Racer stands a good chance. It's commercial and critical failure assure us that we'll have no sequels to cloud the water for whatever unsuspecting kids find their minds warped by this mad vision.

For whatever it's worth, I find little I disagree with in "Get That Weak Shit Off My Track!": Speed Racer (2008) by Chris Stangl, "Speed Racer is about art and commerce, though the stand-ins are racing-constantly-compared-to-art and patronage in the form of corporate driver sponsorship, with Speed Racer as a virtuoso whose work in content and form reduces crowds to tears of ecstasy."

Now, Greg Ferrara's supposition, in A Brief History of Time, that the movie is 30-45 minutes too long are indeed on target, but it somehow made less difference to me than it does in many other recent bloated Hollywood epics. Perhaps because it is something entirely different from those animals. No, I'm not entirely sure what it is. I have a feeling that we won't know for sure until that hypothetical generation of inspired youths rework into something else entirely.

In his review, Days of Speed Racer, Dennis Cozzalio wrote, "I wonder how Speed Racer will look to audiences 18 years from now."

I also wonder that, but I'm more excited by the idea that some 10 year old is sitting with a DVD of it and someday will make the next generation of movie, built on the inspiration he took from that experience, and I wonder what that will look like.


Anonymous said...

Hey Neil. Taitdog here. Long time, eh? Anyway, if I may, I'd like to add a movie to your list that, in its day, galvanized the people I knew: "Pulp Fiction." While the luster of Tarantino is no longer what it was, we still speak in glowing terms about PF. Buying the screenplay book only a month after seeing it gave me a frame of reference for screenplay writing and got me going. It also got many others going, I know for sure. Some are still doing it. Others, like myself, have found other avenues of creative expression. However, that feeling I had when I first saw PF in the theaters...it's something I'll never forget.

Neil Sarver said...

Hey, man! Long time indeed! How's it going?

To your comment, I say indeed.

Interestingly, the quote from Chris Stangl's post that I originally considered was, "In a lineage of sense-saturating, giddy, brazenly joyous and deeply perverse entertainments, Speed Racer is brother to The Mask of Fu Manchu, Tokyo Drifter, Diabolik, and Kill Bill."

No mention of Pulp Fiction, but a solid opening for some discussion in that direction.

I think the impression of Pulp Fiction's influence was (and is) somewhat bigger than it was. No, that's wrong... Not its influence in general, but its influence in inspiring creators to become creators. I think its influence was much stronger in galzanizing the extant inspiration of the Star Wars generation.

It's also been pointed out that Tarantino managed to be at the front of a movement that wasn't necessarily the inspiration for, although he was, not coincidentally, the most talented of the group.

I'm not disagreeing with you, despite appearances. I think there is a terrific base of creative folks just like you.

In the recent blog post This is the dawning of the Age of Credulity by Roger Ebert, he wrote, "Let me take you back to 1997, and a conversation I had with Paul Schrader, author of Taxi Driver, director of Mishima and American Gigolo. He told me that after Pulp Fiction, we were leaving an existential age and entering an age of irony."

There's a frustrating, well, irony to this, in that Tarantino emphasizes in several discussions that his intentions are absolutely lacking in irony, but that Schrader is not wrong. There is no authorial irony in Tarantino's work, but it is nearly universally viewed through the ironic eyes of the viewers. In fact, I think his success was based largely on this. I think a large part of the mainstream audience wouldn't have liked, or even been able to deal with, any of Tarantino's movies without imagining a non-existant irony.

The interesting thing that the Wachowski's are doing, with both the two Matrix sequels and Speed Racer, is to create works that are nearly impossible to view ironically. I think Speed Racer more successfully, but I most likely need to review the Matrix movies one day... although that won't be today. I also think Jackie Brown and Kill Bill approach the irony problem reasonably well, if from opposite approaches... indeed likely much of the reasons they were less successful.

Here I can tell I seem to have gone far afield, but I think the reason I didn't specifically bring Pulp Fiction into my original discussion was due to two things. The fact that it's so easily viewed ironically, even if that's an unfair way to view it, and I think that hungry inspiration works best with something a person loves fully and unapologically, like yours truly loves The Sweet. I also think the fact that it had such an immediate wave of imitators and seeming imitators that it seemed to have shot its wad in those terms. That may not be true, but I think the next generation influenced by Tarantino will indeed somewhere in there have the work that follows as part of what they have to deal with.

Whatever. I certainly had a very similar reaction to seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time, and I'm also sure we're nothing like unique on that.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I am increasingly feeling that I did not give this movie proper credit. As I said to Dennis in my comments, there was much to like about it I just felt the movie was overstated. I find the visuals to be so slick that they remove the viewer from any real connection to the movie as an actual movie as opposed to a visual pose. It recalls similar movies in which I heard arguments of "just you wait, ten years from now..." with The Hunger and The Cell and 25 and 8 years later I don't see much happening.

But I feel I don't have a lot of weight to my arguments as I saw a bootleg on a computer so I cannot begin to pretend I really saw the movie. I am going to watch it again on DVD, big screen tv, surround sound system. I think it will make a huge difference. Then I'll happily concede all points to you, Dennis and Chris if that be the case (and it just may be).

Neil Sarver said...

To start out with, I think The Hunger was hugely influencial actually, and The Cell just plain sucked, so the people saying it would amount to anything in the public consciousness were flat out wrong...

But I thought there was indeed a quality to their evocation of an obvious fantasy world that went well beyond the rudiments of the direct imagery. The entire way it shot and edited brought me into a different place that I'd never seen... for what it's worth, I'd not been to that place watching the TV series upon which the movie was based, which could, for other, be a bad thing...

As it goes, I appreciate that we now a world where we can all examine the influences of all the artists we admire, which is good on the one hand, but on the other I leads to dumbasses like me to make predictions like this, which are probably less than useful to the discourse of today or the future... but are still what wander through my mind, so I'm inspired to share.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'm kind of excited now to see it properly. Sometimes it takes me a couple (or three or four) tries before a movie really sinks in.

Neil Sarver said...

Jonathan, I look forward to hearing what you think at that point.

And I'm going to add to both of my responses that I think what I didn't make clear in my post - and perhaps less than I ought to have in my own conscious mind - is that I'm not discussing the people who will be influenced to imitate it directly. I think those will be few and far between, now and likely ever... but the people who grow up with it and imagine new and greater things with this as a starting place...

Perhaps this needs a lot more discussion... influence fascinates me.

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