Thursday, April 30, 2009

Great despite the evidence

The A.V. Club staff has had an interesting e-mail conversation today, sparked by a reader question that we'll be answering this Friday: What pop culture figure gets a lifetime pass? Who will you always respect, no matter how far they fall?

I won't reveal any of our answers. But John Travolta came up as an example of someone for whom an argument might be made, although it would be a shaky one.

Back and forth we went, trying to decide if Travolta had enough greatness in his career to earn a pass. The negatives immediately came to mind: Look Who's Talking (the trilogy!), Battlefield Earth. And many more. But it's amazing how easy it was to use those disasters to dismiss some of the really solid -- even transcendent -- work found in his filmography. Pulp Fiction was generally held to be unassailable. But what about Saturday Night Fever (a movie I just showed to my film class)? Get Shorty, a wonderful comic performance? Blow Out, one of the cleverest of the De Palma pastiches? Heck, even if you hate Grease and Michael, try to separate Travolta's performance from the movie around it.

It's always interesting to get the staff together, because there is a surprising diversity of opinions on what we all know to be true. Anyone who suggests that movie X or album Y is obvious schlock -- and, more importantly, assumes that everyone in the conversation is going to agree -- soon finds themselves embroiled in an argument they didn't expect to be having.

The question made me realize, though, just how soft a touch I am. Or maybe it's loyalty. If a filmmaker, actor, musician, writer, or artist does work I love, it's very difficult for them to lose me completely. I'll wait forever for a return to form -- for the genius that I once saw, and can't quite believe is gone forever, to reappear.


Eric Grubbs said...

Something that has baffled me in the last few years is how people will over-praise a movie, band, or album, and then over-hate the same thing just a (relatively) short time later. Maybe I've been around too many hipsters, but I don't understand why people will claim Wilco as the greatest band on the planet, then over-nitpick the latest album, and then make light of their fandom in the first place.

For me, I have a number of favorites who get a lifetime pass even though they've put out stuff I'm not totally 100 percent on. I didn't really like Ben Folds' last solo record, but I'm not about to spill bile on the Internet about it. The same with Kevin Smith: I like all of his films, but I find his Q&A DVDs a little annoying at times.

Maybe I'm too soft and not critical enough. I don't know. I just like what I like.

Howie Luvzus said...

Because I'm live in New Orleans, A Love Song for Bobby Long is one of my favorite Travolta movies.

the secret knitter said...

Too often I think fans take those creative missteps and left turns as personal affronts when there are numerous reasons why artists do what they do. Maybe they need to pay the bills, want to do a friend a favor, or just like to work. As a fan/consumer I have a right not to like such choices, but it's hardly worth writing them off unless the downward trend is persistent.