Monday, January 11, 2010

Late to the Draw; or, Notable Shit from the Last 10 Years

There are two colors in my head/what, what is that you tried to say?
- Radiohead

As the best of the decade lists for music roll in, it's no surprise that Radiohead's 2001 release Kid A sits atop nearly every pile. It was the riskiest, most sonically complex, and beautiful record to come out in the last ten years. But more than the product itself, the idea of it, that a commercially viable, globally popular band completely reinvented itself and made an entirely experimental record, seems to speak to all forms of media produced in the last ten years, whether it be Christopher Nolan's deconstructionist superhero saga The Dark Knight or Dave Egger's nearly fictionalized autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Kid A seemed to symbolize this divergent trend in popular media, where the creator has two goals in mind and throws them both together, shake, mix, repeat, and serves it to the consumer, unsure of what the final product really is, letting the public debate about it instead.

Consider the finale of The Sopranos [for those of you who haven't seen it yet, get a Netflix account or something and go fucking watch it already; it's been like 4 years]: An ostensibly popular drama that carried HBO from the dark corner of premium cable movie channel to the forefront of televised serial dramas, ends in possibly the most obscure, postmodern way possible, with nothing resolved and leaving the viewer with a blank screen. David Chase essentially chose to stop creating the show, recognizing the futility of finishing a show like that, with so many loyal fans that will inevitably (and they did) flood the HBO message boards to complain about the ending.

But consider the context that Chase ends the show: the core Soprano family sitting down to dinner, fate uncertain, none of the main storylines tied up, Meadow running back toward the family (a chiastic inversion of her insistence on leaving the family in the first season) with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" playing on the diner's stereo. Chase is putting all the characters back in place, seeming to say that he no longer owns them anymore, that they've become such a vital and necessary part of the popular zeitgeist that no ending that he makes up is satisfactory. Therefore, he cuts the show to black and let viewers think whatever they wanted. Maybe Tony was whacked, maybe they just ended up having dinner together, talking about nothing in particular.

Of course, this decision pissed off the fans and pretty much everyone who saw it to no end, forever letting the episode end in infamy as one of, if not the most, bizarre series finales of all time. But to me, it seemed like it was the only thing that Chase could have done. He had to end the show in some way, and bringing the characters back together, putting all the pieces of the game back in their original position, seems like and elegant and very Sopranian thing to do (consider the ending to the first season, yet another family dinner sequence). But he leaves the second goal of the finale, a kind of obligatory send off for fans of the show who, in theory, kept the show on the error for six seasons, up to interpretation, to let the viewers figure out what he was trying to say, realizing that no concrete explanation could possibly do. And for that reason, I think it was perhaps the best ending to a television show I've ever seen.

(Hopefully LOST can come to a satisfactory, or at least interesting conclusion, although I'm not really betting on it.)

With this framework in mind, looking at pieces of media, be it a movie, a cd, or a TV show, from their involvement in this dialogue between popular obligation and artistic intent, I'd like to spend the next couple weeks looking at what I consider to be some of the best movies, music, and TV released over the last decade, comprising my so-called "top 10" in each category, although it probably will not reach that number in some categories (or may go over, who knows).

Up for tomorrow, a look at the only successful "diptych" film released during the OOs, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.

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