Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Near Miss

In the early 1990s I spent a considerable amount of time watching terrible films.  By terrible I mean the so-bad-they’re-good kind that became popular after Mystery Science Theater 3000.  My friends and I would gather every Thursday to sit through crap along the lines of Horror House on Highway 5, House of Psychotic Women, The Best of Sex and Violence, and Last Orgy of the Third Reich.  It was all in good fun and a few of these movies became cult favorites, most notably Psychos in Love. 

Having endured such trash, I am pretty immune to the so-bad-it’s-good disease that infects people to this day.  I do not need to see The Room, for example, which delighted midnight moviegoers a few years back.  I know it is shit, and while I am sure that under the right circumstances (read: drunk) I would laugh along with the bad acting and artless direction, I figure, as with Christianity, I’ve done my time. 

Still, I do retain a certain fondness for what is often generously called “outsider art” by those who wish to class up a load of garbage.  Some of this material is actually quite beautiful.  (The Shaggs come to mind.Mostly, this genre leaves a lot to be desired and, well, I’m too old to waste my time.  Still, I continue to go to the Music Box every fucking year and sit through 24 hours of cheeseball horror films, so clearly I am conflicted.  It's my own fault.  I know the waters are murky, but I choose to swim in them.  I have no one but myself to blame.  Besides, if one lets go of expectations they might just have a fun, satisfying experience.  It beats the near miss.

Oh, the near miss.  This is what is really preoccupying me today. 

Let me explain.

I recently finished a good but not great book by the very exciting and weird Victor Pelevin.   The book in question, Homo Zapiens if you live in the U.S., Babylon if you live in the U.K., though the actual Russian title is closer to Generation P., had a lot of potential.  I was very excited to read it.  In fact, I couldn’t wait.  I sped through the book I was reading, Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, to get to it.  I put aside Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair (which is currently confusing me) for it.  And in the end I was… frustrated, mostly. 

It’s not that Pelevin is a bad writer or Homo Zapiens is a bad book, but it is a near miss, meaning that the best of it was not always enough to carry the worst of it.  It suffers from an overload of ideas that don’t all measure up and when it’s good it's good, but hardly great.  I settled on 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, which may be one star more than I first thought I’d give (like anyone gives a shit), but I decided that the audacity of Pelevin’s vision was worth the extra star.  I appreciated the book more than I enjoyed it.  Mostly I appreciated what it was trying to do.  At least it wasn’t about emo-vampires who fall in love.

But a near miss is still a miss.  And it is more frustrating than a flop, as a flop can be fun.  The sting of a near miss is far greater.

So what are some other near misses?  Well, as much as it pains me to say it, my hero Tom Waits put out a near miss recently.  Bad as Me has some great songs (“Talking at the Same Time”, “Chicago”), some weaker efforts (“Satisfaction”, “Last Leaf”), and an outright stinker (“Hell Broke Luce”).  The combination makes this a near miss, one that especially frustrates considering the last record Waits released, Real Gone, was pretty fucking solid.  Having heard better things from this artist, I was let down, actually kind of bummed. 

While searching my gray matter to find a near miss movie, which yielded a ton of results, I had to rest on the 1993 film Short Cuts.  While I have a special place in my heart for this movie, objectively, I have to admit that it is a near miss.  It has some great moments—Julianne Moore’s bottomless confession, Tim Robbins reclaiming his children’s dog, every moment featuring Jack Lemon, Huey Lewis’s penis— there are a few spokes in this giant wheel that don’t work.  Mostly, I’m thinking of the mother/daughter drama and the dead kid.  And the climax seems out of place.  It’s a big movie that thuds a few times, though mostly it soars. But the thuds make a mighty wallop. 

That’s the problem with movies like Short Cuts.  The lesser bits can easily derail an otherwise smoothly sailing work of art.  This is the problem with the near miss and this is why it sticks with one longer than the flop.  The flop is meant to be seen once, then mocked, then dismissed.  It is the artistic equivalent of fast food.  You don’t always feel proud for enjoying it.  It’s cheap.  It does the job.  It’s nothing to write home about.  But the near miss has potential.  It aims and misses, but barely, just enough to really piss you off and keep you thinking about it.  The older I get, the more the near misses intrigue and infuriate. This is my hell today.

Okay, I’m getting a drink now and going to try to forget all of this. Happy 2012.