Sometimes, being involved in fandom can be an entirely ambiguous experience - at best, you share a common love of an artistic endeavor, and are able to build community around that work, whether it's a character, a show, a comic, or some other piece. At worst, fandom can be extremely single-minded, oblivious to the faults of creators, taking a creative approach to its history, or worse, become increasingly antagonistic towards any kind of criticism, stating in various terms that "if you don't like it, you don't get it", often shifting or ignoring facts to focus purely on why the piece matters. In either case, fandom is an incredibly personal experience, and fans on both sides sometimes allow the work to permeate their sense of being, as if addressing tough issues is somehow an attack on their character.
That long-winded paragraph is an introduction to this month's column, in which we're going to look at two documentaries of recent vintage. Both are about works with really strong, vocal fans - one was a company-produced "celebration" of an anniversary, the other was an exploration of a particular director. But both documentaries do something unique - they provide an unintentional exploration of the "dark side" of fandom, and both have unintended nuances in light of recent events. Both of these are really good views, and are definitely worth renting via Netflix.
Our first selection is Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a documentary that focuses on DC's history during its 75th anniversary. (It's so recent, in fact, that it was banking on Ryan Reynolds leading their flagship franchise into cinema history. Read into that last statement what you will). Since it was created and produced by DC Comics, it's obviously a very self-promotional piece, focusing on its history, creations, etc. It's also rather unique in how it focuses on some of its more groundbreaking works in the 1980s, like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and serves as....well, a work about a company celebrating a milestone.
But in light of recent events - the "NuDC52" reboot, the Before Watchmen controversy with Moore - the documentary seems a little disconcerting, as if you're watching home movies right after a major argument between a brother and a sister. There's something a little disconcerting about seeing Watchmen-era Moore (in a shirt and tie, no less) engaged in then-heavy promotion for DC, knowing full well that the relationship will soon end....badly. There is also a slight whitewashing of DC's past history, both in terms of accomplishments and background. (Yes, this is obviously a celebration of an anniversary, but fans interested in comics history would do well to read Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones and The Ten Cent Plague by David Hadju). In light of many fans defending some of DC's recent decisions, the fact that it plays up a sense of history in Secret Origins seems richly ironic....and unwillingly telling.
However, one of the more fascinating documentaries (especially in light of more recent news) is The People Vs. George Lucas, which explores not just the director's career, but serves as a "crowdsourced" documentary exploring the world and nuances of Star Wars fandom. Although this film could have been a simple puff piece (or even a particularly damning hatchet job), People contains a variety of themes which are explored: the nature of marketing and how it influenced the development of fandom; Lucas' 1988 comments about film preservation in light of his tinkering with the first three films; how the trilogy has encouraged fan creativity; and how Lucas' early studio dealings may have affected his later activities and attitudes, and how fans have strongly reacted to those actions.
It also contains two sequences which demonstrate the extremes to which Star Wars fandom (or fandom of any kind) tend to move towards, and which (in this writer's humble opinion) can be harmful. In one sequence, a pair of tattooed hipsters sing a tuneful, outrageous (and potentially offensive) folk song about George Lucas' influence on their childhood. Immediately afterwards, a filmmaker provides an opposing - yet almost as potentially offensive - view of Lucas' influence. In both cases, both parties seem oblivious to the obvious absurdity and ambiguity of their statements. (Yes, I'm being deliberately oblique in describing them - you really need to watch the sequences to appreciate them).
(If I can go off on a slightly personal tangent, The People Vs. George Lucas reveals many of the same behaviors and tangents that make me slightly wary of being involved in fandom. Whether it's comics, popular culture, or any other endeavor, I feel that we're becoming increasingly exclusive, snobbish, and single minded, with slightly more boorish and rude behavior becoming prevalent both within and outside the Internet. If someone demonstrates a critical attitude - or even any independent thought that doesn't "fit" with some perceived "nerd mainstream", they are deemed "unmutual", to borrow a phrase from The Prisoner. When we forget that there's room for all sorts of opinions - or even the opinion that it really doesn't matter, say, whether Greedo shot first....that's the first step towards denying the fact that it doesn't matter what we love....only that we love. And that's the end of my lecture for today)
One of the things that makes The People Vs. George Lucas so fascinating is that it doesn't take a hard line either way - it's neither blatantly fannish nor is it extremely critical. It's one of the most well-balanced, even-handed documentaries made about popular culture, and is well worth watching. Some of the observations it makes and the conclusions it draws...well, one wonders whether Lucas watched this film...and took much of the content to heart. Plus, there's plenty of fan-created content that makes this film visually distinctive and highly entertaining...and surprised that it never received greater exposure until a random Netflix recommendation. This film is definitely a must-view.
But enough of my rambling - please feel free to check out more views on the Zone 4 podcast (and if you like our Facebook page, we'll give you a shout-out with appropriate commentary). You can also read more writings via my blog, and follow me on Twitter.
And as always, keep watching!
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general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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