Saturday, June 11, 2005

Conversations from the Video Store, Part III

Conversations recorded for posterity while working at Hollywood Video in 2001.

Carl and Aaron's conversation is broken by a customer who looks like he has a major crisis on his hand.

CUSTOMER: Is there a game in the Dreamcast machine?

AARON: Yes, but the machine's broken.

CUSTOMER: Can't you put in a new one?

AARON: No, sorry--only the store manager has the keys.

CUSTOMER (rudley assuming that his problem is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT): And where is he?

AARON (wondering why the kid doesn't just buy a fucking Dreamcast instead of hanging out at a Hollywood Video and playing one): Today's his day off. He's in tomorrow until 5.

CUSTOMER: Oh.

The customer stands there for a minute while the rusty, unoiled gears in his brain slowly grind their way to a course of action he can take.

CUSTOMER: Okay...thanks.

Customer walks out of the store.

AARON: Well, that was certainly worth the wait. Ah, today's youth.

CARL: That guy was at least four years older than us.

AARON: I know. Sad, eh? Probably at the peak of his existence, too.

CARL: You know what we are? We're slackers.

AARON: You think?

CARL: Could be.

AARON: I certainly am lazy, directionless, and easily distracted. But why slackers? I always felt "slacker" was more like a fasion statement than a personality type.

CARL: Well, it's a fashion statement now, but you know I don't care about fashion statements. We're more like actual slackers, back when it was a descriptive term. Remember Back to the Future?

AARON: Yeah, but didn't that movie popularize slacker as a fashion thing?

CARL: I would say Slacker started that whole thing. That's what made it "cool."

AARON: So, before then?

CARL: Before then it was just something to call someone who was lazy, directionless, and easily distracted. We seem to have become that.

AARON: Hey, you actually managed to finish college.

CARL: Yes, my BA in film opens up so many doorways. It's basically a worthless degree, it doesn't qualify you for shit.

AARON: And now you work for a public access station.

CARL: And you work in a video store.

Aaron and Carl pause for reflection as they watch Flipper for a few minutes.

AARON: So, you up for a murder-suicide pact tonight?

CARL: Don't tempt me, man.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Conversations from the Video Store, Part II

Conversations recorded for posterity while working at Hollywood Video in 2001.

Carl is still standing up at the counter with Aaron. A customer shuffles into the store, walks over to Aaron, and hands him some videotapes, setting off the alarm in the process. The customer, oblivious, walks out.

CARL: Why do they do that?

AARON: Who?

CARL: The Zombies of Naperville. Why do they come up to you, set off the alarm, and hand you their videos?

AARON: Maybe they think I'll get to it faster.

Aaron drops the tapes in the regular drop-off bin behind the counter.

CARL: And what's with the dumbass grin? Do they think you're actually happy to see them?

AARON: I don't know, they all look the same to me. I stopped looking those wacky fucks in the eye a long time ago.

Aaron and Carl watch Flipper for another minute; Elijah Wood, onscreen, bitches about Pearl Jam.

AARON: You know what I've always wondered?

CARL: What's that?

AARON: How the hell can they get away with calling it "alternative rock"? Firstly, it's not rock--rock achieved perfection in 1978 and died out altogether in 1986. Most people didn't even go to the funeral. Secondly, if it's alternative, what's it an alternative to? I mean, they play it on the radio, so how alternative can it be? Isn't it supposed to be the alternative to the mainstream?

CARL: Sure.

AARON: If you'll give me the fact that radio play automatically precludes any alternative posturing, it's obvious that by the very nature of radio as a mainstream infotainment medium, any music played on it cannot be alternative.

CARL: Given.

AARON: Well, then the only way something can maintain any semblance of alternativity on the radio is by appearing on an underground program, or something pirated. Of course, since this is being marketed to teenagers who are in bed at 2AM, how can they hear truly alternative music?

CARL: Some of them claim to be hanging out at clubs.

AARON: Sure; I bet their babysitters take them.

CARL: So your argument is that no music kids listen to today--

AARON: Or in the last decade.

CARL: --or in the last decade can be considered alternative, due to its constant appearance in a mainstream medium and because it is, by nature, marketed to kids.

AARON: Exactly.

CARL: And Pearl Jam?

AARON: An unfortunate incident in our country's ongoing pop culture conflict.

CARL: So, where do boy bands fit into this?

AARON: I file those in a mental drawer marked "Hitler's Plans for World Domination."

CARL: And what are you listening to these days?

AARON: Classical.

CARL: Yet you comment on alternateen music?

AARON: I'm still thirsting for the good in the new.

CARL: Find anything?

AARON: No. All of today's music is recycled from the seventies.

CARL: And the Britney Spears poster on your bedroom wall?

AARON: Hey, I love Britney Spears. I just hate her music.

CARL: "Lucky" was almost a good production.

AARON: Yeah, but if it was "a story about a girl named Lucky," like the song claims, why was there no beginning or end?

CARL: Good point. What about "Hit Me Baby One More Time"? Hit her with what?

AARON: I'm not really sure; though I see you have a dirty fantasy life.

CARL: I also liked "Drive Me Crazy."

AARON: Britney Spears in a watiress uniform with catseye glasses; classic.

CARL: So, are we hypocrites because we like Britney Spears?

AARON: If the face of pop music has become cosmetically enhanced with over-production, why not embrace it? It's the same reason I love David Bowie: the ability to be creative inside the boundaries of a certain genre.

CARL: If Britney was a little more emotionally attached to her music and pushed harder, instead of just singing like a trained canary, she could really knock teen pop on its ass. She won't, but she could. So could Christina Aguilera, she has a much more powerful voice. Or Jessica Simpson or Mandy Moore, I guess.

AARON: Who the fuck are Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore?

CARL: I thought you knew this pop music stuff.

AARON: Dude, I pay so little attention to this garbage that the only reason I knew Christina Aguilera was because she did the single for Mulan.

CARL: Wow. Teen music. Any other topic we can embarrass ourselves with?

AARON: The Olsen Twins are getting cute.

CARL: Think they'll ever get naked in a movie?

AARON: Providing God is still alive.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Conversations from the Video Store, Part I

Conversations recorded for posterity while working at Hollywood Video in 2001.

A video store during the empty evening hours of Thursday. It is late May. Carl, a regular customer, approaches his friend Aaron, the store clerk on duty. Carl notices the store television is playing a movie with a boat.

CARL: Is this The Perfect Storm?

AARON: Close.

CARL: So, what is it, then?

AARON: Flipper.

CARL: Flipper?

AARON: Flipper.

CARL: And...why are you watching Flipper?

AARON: I'm sick of all the cartoons we have, so I thought I'd put on a film I've never watched before. Besides, it has Paul Hogan in it, so it can't be all bad, right?

CARL: Wrong.

AARON: Ah.

They watch for a moment.

CARL: So, what's Elijah Wood's problem?

AARON: His parents are fighting, so they ship him off to Florida for the summer to stay with his uncle, Paul Hogan. He gets into little adventures, or something. You know, hangs with Hogan, goes fishing, meets a chick who played the bitchy little girl in Casper, and befriends a dolphin. It's not so bad.

CARL: I suppose not.

AARON: The sad thing is that I envy the little fucker.

CARL: But, what's his problem? He's acting like a little puke.

AARON: Apparently he's going to miss this big Pearl Jam concert.

CARL: Pearl Jam?

AARON: Pearl Jam.

CARL: Jeez, poor baby.

AARON: Tell me about it. Meanwhile, Uncle Crocodile Dundee has a little side thing going with Chelsea Field.

CARL: Yeah?

AARON: Look at her; her body a little hardened by harbor life, yet with a soft interior. Rough, yet caring; capable, yet warm. She doesn't need anyone, so it only makes it more special that she chose him.

CARL: You romantic, you.

AARON: And look at those thighs. Man, I'd like a taste of those.

CARL: So, the truth comes out...

AARON: And those lips--born cocksucker.

CARL: So, what's your total summation?

AARON: I'm going with Ebert on this one--any kid that would rather see a Pearl Jam concert instead of spending the summer offshore fishing with Crocodile Dundee, meeting girls and playing with dolphins, should be locked in a sensory dep tank until his head clears. Fucking little ingrate.

CARL: Ebert said that?

AARON: I'm paraphrasing.

CARL: Either way, it's a sad choice.

AARON: What's that?

CARL: Crappy so-called alternative rock over the kind of summer any kid should have.

AARON: Did you ever do that?

CARL: What? Spend the summer hanging on the beach, communing with nature, meeting babes and having adventures?

AARON: Yes.

CARL: Nah. Watched a lot of TV. But my family and I did spend part of the summer in Long Island.

AARON: Good times. Ever watch ThunderCats?

CARL: Sure. I was more into RoboTech. I remember when half-hour toy commercials used to have plots, dammit.

AARON: Today's kids are really brainwashed by that stuff. Look at Pokemon--the kid on the show has to fucking collect every single one of those monsters, providing an example for kids. It's like an instruction manual. They should just call the show How to Buy Pokemon Cards.

CARL: Fucking evil scheme...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

So Falls Another Giant

According to this article at Muppet Central, it looks like the UK branch of Jim Henson's Creature Shop might be closing. Tax pressures on filmmakers are exploding right now in England, and most American companies are finding it about 30% more expensive to film in the UK studios than in other places.

For the British, this is a blow to national pride. Every time there's a Full Monty or Love Actually or Shaun of the Dead that makes some money, articles are written about the return of the dormant British film industry; but the inescapable truth seems to be that the industry is in a decline, and one that might be irreversible. It's much cheaper for companies to film movies in Eastern Europe (Prague and Budapest are quite popular right now) or in Australia and New Zealand. Even the legendary Pinewood Studios are talking about closing, because two very British film franchises--Harry Potter and James Bond--are most likely going to film elsewhere. And, of course, George Lucas eschewed England to film the prequel trilogy in Australia.

Now, there are two other branches of the Creature Shop--New York and Los Angeles--but the British one is special. The London Creature Shop is the original, built after Jim Henson came to feel that the British sensibilities were closer to his own. He related to the artistry of Brian Froud, to the gentleness of the country, to filmmakers like Chaplin (whose old California studio is still the home of the Jim Henson Company). Henson shot several movies there (including The Great Muppet Caper), and it was in England that Frank Oz created and performed Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

The Shop was created in 1982 specifically to design and create the creatures, backgrounds, and entire world of The Dark Crystal. After that artistic triumph, the Shop remained open as an effects house. Jim Henson created Labyrinth there, as well as many elements of The Jim Henson Hour, including Monster Maker, Living with Dinosaurs, and every episode of The Storyteller.

In addition to this magic, the British Creature Shop has worked on other films: Dreamchild, The Witches, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Flintstones, Babe, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Lost in Space, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and most recently The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the greatest science fiction series of all time, Farscape (better known as the only SF series where the aliens looked alien).

I prefer puppets and models to CGI, because they give the actors something to relate to physically. They're more believeable. I'll take puppet Yoda over CG Yoda any day, frankly. They remind me of a time in my childhood when movies were more fantastic; even today's fantasy movies--with some glowing exceptions--don't have the same sense of abandon as something like Clash of the Titans or Return to Oz. The constraits that forced creative decisions have been lifted, and so the creativity is gone.

As I said, there are two other Creature Shops. But the history and wonderful output of the British one makes me sad to see it (possibly) become a casualty of the market. Their obvious successor, Weta FX (Peter Jackson's company and the best effects house since Henson--fuck ILM), is still going strong, what with the upcoming King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Here's hoping the British artisans find a home.

Monday, June 06, 2005

When the baby boomers die, we're all fucked

I was looking at a study done a few weeks ago about the shittiness of the average driver. Turns out something like 20 million drivers out there would fail the driver's test if they had to take it right now. It shouldn't be a surprise at all, but the sheer largeness of that number is overwhelming. Think of how many drivers you see in an average day, and imagine that, for real--not just getting pissed about things and guessing a large hyperbolic number because you're pissed off--just imagine that only 1 out of every 20 drivers you're looking at knows anything about driver safety.

I remember taking the driving test: it was so simple that a retarded orangutan could have passed it. Like everything else in America, the award is given just for showing up and putting in the least amount of work possible. A friend was just explaining to me that he knew somebody who became a doctor on an average of 60%. I go to school with idiot kids who say things like "C's get degrees" and "D is for done." No one cares about quality, because they think that someone else will clean up the important things. Makes me seriously reconsider the need for a degree.

Which means our schools are dumber than ever, and our roads are more dangerous than ever. I live in Illinois, and was not surprised to see that my state ranked 40 out of 49 (the continental states plus Washington, D.C.) for driving ability. The average score on the driving test was 81.6, which is about 11 points over a failing grade. That's Illinois: America's C minus student.

When the baby boomers all die, there's going to be no one left who knows how to run anything. No one will care about job satisfaction, or quality, or fixing the dialysis machine. We're on a crash course with obsolescence. Why don't we just give the Chinese the keys to the broken down car that is America now? As long as they let us keep our iPods, I don't think anyone is really going to care.