Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Mashups and Movies
Bear with me a moment: I am fond of the author Walker Percy. But when I read this bit from lit-blogger Maud Newton, I couldn't help but nod in knowing agreement:
"I used to fall in love with a book and then devour the rest of the author’s work in the space of two weeks. I stopped doing this in my twenties when I ran through Walker Percy’s novels, first to last, after picking up The Moviegoer on the advice of a friend. I ended up nauseous with boredom behind a copy of The Thanatos Syndrome, wishing all the characters would hurry up and overdose on heavy sodium."
I thought of that passage while I was reading this essay by a guy who watched every single one of Steven Spielberg's movies back to back. More particularly, I thought of it in relation to the famous Spielberg-face bit on YouTube. The essay mentions that video, and has this to say about it:
"A video essay called 'The Faces of Spielberg' got a lot of attention recently. It’s a fun viewing experience, and the essayist makes his point intelligently and elegantly. Still, I couldn’t understand, watching it, why a propensity by a highly commercial filmmaker to include in his films religiously lit close-up shots of the human face looking up in wonder would be considered anything more than axiomatic."
Yeah, me neither. But you know, there are other mashups like this out there. Wes Anderson From Above, anyone?
What am I getting at here? Something about the destructiveness of reductiveness, maybe? About the twin dangers of draining something of its meaning by repeating it too often in rapid succession, and of the deadening effect of the contextual vacuum? The Spielberg face worked, in part because there was time in between each appearance. I don't think it will ever work again for people who have seen this. Not because they paid close attention to Spielberg's films the way the essayist did. But because they saw a mashup on YouTube. The guy who made the mashup is a smart guy, and he appreciates what is genius in Spielberg. So does the guy who wrote the essay in Slate. But the rest of us? I wonder.
Maud Newton got sick of Walker Percy. Will the rest of us get sick of Spielberg for the same reason?
Yeah, it's all a little jumbled. I'm still working it out. But I think this mashup stuff is dangerous to art. Even as I laud its ability to lambaste cliches: