Nov 03, 2007
Joe Queenan, Part II
Some years ago when I was still often late for weddings, my friend Catherine gave me a copy of Joe Queenan's If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Trouble. In case you didn't know, Queenan snarks about the entertainment world:
One of the oddities about pop stars who try their hands at films is that the very worst rock stars often make the very best movie stars. Cher has always been a pathetic excuse for a rocker, an Ethel Merman in fishnet tights, who has attempted to compensate for her borderline vocal skills with sheer brass and bluster. The result? Twenty years of songs that sound like Journey outtakes.
...Despite this, Cher has developed into a very fine actress who turned in exemplary work in everything from The Witches of Eastwick to Suspect to Silkwood, and who has also performed creditably in several lackluster, generally overpraised films whose titles begin with M: (Mermaids, Mask, and Moonstruck). In fact, it is by no means inconceivable that Cher could one day make more movies than Elvis Presley. But that would still leave the King's record intact, because anyone can make thirty-one good movies that make money, but the King got away with making thirty-one bad movies that made money. Elvis got away with making thirty-one atrocious movies that made money. Thus, Cher's entry in the Guinness Book of World Records would still read:
Most Good Movies by a Really Bad Rock Star.... 400
while Elvis's entry would read:
Most Bad Movies by a Really Great Rock Star.... 31.
Elvis still wins in a walk.
Not to kill the fun by analyzing it, but what I admire about Queenan (and my best friend Dave, and many other people who elicit odd noises from my nose -- noises that are to be understood as laughter and not sinus difficulty) is their ability to amuse via reference to inducted patterns.* I once read that humor comes from seeing the similar in things that are different, and seeing the difference in things that are similar.**
...Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett we are not going to mention here, even though Lovett was amusing in The Player,and Waits has been passable in numerous films, because Waits is basically a cabaret artist and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Liza Minnelli, and Lovett is basically a country-and-western singer and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Roy Rogers.
...Still, if the staggering cinematic records set by Elvis Presley are ever to be erased, the new name in the record book will probably not be Madonna, but her fellow midwesterner, Prince... Launching his career with the sexist, juvenile, moronic Purple Rain in 1984, Prince has since made the sexist, moronic, juvenile Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffiti Bridge, which is really little more than a sexist, moronic, juvenile sequel to Purple Rain. Too short to rock and roll but too young to die, Prince makes movies so artfully unintelligent that they make Elvis's work look like John Gielgud's.
Moreover, there are a number of haunting parallels between the lives of the King and the Prince. Both men suffered from early musical burnout, producing their best work when they were very young. Both men wear tight pants. Both men have weird facial hair. And both men are identified with second-echelon cities that begin with the letter M. Ooo-ee-oh.
Queenan wrote this essay a few years ago. Since then, Prince seems to have dropped out of the movie business, so I guess the King is safe for now. But Prince deserves a Hollywood quote before we go: after being called a film-making failure after the box office failure of one of his (moronic, juvenile, sexist) movies, he said something like, "I just had a really good time on $X million of someone else's money. Who are you calling a failure?" And there we go again: another media star whose skills I can envy.
*damn, I did kill the fun.
** how's that for some slant-parallelism? Damn, I killed it again.
*** Safe, too, from Queen who never made any movies, either unless you're counting Flash Gordon. Oh damn, killed three times.
Unrelated: Catherine gave me the book while she was working for Queenan's publisher, Hyperion Press. Disney owned Hyperion Press and she said the staff called the place "Mauschwitz." I thought of this later when I read Inside the Mouse, published by some friends who worked the Duke University Press. Me. My friends. The Mouse. Pattern or just rodent coincidence?
Inducted patterns do not necessarily humor make. Were that the case, "Naked Gun 2½" would be somewhat funny, "Mission: Impossible III" somewhat funnier, and "Booty Call 23" a total laff riot. See? Not funny. :)
Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Nov 3, 2007 10:37:28 AM
And let's not forget Sting who, I believe, was put on this earth to play Feyd in Dune, not for singing in that flat voice.
Posted by: Elrond Hubbard | Nov 3, 2007 10:39:31 AM
Thank you Elrond and Joe --
Queenan has not forgotten Sting and Dune, as he writes the Elvis chapter:
"Sting is a truly appalling human being, but he's a very good rock 'n' roller and by no means the world's worst actor--so long as he's not cast as the leading man. Stiff as a board, mannered and overrehearsed in The Bride, in which he is quite appropriately cast as Dr. Frankenstein, Sting was outacted not only by a dwarf (David Rappaport) but by a standup comic (Alexei Sayle) with a Yorkshire accent so thick that not even people from Yorkshire can understand it.
"...Still, when Stingus Supremus is cast properly--in a smaller role where he plays a sinister or vacuous figures--he is quite competent, turning in decent supporting performances in Julia and Julia, Plenty, Dune, and Quadrophenia... It ain't good, as Emmylou Harris once said in a non-Stingian context, but it ain't bad.
Speaking of Part IIIs (not all intentionally funny), Queenan includes a chapter on the quality trends:
"[O]n the surface it would seem that Part III's are usually the last and worst installments in a series that were never very good in the first place, this is not entirely true. Exorcist III is better than Exorcist II, just as Jaws 3-D is better than Jaws II. This does not mean that Jaws 3-D and Exorcist III do not suck--they do; it merely means that when we talk about how badly they suck, we must be very careful to remember that they do not suck as much as the films immediately preceding them."
Posted by: Phil | Nov 3, 2007 12:28:33 PM
Sting's acting (and questionable role choice) ruined my fourteenth birthday.
Posted by: Pinky | Nov 4, 2007 1:12:58 AM
Ok, I have the worst taste in the world, as most folks who know me will confirm. I do, however, love the sexist, moronic, and juvenile Purple Rain, probably because I was 13 when I saw it. Sting is a pretentious, sexist snot in most of his films, but I love this exchange in The Bride:
Jennifer Beals, screaming: You didn't make me!
Sting, lifting an eyebrow: As a matter of fact, I did.
Moonstruck, far from being lackluster in my mind, is a Copeland Cult Classic. (Someday I'll attempt to come up with the full list of these.) Plus, I think Cher looks absolutely gorgeous in it, and Olympia Dukakis steals the show.
So I guess I'm the target audience for all these mediocre money-makers. I think my point of view is that I like the camp.
I do not like Elvis at all, though. Except for the song "Blue Suede Shoes".
Posted by: Celeste | Nov 4, 2007 10:51:04 AM