History is filled with influential artists -- people who were so talented, they inspired hordes of others to create. But sometimes an artist creates a work of art so masterful, it simultaneously defines a style while shutting the door on others who would follow. Sure, people still try, but rarely can they succeed without their attempts being compared, unfavorably, to the masterpieces.
This week, I kept the intro short instead of bitching about people not reading it. Here's a picture of my psychiatrist, who helped me accept things beyond my control, and prescribed me illegal quantities of E. Thanks, Dr. Segosian!
#5. 2001: A Space Odyssey Creates Profound Cinematic Science Fiction Like No Other
In 1968, a year before man even went to the moon (or didn't go to the moon, if you're wearing a tin foil hat right now), Stanley Kubrick delivered 2001. For those of you who haven't seen it, you're either very young and forgiven or old and stupid. According to people who don't want to be wrong, 2001 is the greatest science fiction ever made. Not just because it's staggeringly accurate scientifically, not just because it's almost impossible to compare it to any other film before or since, and not just because of its groundbreaking special effects, but because of its scope. Here is a science fiction movie that attempts to do nothing short of defining man's place in the universe, and it succeeds.
2001 starts at the dawn of man and jumps to 2001, when man as a species is ready to evolve into Homo superior.
No, it's not a junior high school insult. (That's "Homo so-queer-ia.")
Never again would science fiction films -- even good science fiction films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and Total Recall -- come close to having that kind of impact. Kubrick inspired Spielberg and Lucas to become filmmakers, to explore space in art, and yet, despite the massive successes of their careers, none stand on the same plane as 2001. It is science fiction as science and art and philosophy. Here are the only 10 minutes I don't like, but people who get super high all the time assure me it's awesome:
Although it's fun to write about Stanley Kubrick as a batshit mad genius terrorizing actors on a whim, it's important to remember that this is a man who had the intellectual capacity to have deep science-based brainstorming meetings with co-collaborator Arthur C. Clarke -- one of the giants of science fiction. Name a director working today who has that kind of analytical stamina.
I was going to end this section by noting how even a talented director like Ridley Scott fell on his face with Prometheus when trying to make a sci-fi film with deep philosophical implications, but my research tells me that he's already articulated my thesis statement.
#4. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust Mastered Glam Rock/Made It Moot
When people think of glam rock, they might mention Gary Glitter for sheer kitsch value, and they will definitely throw T. Rex into the mix for a handful of pop gems and a killer look, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't believe that Ziggy Stardust is the benchmark of glam rock.
OK, maybe Satan (or some douchebag dressed up like him in our photo library).
In 1972, David Bowie released a group of loosely related songs about an androgynous Martian rock 'n' roll messiah who lands on our dying world and descends into the trappings of success before committing suicide (maybe?) amidst the adoration of his fans. Stupid concept album? Yeah, you're right, that one the Who did about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who was great at pinball made a lot more sense. You're just gonna have to accept that, thematically, most concept albums are a bit silly.
But musically (and lyrically, in a song-specific sense), Ziggy is a stellar album. Unlike some glam rockers, who used makeup merely as a gimmick, Bowie has had a 40-plus-year career, illustrating his songwriting diversity and prowess. These songs are fantastic with or without the lipstick. Can you say that about everything the New York Dolls ever did? How about retro throwback glam bands like Suede?
And not only did Bowie out-write his peers, and not only did his amazing band, led by the criminally underrated Mick Ronson, outplay his peers, but he also won the day with presentation. Mismatched eyes, waif body, injury-inducing cheekbones, all coming together as the epitome of androgyny. Anyone else attempting to rock that look just looked stupid, like Marilyn Manson did with Mechanical Animals.
Your career disappeared shortly thereafter? You don't say.
#3. Fight Club Staked Its Claim on the Unreliable Narrator
Writing this entry requires me to break the first and second rules of Fight Club, so forgive me. I'm not going to say a lot about Fight Club because I'm fairly sure this is the entry most known to the Cracked audience, and the longer I speak, the greater the odds that some horrible person who's reading this while taking a short Reddit break will lambast me mercilessly for misstating some pedantic minor fact or "just not getting it, man." By the way, the book and the movie are over a decade old. Do I have to say SPOILER ALERT? Really? Fine, SPOILER ALERT.
"Seriously, dude. You shouldn't need a spoiler alert. That's like saying 'Spoiler alert, Rosebud is Citizen Kane's sled,' I guess. I don't know. I haven't seen Citizen Kane."
So as you all know, Fight Club is about unnamed protagonist, and another guy, Tyler Durden. Of course, by the end we learn there is no Tyler Durden. Instead, he was a projection of the narrator's tortured mind. Chuck Palahniuk was not the first author to create an unreliable narrator whose words become twisted via stress and/or mental illness. He's not even the 50th author to employ this technique. Hell, although there are no projected personae, the whole fun of reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is figuring out what the reality of the story is behind the way the story is told. And then there are other stories like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which are all imagined.
None of this is meant to take away from Palahniuk's accomplishment. It actually makes what he did more impressive, because it is virtually impossible to write a novel now with an unreliable narrator (especially with any imagined characters) without being compared to Fight Club. He has owned it. And I when my forthcoming novel, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, is released, I fully expect to be hearing that comparison as well. Indeed, I already did when it ran in serialized novella form here at Cracked. But what no one compared it to was the amazing 2004 film The Machinist, which also has an unreliable narrator whose mental state far more closely mirrors my protagonist's than Fight Club's. But it doesn't matter. Palahniuk's masterful tale has taken the genre and made it his street-brawlin', soap-making bitch.