5 Works of Art So Good, They Ruined Their Whole Genre
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!
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.
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.
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.
Bob Marley Became Reggae With Exodus
Wikipedia will tell you:
Reggae is most easily recognized by the rhythmic accents on the off-beat, usually played by guitar or piano (or both), known as the skank. This pattern accents the second and fourth beat in each bar (or the "and"s of each beat depending on how the music is counted) and combines with the drums emphasis on beat three to create a unique feel and sense of phrasing in contrast to most other popular genres focus on beat one, the "downbeat." The tempo of reggae is usually felt as slower than the popular Jamaican forms, ska and rocksteady, which preceded it. It is this slower tempo, the guitar/piano offbeats, the emphasis on the third beat, and the use of syncopated, melodic bass lines that differentiates reggae from other music, although other musical styles have incorporated some of these innovations separately.
For most people, however, that's a needlessly long and confusing explanation, because reggae is simply:
To prove that statement true, all you need to do is ask most morons who sang a particular reggae song. As I've written about twice before, regardless of the right answer, hordes of people will say "Bob Marley," no matter how ridiculous. The theme song from Cops? Bob Marley. "Don't Worry, Be Happy"? Bob Marley! It doesn't matter that Mr. Marley had been long dead by the time both those songs came out. Quite simply, he owns the genre.
When did that happen? Probably in 1977, when Marley released Exodus. In truth, no one album defines Marley's impact on the entire genre of reggae, but many consider Exodus his best, so I'm going with that. It has more tracks on his greatest hits album Legend than any other, and Legend is the best-selling reggae album of all time. Why not just say Legend, you ask?
This pic is for you. Because greatest hits albums are for little girls, that's why.
But it's also the album with the song that most people hear in their head when they think reggae.
Animal House Is the Only College Comedy You Ever Need to See
In 1978, Universal Pictures released a film directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller that would go on to be one of the most successful comedies of all time. In doing so, it would inspire countless films about high school and college students getting up to wild high jinks and having the craziest night ever, and most of those films would suck. And all of them would be inferior to Animal House.
Sure, there have been other good movies dealing with wacky students. I'm fond of PCU because it is a sadly accurate reflection of my college experience in the '90s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High has its place in '80s comedies, and everyone agrees that the first American Pie movie was enjoyable, but none really hold a candle to Animal House. Have you ever heard anyone fill in this blank, ever: "Oh man, you have to see ____. It's better than Animal House!" Have you? Is the person who said that presently throwing his own feces and asking you to sign a petition to liberate his genitals from his pants?
I'm not going to itemize all the hilarious moments or perfect performances. I won't recite all the lines that have become cliches. I won't even defer to others' opinions as proof. (Well OK, a little: Roger Ebert called it one of the year's best when it was released, and it's also been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress.) Instead, let's take a moment to see how it's raised the bar too high for any other similar film to succeed.
First off, while it was released in '78, it takes place in the '60s. Sure, that may have simply been because that's when its writers were in college, but setting it in a time past freed it from any trappings of the '70s, and that's why it's still not dated today. Also, for a stupid comedy, it had an incredibly broad range of characters. Everyone could relate to who the nerds Pinto and Flounder were while aspiring to be a ladies' man like Otter or an anarchist like Bluto. Animal House deals with the loss of virginity, peer pressure, ROTC, class stratifications, race relations and growing up. The film starts with clueless freshmen who learn to navigate a new world, but it also shows upper classmen moving into adulthood. And it ends well for everyone. College will be all right. Life after college will be all right. And the only frat you should belong to is one that's expansive enough to include every kind of freak and loser. It does all that and you never notice because you're too busy pissing your pants. Nothing can beat it. Not even Jason Biggs fucking a pie.
Hey, who wants to see my best HATE BY NUMBERS in like forever? Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's my website and Tumblr, too.
For more from Gladstone, check out 5 Artists Who Stopped Sucking Out of Nowhere and 5 Things That Are Much Sadder Than They Ought To Be.