Monday, 17 May 2010


First, a word on the name. This blog derives its title from Tom Shone's book Blockbuster, and from comments made by Nick Hornby on the same book in his own The Polysyllabic Spree. I chose it because it describes my own aesthetic.
Here's Shone, talking about Jaws:

What stays with you, even today, are less the movie’s big action moments than the crowning gags, light as air, with which Spielberg gilds his action—Dreyfuss crushing his Styrofoam cup, in response to Quint’s crushing of his beercan, or Brody’s son copying his fingersteepling at the dinner table…
To get anything resembling such fillets of improvised characterisation, you normally had to watch something far more boring—some chamber piece about marital disintegration by John Cassavetes, say— and yet here were such things, popping up in a movie starring a scary rubber shark. It was nothing short of revolutionary: you could have finger steepling and scary rubber sharks in the same movie.This seemed like important information.Why had no one told us this before?

Now here's Hornby:

If this column has anything like an aesthetic, it’s there: you can get finger-steepling and sharks in the same book. And you really need the shark part, because a whole novel about finger steepling—and that’s a fair synopsis of both the Abandoned Literary Novel and several thousand others like it—can be on the sleepy side.You don’t have to have a shark, of course; the shark could be replaced by a plot, or, say, thirty decent jokes.

Fine words. I love narratives that deliver big thrills without asking the reader or viewer to leave their brains at the door. As a Literature graduate and MA, I can't put up with bad writing. Yet despite my love for Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, Dickens, Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos, I'm equally aware that the best episodes of Doctor Who, the best Bond films and the Bourne trilogy are satisfying in whole new ways - ways which have been less well-served by criticism and journalism. There's a myth that popular culture (and the only thing I mean by that is a narrative that entertains on a broad scale) isn't intended to be discussed or analysed too closely, and those that do so tend to see it purely in sociological terms (the trend-hounds, as Kingsley Amis called them), or simply recite truisms ("Superman is a metaphor for America", "Vampires are all about sex", "Doctor Who works best by contrasting the ordinary with the extraordinary"). The same thing is true of comedy - Seinfeld and Father Ted, for example, are works of genius that need to be recognised as brilliant because of their aesthetic effects, rather than patronisingly admired in the "The Office is very tragic really/that bit where Basil hits the car with the branch in Fawlty Towers is like something out of Classical Drama/It reminds me of Alan Bennett" school of criticism.
This blog won't ignore artistic shortcomings just because something's fun, but neither will it ignore the aesthetic achievements of something that's managed to be fun (or gripping, or moving, or frightening, or funny). It won't pretend that Die Another Day has a well-rounded screenplay, but neither will it shirk from the fact that it is superior to Quantum of Solace, or that the true shortcoming of The Dark Knight is that there's only one decent action sequence in it. Ever thought Superman 3 was underrated? You've come to the right blog!

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