Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

Sometimes it takes a good movie to remind us what we really want to be.

Michael Wilson is the Minnesota-based director of Michael Moore Hates America.

 

Quentin Tarantino
by Matthew Wilder

Sure, Vol. 2 was disappointing. But Quentin Tarantino left a more lasting impression on me than any other artist this year. Not because he personally walked the brilliant South Korean director Park Chan-wook's Old Boy to the Cannes winners' circle; not because he left another mark in the history books by defiantly trumpeting Fahrenheit 9/11 at the same fest finale; not even because of his jaw-dropping Laura Antonelli impersonation in Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.

No, what I realized this year is that Tarantino--who's just a filmmaker after all--has left a deeper imprint on my mind as a critic than anyone since Pauline Kael and Manny Farber. "I find the diamonds in the dustbin," QT said in an interview--and, indeed, there's no one in film criticism who finds more poetry in twisted, debased, furiously artless genres: Italian giallos and spaghetti Westerns, teen pom-pom comedies and '60s Bond knockoffs, sweaty pseudo-snuff and yakuza smackdowns. Tarantino has turned me on not only to entire canons of discredited cinema, but to an aesthetic that sees the unspoken lyric in gutter-born sleaze. (He has similarly excited two of the most inspired people writing about movies today: Film Comment's Chuck Stephens and the Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley.)

If the charm of Tarantino's junk-food taste eludes you, I recommend that you buy the DVD of Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters, which features the following priceless example of what Harold Bloom calls the "triumph of strong misreading."

QT: So Jack, heh-heh. Like, that scene where the fat guy trips on a banana peel and goes flying through that plasterboard wall and lands in the teachers' lounge and you see that little picture of Nixon in the corner? That's meant to be, like, heh-heh, satire, right?

Jack Hill [after long, long pause]: That was Nixon?

Matthew Wilder is a Los Angeles-based writer and director and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Philip Roth
by Jessica Winter

"What about the Democrats?" I asked.

"Son, don't ask me about the Democrats. I'm angry enough as it is."

In The Plot Against America, wherein celebrity aviator and anti-Semitic isolationist Charles Lindbergh soundly defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, Philip Roth lifts 28 months out of the 20th century and drops them in the cauldron of home-cooked nightmare. The Roths of Newark and their fellow Jewish neighbors look on in horror as Lindbergh, who invites Nazis to the White House, promises to keep his voters safe from all harm. When trouble stirs, the plain-talking president dons suave "Lone Eagle flying gear" and gives a soothing 41-word speech. His reps repeat lies only enough times to make them not false. He scapegoats powerless minorities. Ludicrous conspiracy theories turn out to be true, and the Bill of Rights enters the shredder. Constituents contemplate flight to Canada.

But the immediate nightmare, the one in the backyard, does eventually end. The country wakes up, blinks away blurry flashbacks to the violent thrashing, the night sweats, the sleepwalking bouts in which America rolled like a blundering tank over its own people and principles. They don't march to the polls and ask for more.

Arriving during the brilliant last act of Karl Rove's own dark plottings, Roth's novel continues the stunning and unrivaled autumnal flowering of his prodigious career. It delivers a clear-eyed, enormously moving tribute to a heroically resourceful working-class American couple, Herman and Bess Roth, resilient in their civic ideals and neighborly interdependence in the face of terrifying external and internal onslaughts. And it traces how a prosperous industrialized nation goes about losing its mind, then how it's nursed back to a tenuous mental health: by the perseverance of proactive dissent, but also--and here's the catch--by no small dose of sheer blind luck. We'll need it.

Jessica Winter is a London-based writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Troy Duffy
by Rob Nelson

Does an Artist of the Year defy the dominant culture or epitomize it? I think most of us who read City Pages--which generally aims to be oppositional (and sometimes succeeds)--would wish to argue the former. But this was a different sort of year. This year, from The Passion of the Christ in February to the Rebirth of the Bush in November, the dominant culture so dominated the others, so whipped those others into submission, that seemingly the only oppositional thing to do was crank the volume on its vulgarities and hope they caused the listener's ears to itch and bleed and beg for another frequency. (We go to war with the army we have.... You're suspended without pay for attending that concert after work.... I earned capital in this election--political capital--and I intend to spend it....)

So, in the spirit of the times, my Artist of the Year is "Hollywood's new hard-on"--his words. He got a fully erect deal with Miramax, fucked over his friends in the course of creating a movie so foul that it gagged even Chocolat's confectioners, and spewed his bilious worldview in Overnight, a darkly comedic documentary that makes him look like a total pig, a consummate vulgarian, the crowned king of unearned arrogance. This young auteur's "cesspool of creativity" (his words) might appear to stretch no further than his potty mouth--but, in the spirit of the times, that's more than enough to make him stink, to make him a star.

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