Brief notes on taste and entertainment: A shark, an octopus, Celine Dion, and Batman
Until Runaway American Dream, the book of mine that got the most attention was The Worst Rock’n’Roll Records of All Time, which I wrote with my friend Owen O’Donnell. Almost 20 years later, I have mixed feelings about that book. Working with Owen was a great pleasure, but the book now feels more mean and less funny than it should have been. (You could say the same for the book that inspired us, the Medved Brothers’ Golden Turkey Awards.)
I hardly ever think about The Worst anymore. I get the occasional email asking me when we’re doing a sequel or defending Bon Jovi, but that’s it. Questions of awful art and how we treat awful art zoomed back to front of mind earlier this month when I read Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. It’s a wonderful short book, part of Continuum’s 33-1/3 series, and it focuses on a Celine Dion record that Wilson, an ace rock critic, doesn’t think is any good. Yet he spends more than 100 pages finding interesting things to say about it and finding aspects of it that are not as awful as other aspects. He finds it a tremendously flawed work of art, but he also finds it a work of art.
In most of The Worst, it was easy to sneer at the performers. Owen and I didn’t break much of a sweat making fun of Billy Joel and his ilk. (If I remember correctly, we broke more of a sweat playing handball in the street in front of my house when we should have been writing.) Sometimes, though, the sneer didn’t come so easily. I’m thinking in particular of when we wrote about The Shaggs, a group of sisters best-known for their inability to stay in tune. Yet there is joy in their playing, an artless love of life in their songwriting, and I think Meg White listened to them when she and Jack were dreaming up The White Stripes. Can they play? Not really. But their enthusiasm is infectious. If the Shaggs’ music gives me so such pleasure, how can it possibly be bad? Why would I make fun of someone who is creating art that is moving me?
Which brings us to Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. It’s a disaster film that came out last year. Don’t worry if you missed it; almost everyone else did, too, even though it is, I think, the only film in which Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah Gibson (yes, she of “Shake Your Love”) both appear, the latter as a submarine-stealing oceanographer. The film was originally entitled Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus in 3D, but the filmmakers had to change the name when they couldn’t get enough funding to shoot in 3D.
But let’s see a bit of the work itself:
That’s right; you just saw a shark jump thousands of feet out of the ocean to attack a jetliner (it could happen). And you should see what the shark does to the Golden Gate bridge:
And don’t forget the “octopus” part of the title:
We self-appointed tastemakers tend to consider work of this level wanting. But what does bad mean here? All three of those clips bring me pleasure. Every single person I’ve shown the clip with the plane has responded to it. How can that be bad? No, the pleasures aren’t as deep as a film by Bergman or Kurosawa might bring, but they are pleasures nonetheless. The filmmakers sought to entertain me and they succeeded. How can such a pleasure be relegated to a guilty one?
Speaking of guilty pleasures, I cannot end this post about a shark attacking a plane without a reference to my until-now favorite shark moment on film, which, of course, involves Batman:
And now I’m going to decide whether I want to reread The Guermantes Way or Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal.