ARTS

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October 3, 2006

In Case You Missed It—October 3, 2006

Do you know what the top-grossing movie of 2005 was? Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The most popular TV show in U.S. history? Baywatch or Friends, depending on whom you ask. The most popular album of 2005? Mariah Carey’s Emancipation of Mimi, followed closely by releases by 50 Cent and Kelly Clarkson. I’ve never been a super-critical art snob; I didn’t even particularly mind Harry Potter or its runner-up, Revenge of the Sith. I do, however, feel that anyone who considers any of the above to be legitimate works of art deserves a swift kick to the same bodily organ where most of this drivel originated.

It has become cliché to say that we live in an over-commercialized world where highly polished and completely substance-less “artists” are forced upon us by the tastes of 13-year-olds with too much command over their parents’ money. Unfortunately, it’s cliché because it’s true. But true art still exists. The world did not stop becoming a miraculous place and the artistic drive of humanity did not suddenly fall dead. We just have to look a little harder, and that is what I’m here to do.

Every week, I’ll be looking at movies, books, TV, and music that have slipped through the cracks of pop culture or simply been forgotten by time. I’ll look at gems that no one seems to have seen or hits that no one talks about anymore. I also plan to look at popular cult works and judge whether they’re worth checking out.

With that said, let’s dive straight into a few of my personal favorites:

Movies: Falling Down (1993)

In a world where every frat boy from here to DeVry has seen The Boondock Saints, it’s a wonder that this movie isn’t more popular. Set in the disillusioned funk of the early ’90s, this movie is an ostensibly careless psychosis-fueled romp through L.A. Michael Douglas has many classic lines and unforgettable scenes as he rampages across town, from a rant against Koreans to whipping out an UZI when served some awful fast food. He attacks all those little annoyances of everyday city life, all those things to which we all want to take a MAC-10, but never can. Robert Duvall also shows up, playing an interesting, if pedestrian, role as the semi-sympathetic police officer assigned to track down Douglas.

If a cathartic killing-spree were all it was, Falling Down would still be a wonderfully entertaining movie. But what makes it a movie worth the time is the subtle commentary buried in Douglas’s rage. His character, down to the clothes and the circa-1950s glasses he wears, is a symbol of an older age of America. An age where soda didn’t cost “85 cents” and life and family were (in his mind) simpler. Douglas’s rampage is the death-knell of old America, a frenzied descent into the modern age where, as Duvall eloquently puts it, “they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.” Douglas is a man who points out the problems with society. Unfortunately, no one cares to listen, and even Duvall is more concerned with his “chicken dinner…drying out in the oven.” Forget him, next time I go to McDonald’s, I’m taking my AK.

Books: Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1986)

Graphic novels have not traditionally been a very respected or accredited medium, but Watchmen defied, and continues to defy, everyone’s preconceptions about “comic books.” Watchmen has received multiple honors, including a Hugo Award for Special Achievement (which puts it in the realm of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury), and a listing in Time magazine’s 2005 list of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.”

The plot is complicated and involves many different levels, but essentially involves a loose group of retired superheroes, along with a “true” superhero—the god-like Dr. Manhattan—trying to avert nuclear Armageddon with the Soviets.

This thrilling work, set in an alternate 1985, essentially redefined the medium and the genre as well as originating many new concepts. Watchmen, for example, essentially invented the “human” superhero who must deal with everything from disease and age to family and politics. Watchmen also takes full advantage of the graphic medium to create stunning montages of dialogue and art that can move the story along at a breakneck pace, or slow it to a mournful crawl.

Put simply, Watchmen is the only reason I needed to start this column. Here is a real masterpiece that, despite being so critically acclaimed, is rarely seen outside of comic-book circles. These are exactly the kinds of works I would like to bring to your attention. So many of these great projects could compete with the real classics of our time, but for one reason or another, rarely see much recognition.

That’s all for this week, but before I go, I have one last request. Since the things that I’m reviewing are, by their very definition, hard to find, I appreciate any suggestions. If you have some movie, album, book, or TV show that you think doesn’t get all the credit it should (or you have some cult hit you think gets too much credit), e-mail me at bmw940@uchicago.edu with your suggestions.