Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best of 00's (Intro)

To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that this decade is ending until I saw the Onion’s AVClub summing up the last ten years by picking their favorite tv shows, albums and movies. Years ago, when my friend Troy’s Cheeky Monkey website was a collective effort, Troy actively sought year-end “best of” lists from his friends, including a decade overview in 1999. The most difficult thing about those lists was avoiding repetition. How many times could I say I liked “The Sopranos” before seeming like I liked little else?

Things have changed. This has been a strange decade and not just for culture. The Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001 had a paralyzing effect on this country and its culture. We became the land of magical thinking: if we conform and don’t question, then we’ll be safe and we’ll win the war and the troops won’t be harmed. If you do anything else, then the terrorists win. This attitude wasn’t just about politics. The post-9/11 timidity seemed to influence all media. Anyone who challenged this mindset fought an uphill battle just to be heard. Not an ideal atmosphere for creating interesting work.

The other major influence on culture in the 00’s? You’re looking at it right now. My blog? Yeah, right. No, I was referring to the internet. With its immediate access to almost anything, mainly video and audio (text seems to be lagging behind, thank God), the internet has changed the economics of show business, helped put record and dvd stores out of business, and altered how we think of and experience entertainment. Two examples of how downloading from the internet has changed how I experience entertainment. Two weeks ago, I saw the tv show Glee for the first time. I liked it. Within a week, I had seen every episode save one, either by downloading or watching on the official website. Previously, when I discovered I liked a show, I would have to (old school) wait for re-runs and plan my life or vcr around them or (new school) borrow or buy dvds of episodes I missed. The difference is one of time. Then I had to wait; now I have easy access and instant gratification. I still pay for much of my entertainment and have justifications when I download something for free. The fact that I even care makes me a bit of a fossil.

A better example concerns Jacques Rivette’s movie Out 1. Long considered a holy grail among cinephiles, the movie seems made for obscurity (it’s French, it’s 13 hours long, there are very few copies of the film, a new print hasn’t been struck since the early 70’s, etc.). I had resigned myself to never seeing it and only reading about it in books. Then, in 2006, it was announced that the film would be showing in New York and in London. The New York screening quickly sold out. I began planning a trip to London to see the movie, but before I booked my airline tickets, a second screening was announced in New York in March 2007. I went, liked the movie, and accepted that it would be the only time I would see it. Two years later, I found a copy on the internet complete with subtitles and downloaded it. It’s now on my hard drive; I can watch it any time I want. From impossible to see to once-in-a-lifetime event to something I own (for free) in the space of two years. That’s how the internet has changed things.

I think this easy free access to whatever you want has fragmented culture and entertainment to an unprecedented degree. There is no more mainstream, the center could not hold. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you live in times during which the mainstream sucks. When Michael Jackson died earlier this year, it was said that “there would never be another Michael Jackson,” meaning “there would never be a pop star that big.” To which I reply “Good!” If it saves me from having to hear his shrill threadbare music again, hooray! I would rather live in a world in which the mainstream has crumbled and I can find Out 1 or Deltron 3030 online than be stuck with a monoculture that doesn’t interest me at all. However, this fragmented culture doesn’t seem to produce anything that speaks to or explains our current times. Everything exists on its own terms, pursuing its own goals. There was a lot of work from the last ten years that was very good, but it’s hard to think of much that was great and even harder to think of anything that addressed the times and expressed what it was like to be alive during them.

Looking over my list of favorites from this decade, there’s little that couldn’t have come from an earlier decade. We often heard how this was a golden age for television, and while there were many good shows (sometimes it seemed like too many), nothing from this decade impresses me as much as The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Prisoner or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, shows that aired over 40 years ago, and are both of their time and transcend it. With few exceptions, there’s been little in the last ten years that does this.

Eventually I will post my list of favorites from the last ten years, but first I had to explain how difficult it was coming up with such a list.


wpbooks said...

I think the idea of finding stuff you never thought you'd find in the last ten years is a better theme than what was produced in the last 10 years. My list would begin with Ken Russell's Dance Of The Seven Veils, Lindsay Anderson's The White Bus, The Complete Phil Silvers Sgt. Bilko series, National Lampoon's Lemmings on video ca. 1973, Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema, Joseph Losey's remake of M, Shakedown starring Lawrence Tierney, a trifecta of great tv appearances by Peter Lorre: Checkmate, Rawhide and the rare pilot he did with Vincent Price titled Collector's Item, Freebie And The Bean in widescreen, and virtually all the incarnations of Richard Stark's Parker from Point Blank to The Outfit to The Split to Godard's Made In USA! All ten were available on line for virtually nothing but the price of blank discs, and I feel no guilt! Just glee at having obtained most of my want list in the oughts and looking forward to a more streamlined decade for doing just that again in the teens. Screw the now, pal! Let's attack the past!

the hanged man said...

Lemmings! [smacks forhead] Of course. Thank you for reminding me. Will have to track that down right now.

You bring up a good point, in that one of the advantages of living through times that are less interesting artistically is that you're freed up to investigate things from the past that you might have missed.

I'm also aware of the irony in complaining that there's not more good stuff, given my standard complaint that I don't have enough time to read/watch/listen all the things I'm interested in. "I don't have time for all this stuff, but I want more!"

Despite how it has fractured the culture, obviously I'm happy at the wealth of material gushing forth from the internet. I'm just not sure what the long term effects are.

ps - haven't forgotten my promise to burn Histoire Du Cinema for you.

wpbooks said...

Hanged Man,
Don't worry about burning HDC for me as I found the missing parts at one of the sites I frequent. While my last response was pretty kneejerk, over night I had time to reflect on 'media' from the last decade that I feel is worthy of a top ten type list and have come up with the following that I hope you'll allow me to share here, at your highly respected blog (at least in my neck of the woods!)
From the oughts I have to give respect to the work of Armando Iannnucci: Armando Iannucci's Shows, Time Trumpet and The Thick Of It, the labours of Christopher Morris: Nathan Barley (though his best shows come from the 90's like Brass Eye, Jam and The Day Today), HBO's The Wire, AMC's Breaking Bad and Mad Men, Hal Hartley's Fay Grim, (Called The Empire Strikes Back in his ongoing Henry Fool saga), David Cronenberg's triple threat of Spider, A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, The Johnson Smith Catalog parody of Chris Ware and his talent for design, The Coen Brothers threepeat of No Country, Burn After Reading and A Serious Man (which takes the edge off their Intolerable Cruelty and Ladykillers 'experiments'), a quickly cancelled but resurrected series from ABC-TV called Wonderland which took place in a Bellevue like Psychiatric Ward for 8 amazing episodes, and the delightful BBC combo of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes which entertainingly combined the 70's and 80's cop show formula with 21st century concepts of Time Travel and 'sophistication'.....These are a few of my favorite things which spring to mind while attempting to contact sleep....I'm sure there are others I am forgetting...but of course it's your party, here!!!

the hanged man said...

Quite the little Anglophile, aren't you, WP?

Great list - thank you for sending it. While there are things I would quibble over (Deadwood does it for me in a way that The Wire just can not), there's a lot of great suggestions for further study.

I'm thinking that perhaps I'll post of list of my ten favorite downloads and hope that the MPAA or a major record label (do major record labels still exist?) don't ever stumble on this blog.

wpbooks said...

I'll reserve comment on Deadwood, as I've never made it past season one. I have all the eps but things just keep getting in the way, and from what I understand, it remains unfinished, as opposed to The Wire which actually could have been perfect with a finish at the end of Series 3 but David Simon saw fit to explore a couple of other institutions and so we got a few bonus stories. What can I say, I went from Homicide to The Corner to The Wire and was greatly moved by each one in it's own time. Sadly, as interesting as Deadwood seemed from the few episodes I viewed, I don't think it quite measures up to the intricacy of The Wire. It's more on the level of The Sopranos which to me is an excellent but flawed production. But I will watch the remaining Deadwoods and chime in at the appropriate time. And yes....perhaps I am a bit of an Anglophile, in the sense that their sense of humor jibes more with mine in a way most US shows don't get to....with a few exceptions like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mr. Show, Arrested Development and maybe some others that I'm just not thinking of at this moment. Them Brits have a much more twisted sense of humor and I add Black Books, Snuff Box, and Monkey Dust to my list of UK faves when it comes to laffs....The IT Crowd, too, but it's much more like a conventional US sitcom, but still funnier

wpbooks said...

Forgot to mention 2 US shows that are in my constant rotation and probably will stay that way into the teens: TV Funhouse and the great but nearly unseen Wondershowzen. Must see TV to be sure! know, for the kids!