I've posted songs on facebook. I've posted key memories associated with David Bowie's records on twitter. Hopefully, this will be my last word on the matter. I hate celebrity worship and I hate how teary people get when famous people die. Bowie was a bit different, however. He was a hero to me and a whole lot of other people in this world who feel they somehow don't fit in with "regular people."
For the record, I was adopted six months before I was born. My biological parents were poor kids from the east side of Indianapolis. In the days before Roe v. Wade, social services encouraged girls like my biological mother to give their babies up for adoption. My parents, the people I call mom and dad because they cleaned my dirty diapers and have been putting up with me ever since, were post-WWII European immigrants. I grew up schizo, torn between my "white trash" inclinations to get wasted and listen to heavy metal music, and the influence of my parents (the ones who raised me), who wanted me to be an "intellectual," who exposed me to classical music and Kafka and all the "refined" things in life. In school, when I told kids I'd been adopted, they'd take three steps back and treat me like an alien. When I started listening to Bowie's music in the sixth grade, I realized lots of people are "strange." I learned to ignore the conformists and show them my middle finger if they ever got too obnoxious. For that alone, I should be grateful to Bowie.
But David Bowie taught me something more important than not giving a shit about the conformist fatheads in the world--Bowie taught me what it means to be an artist. The key word: Evolution. An artist must always move forward, never wallow in a particular style or genre simply because they've experienced some fame or notoriety for that particular work. I love how he made "Low" when the Sex Pistols were stomping around putting down anything that wasn't three chords and a cloud of dust. I love how that record pissed off executives at RCA and how, allegedly, Bowie didn't give one ounce of a shit what they thought."Low" is my favorite Bowie record and serves as a constant reminder that an artist must never do what others expect, only what he or she feels is right at the moment.
With all my rantings about Hollywood's lack of creativity, Bowie's life and career serve as a vital reminder what the responsibility of an artist is: Again, EVOLVE. Rather than say, "our prayers are with his family," or shed tears for someone we (most of us) never met in person, let us take advantage of this moment to remember what we love about being artists, why we are artists, and how commercial expectations have shit all to do with creativity. For those who are like me--broke as joke and in possession of hardly any audience to speak of, as well as those who have "made it" and have an audience, let us tell the suits and ties who insist on producing the same shit, over and over again, NO MORE. Let us take this moment to have a revolution in the 21st century, let us return to the times of anti-materialism, when the stock market didn't determine what artists would produce.
Let us take the power back from the greedheads and provide the world, once more, with art that is both entertaining and meaningful.
The problems started with Jaws. Stars Wars cemented them. Hollywood had lost control to a bunch of snot-nosed boomers who showed the studios just how dark and cynical American audiences could get. These kids produced films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver. One of them came up with the perfect cinematic retelling of 1984--THX1138. Another couldn't quite get that originality thing down, but still produced a hell of a Bonnie & Clyde ripoff called Sugarland Express (hey, even Scorsese's name is on a B&C ripoff [Boxcar Bertha], so give Spielberg a break).
Two of those youngsters went off the adult course and made a monster movie and a science fiction western that grossed so much money the hacks in the studios couldn't help but notice. And so the lights on adult cinema (not porn, you pervert!) slowly faded. By the mid-1980s, "comic book" movies (as William Goldman called them back in '82) had taken over. These were drive-in movies with big budgets. The early ones, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter's The Thing, are masterpieces compared to the processed bile Hollywood produces today. "Comic book" is no longer a figurative expression--every other film released today is based directly on a comic book. Thanks to Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Hollywood thinks producing a Howard the Duck "reboot" in which Howard broods over the existential angst of being an alien duck passes for "serious" entertainment. And so we've come to a point where Hollywood makes exactly three (or more, depending on how much you want to split hairs between sequel, "reboot" and remake) types of movies: Comic book movies--movies that insist on taking stories originally written for six year olds seriously; Sequels, reboots, and remakes--the most blatant proof there is that not one fucking scum sucker in Tinsel Town can produce an original idea; and closely-monitored "independent" films about middle-class liberals coping with the extraordinary pain of being affluent and somewhat concerned about lesser people (so long as those lesser people don't live in trailer parks). Independent films, in fact, are nothing more than the modern versions of Kramer vs. Kramer and On Golden Pond that used to be considered mainstream until Hollywood decided they couldn't market them to twelve year-olds.
And so we are left with the current state of motion pictures in America: There are no original films being made. Thanks to studios monopolizing the "independent" scene, there are no independent films being made. Too bad, because a really, really good drive-in movie, traditionally, is both original and independent.
Which brings us to the new Star Wars movie.
I've waited long enough to have a thorough say on this topic. I saw the movie the night before it opened. I did so because I'm a sucker. I saw the original Star Wars movie opening day and have made it a habit since then to see all the sequels on opening day or as close to it as possible. I already knew in 1983, when I was in the fifth grade, that the series had run out of ideas. Return of the Jedi was about a bigger, badder death star. The characters spoke to each other in winks and nods to the fact that they were now part of a giant franchise that cared less about storytelling and more about toy marketing. Nothing like The Empire Strikes Back, which took the awe from the original film and knocked it out of the park with a logical extension of the story and great dialogue and character development to go with it (not that I understood all that in the second grade when it was released, but I knew I wasn't being cheated--this was a definite, linear progression from the first story). Lucas decided, appropriately, to stop making Star Wars movies after episode XI. Even as a child I understood this was a good thing.
And then Lucas discovered CGI and eventually made the prequels that a lot of people seem to hate. I've never been a fan of the idea of a prequel since there can't possibly be any suspense, but I watched them and was mildly amused. I was almost moved by the nostalgia generated at the end of "Episode III," at that point having been in my 30s and on the way to a midlife crisis nostalgia merchants love to cater to; And then along came "The Force Awakens."
This movie was probably doomed, in my mind, from the get-go. There's no way Disney will ever do anything daring or original at this point and I've never been a fan of J.J. Abrams. The film had two strikes before the camera had even started rolling. But as the release approached and the hype reached its fever pitch with brainless jock football announcers getting in their required plugs on college and professional broadcasts, I decided to step back and let the film speak for itself. Right away, however, I knew I'd been duped again. Something important lodged in a robot, an adventurous young person on a sand-covered planet called into action for a bigger cause, and, of course, a bigger, badder death star. I tried like crazy to give in to the special effects spectacle, which I'd been promised, over and over, would be primarily optical effects, and then that giant evil guy with the big head showed up, worse than any CGI in the "prequels," and I slumped in my seat and waited patiently for the movie to be over. I made one comment on facebook, but mostly kept my opinion to myself. The country (and the world, it seems) is going along with the mirage; you've seen the comments yourself:
"There's just enough old stuff to balance the new stuff"
"It's nostalgic and ground-breaking at the same time!"
"I couldn't stop smiling and crying!"
And so on...
There are grinches out there worse than me--they've seen the film several times to make solid arguments about plot holes and other issues with the movie. I don't have the time or the money to make such a thorough investigation. As I walked to my van after the first and only time I'll watch it, I felt a kind of rage, that I live in a time when Hollywood can't do one fucking thing original, when, as a middle-aged man, all the shit that was new and exciting when I was young is being recycled and the stars of that shit are being asked to put aside their walkers and Depends for a moment to don their old costumes and make everyone feel good about the fact that 1977, or 1982, or 1992 once existed and was a hell of lot more fun and creative than 2015/16. We're getting X-Files and Twin Peaks reboots because, yes, those series were awesome when they were new, and Hollywood has no ideas, so now we see an aged Mulder and Cooper going through the motions so that old farts like me won't have to think about, well, how fucking old we are!
You know what would be better? Something new. Something the young generation can call their own and something us old farts who ARE creative can help create.
I remember when Harry Potter books became popular. My baby sister was twelve or thirteen at the time. She read and loved those books. She named her first email account after a character from them. I was thrilled that her generation had something as meaningful to them as Star Wars was to my generation. I haven't seen anything since then for today's twelve and thirteen year olds (or younger). That's a fucking shame.
But I digress, as I'm apt to do when complaining about the senior citizens on my lawn...
Perhaps I would have liked The Force Awakens if I had seen it at a drive-in. My tendency over the last ten years has been to watch the "comic book" movies at the drive-in. It makes them so much more tolerable (and I can see two or three of them for less than the outrageous price they charge at the multiplexes). They're turds, which a lot of traditional drive-in movies were, but they're polished turds. And since they're essentially continuing the tradition started by Jaws and Star Wars of aping drive-in territory with bigger budgets, the drive-in is exactly where they belong.
And if ever there was polished turd, The Force Awakens is it.
Let me just get to the point: Uncle B's Drive-in Fiction was a labor of love that didn't get a whole lot of love. I've always suspected the main reason was that the novellas were too long and the entire volume looked too damn intimidating (not one reviewer I sent it to ever took the time to read it and review it). It was a great idea that didn't quite get executed properly. Two of the novellas in it have gone to become novels by their respective writers and a third novella won a Spinetingler. So, obviously, something good was going on. Thus, for the long-awaited sequel (at least by the five or six people who actually read the original collection), I will be having an open call for novellas of (about) 10,000 words in March. I'll look at queries first and then, if the idea sounds right, I'll ask to see the full manuscript. So, if you have an idea for a novella that would have made a great drive-in picture somewhere between the 50s and very early 80s, go ahead and write it and when I make the call for queries, let me know what you've got. If you have any questions, post them here or send them to: email@example.com
Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. His most recent novel, Breaking Glass, is available from ABC Group Documentation. He is the editor of the fiction journal, Pulp Modern.
Follow Chelsea Farmer's journey out of hell!
DOWN ON THE STREET
Mr. Cizak's tender novella about a cabbie who decides to become a pimp
The most prophetic book ever written!
Mr. Cizak's classic collection of crime stories from the Golden Age of the online pulp fiction movement
Between Juarez and El Paso
Mr. Cizak's contribution to the Drifter Detective series.
The very BEST pulp fiction by the very BEST contemporary writers.