Showing posts with label Mediocre Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mediocre Movies. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Virtue of Forgettable Records

The French film critic André Bazin was able to find a moment of redeeming value in an otherwise forgettable movie. For him, a mediocre film always had a moment of real beauty. He was the Will Rogers of movie critics, for it was Will Rogers who is claimed to have said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Bazin was like that with movies. Bazin’s attitude about movie going was remarkably similar to that of the Surrealist Man Ray, who wrote, “The worst films I’ve ever seen, the ones that send me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen valid minutes. The best films I’ve ever seen only contain ten or fifteen valid minutes” (qtd. in Paul Hammond, Ed., The Shadow and Its Shadow, p. 84). Man Ray also had the habit of watching movies through his fingers, so that he could see only isolated parts of the screen. Actually, I perfectly understand the impulse behind Man Ray’s habit. For many years I had a movie-going habit that my friends found very annoying: I would never arrive at the movie theater on time, that is to say, before the movie started. I was always late, deliberately, meaning I would miss the first few minutes. I preferred watching movies this way because it always seemed to make the movie more provocative and interesting. After all, watching a movie isn’t all about the narrative, and besides, since movies are a mass art (e.g., Hollywood), they are simply variations on familiar forms. Hollywood isn’t interested in redefining the way people watch movies; on the contrary, its success largely depends upon deep-rooted viewing habits. Habits don’t develop simply because of compulsive behavior; they are learned and reinforced. Example: people go the movie theater early to avoid lines and to get the best seats. Consequently, they sit through the opening credits and endure the dreary opening minutes. After several iterations of this pattern, it becomes a habit.

For in fact most movies are dull and mediocre. Remember Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” The typical record album is very much like one of Bazin’s movies: dull and mediocre, with merely a few remarkable minutes. The upside to this situation, though, is that these two or three valid minutes are very much worth hearing. No doubt this realization prompted Mitch Miller to invent the type of album known as “greatest hits,” even though he himself is responsible for making some of the most boring music ever put to record. In the days of the hegemony of vinyl records, I always found that I preferred one side of the record to the other, a listening habit not encouraged by the digital storage medium (I suppose the digital equivalent of preferring one side to the other is the “playlist,” allowing the programmer to skip or omit altogether the crappy stuff). For instance, I always preferred side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road to side one (although I’d play side one on occasion primarily just so I could listen to “Octopus’s Garden”), while I vastly preferred side one of the James Gang’s Rides Again. I think side two of Van Morrison’s Into the Music is the greatest single side of music he ever recorded, and I much prefer the second side of Led Zeppelin III. So in honor of André Bazin, I’ve compiled a list of mediocre and largely forgettable albums that contain an utterly remarkable few minutes. It’s the proverbial drop in the bucket.

Aerosmith, Toys in the Attic
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Déjà Vu
The Doors, Strange Days
The Eagles, Greatest Hits
Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III
The Steve Miller Band, Greatest Hits 1974-78
The Moody Blues, On the Threshold of a Dream
The Mothers of Invention, Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Traffic, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Yes, Fragile
Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy