Saturday, August 20, 2005

Internet Hilarity

Sometimes, after reading something or seeing something, I become curious about what other people thought about it, and I, like many ivory-tower-ensconced (not!) academics, am on a perennial search for the view of the "common reader" although I recognize the non-existence of such a banal construct.
I finished reading Patrick McGrath's novel Asylum (now a major motion picture) last night and wondered what "the people" had thought of this very dark book. I also wonder whether Hollywood will change the ending, which I won't spoil for you here. When I went to the amazon page to read the (generally very favorable) reader reviews, I saw a link to this list of "depressing stuff" The list's editor says, "If you like depressing entertainment then you can't go wrong with everything listed hear. I got books, movies and cds here, all of which are very depressing. I'm getting depressed just thinking about this depressing stuff. I'm sure there'll be lots more depressing stuff to be released in the future but they'd have to be pretty depressing to compare with the below depressing books, movies and cds that listed."
And then I discovered another, similar list (containing many of the same titles) with the heading: "So you'd like depressed, but profound." I didn't find this list entirely convincing or in line with my own experience; some of the movies and books listed were sort of redemptive. McGrath's Asylum, and many others, are not. It's not easy to think of a movie without a redemptive ending. As Lawrence Langer pointed out, it's difficult to find a narrative about the Holocaust that doesn't attempt to slap some happy ending on. "Shindler's List" and "Life is Beautiful" are the most egregious (and of course, popular) examples.
Neither of them contain my ultimate in depressed music or movies. It's interesting, if you google this concept, you'll find lots of fora where people are discussing their choices of the "most depressing" movies ever, where "Requiem for a Dream" seems to be the clear popular winner.But a lot of their choices are to me more sad than depressing. Sad can be cathartic. Depressing isn't; it just leaves you flat and hopeless, which is why I'm having a hard time coming up with even ONE "depressing" movie, though I know I've seen a few.

If I had to list them...the most "Depressing" books, movies and films, I'd choose would be:
Ann Petry, The Street
Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight.
oh yeah, and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

Films: I saw it on someone's list, and I'd have to say: "Kids" and also, "Bully" both of which depressed me terribly, not in any kind of interesting way. I was depressed by the vision of the film-maker, Larry Clark, who, I think, hates the teens he documents. Because there's no real insight into the characters' motivations, just a combination of sadism, voyeurism, and moral judgement, his films are not particularly intellectually or emotionally interesting. He, his films, their popularity, they're a symptom of something very wrong, an example of a deeply conservative message masquerading as avant-garde and creative work. In contrast, a good depressing film: "The Onion Field" which may not be redemptive or cathartic, offers some kind of insight into its subjects.

Leonard Cohen: "Suzanne" or "That's no Way to Say Goodbye"? or maybe that whole "best of" album, that I once listened to over and over again until I had sunk into a terrible malaise.
And your votes?


Anonymous said...

Requim for a Dream certainly didn't leave me with a smile on my face. 4 lives and how they are ruined. 28 Days later was pretty painful to watch. Remember leaving the theatre and feeling very relieved to see that 14th st was still there.
I think though that people throw around the word "depressing" the way they throw around the word "paranoid." "Paranoid" in common parlance simply means anxious. "I'm paranoid about the sink overflowing." Has nothing to do with being delusional and thinking people are committing acts or planning to commit acts against you. When people say a movie or a book is "depressing" I think they just mean it makes them sad. There's no qualitative difference, my mom goes one further and just uses "positive" or "negative" to describe films (especially films).
Perhaps the thing that depressed me the most was the claymation show on MTV "Celebrity Deathmatch" when they had Tom Waits vs. Leonard Cohen.

reb said...

I would love to see a "celebrity deathmatch" between Waits and Cohen!

Anonymous said...

Please pardon my senentence fragment