The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game. — Ernest Thayer
I had a nightmare the other night. I was making a hipster movie. I had met the producers through some Mumblecore connection at an American Apparel in Mexico. Purple Magazine was investing in the film. Terry Richardson was there, he was the still photographer. Someone from the cast had just died of a heroin overdose, but no one seemed too alarmed or surprised. 12-year-old girls ran around in pink pubic hair rabbit outfits to Elliott Smith songs. 12-year-old skater boys with nothing on but Adidas underwear frowned in the sun. A producer in a bow tie asked me gingerly to pick up a shovel.
The word hipster first came along in the ‘40s. It was coined around the jazz age. Some say it came from the West African word “hipi,” which means to open one’s eyes. Kerouac described hipsters as “rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere as characters of a special spirituality.”
Kerouac changed writing. A true iconoclast, publishers rejected On the Road because of its experimental new style. The plain speak manner of Kerouac’s prose, as well as his long-form free verse and spontaneous mind connection flow didn’t sit well with the old guard. His sympathetic tone towards gays and drug addicts didn’t help either.
The other king of the hipsters, Charlie Parker, broke through, changed music forever. With Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, he created bebop. No one had ever heard anything like it. Fast tempos, virtuoso technique, improv based on harmonic structure. Parker was a true intellectual. Mainstream America dismissed him as a junkie, if they even knew of him at all. Parker was pretty obscure in his own country all his life. But he never made concessions. Even when he played with strings, he did it in his own inimitable way.
By now it’s well documented how the hipsters lead to the hippies. And the hippies burnt out. And Abba took over.
Then for some reason the word hipster was revived in the ‘90s and 2000s. About the only thing today’s hipsters got from Kerouac are the plaid shirts. The spirituality? The curiosity? No. In fact, hipsters today are scared shitless of spirituality. They’re mostly cerebral nihilists filled with pointless ping-pong stats and ‘80s sitcom facts and European nicotine and cocaine and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It’s like a cigar smoked talk show where the guest is always the ghost of John Ritter. Mainly the new hipster’s job is to show up at a party while at the same exact time letting everyone know they don’t care about the party at all. It makes me kinda exhausted just writing about it. But write on I will—don’t you worry.
What the ‘40s hipster artist did is the exact opposite of what hipster artists do now. Where today it’s all about hiding behind irony, sarcasm, huge dry eyeglasses, and sodden unfriendliness (or fake overly friendliness if you have something they want)—the original hipster artists were all about being as vulnerable and creative and candid as possible. Exploring the tiny sadnesses of life. Also the times when everything is Winnipeg maple, cheerful, quivering, one.
Maybe it has something to do with war. Norman Mailer wrote of the original hipsters as existentialists living a life surrounded by death, annihilated by atomic war and strangled by social conformity. In natural reaction, they would “divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.” Nowadays we have more war than ever—but we see it on YouTube. We see the 19-year-old’s hands get blown off in a sea of numbing advertisements and commercials (some by Ryan McGinley). The war images don’t mean anything. It’s just more noise. It’s just another video game. And so we get tired. And we get hardened. And we stop believing in our own goodness. And we know the government is fucked. And we know the news is not the real news anyways. Was that a real soldier or is Michael Bay directing Teabagger propaganda clips? We are paranoid, fried. Unfathomable genocide and nuclear radiation has us watching reality T.V. and making fun of drug addict child stars. We are tough. On ourselves. On each other. And the only answer at the end of the day is to go for somewhat tangible things. Coolness. Fame. Money. Sex. Status. But it’s lonely as hell. And love gets the short end of the stick. Love gets forgotten. And the longer it gets forgotten, the harder it gets to bring it back.
What gives? No one seems to want to be unpopular anymore. Not even for a little while. That used to be badge of honor. Paying your dues. It was understood that if someone like A.O. Scott got it right off the bat, it probably wasn’t very new. It’s probably just a Tom McCarthy movie if A.O. digs it. And that’s all good—those Tom McCarthy movies are solid, shiny things. But hipsters fancy themselves rebels—not middle of the road yuppies. And yet, for all the Robert Downey Sr. posters and Sam Fuller books, most of today’s hipsters are a lot closer to McCarthy than Nick Ray. McCarthy’s movies feel like they’re made by the Sundance Film Festival itself. They’re not offensive. They’re very politically correct. The timing is pretty much the same as studio films, maybe just a little quieter. And the stories are not too different than studio films, if on a smaller scale. And they have that neat, bright look that A.O. Scott loves so much. I’m convinced now that if one makes a film where the males are somewhat well groomed, A.O. Scott will just about hail it as a masterpiece. McCarthy’s latest, Win Win? A.O. Scott must have felt much at ease in that theater with those gentlemen. Yes. He must have felt much at ease indeed. Perhaps he even ate his own roasted nuts.
A.O. Scott has that NYTimes podcast where he shows older movies he loves. One time he had Two-Lane Blacktop on there. I had to wonder, if Scott had been a critic when Two-Lane Blacktop came out, would he really have gotten it? I mean like, there are dirty mustaches in that movie. No, I have trouble buying Scott would’ve dug that one. He needs tidy movies. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and Ramin Bahrani are the perfect directors for Scott, because he can go to the Dominican Republic or a down and out motel and still feel a certain familiar yuppie sheen cast over the proceedings. These too I find to be new hipster films. There’s a chill in the air, even when they’re emotional. Something metallic and robotic going on. A preconceived awareness—an inorganic vision. The hand-held camera, hand-held just so. Impersonal. The choices of topics—are they truly of interest to the filmmakers or just what the filmmakers feel like they should be interested in? And all so contained. Someone please smash these films open now.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, we find the younger hipsters regurgitating Woody Allen, Godard, and Cassavetes. It’s like a race to see who can get their shit into a Criterion Collection Boxed Set Collection first. But the Criterion Collection only has great taste with 50 years of perspective. They wouldn’t have figured out Ozu if he was around now. Not even close. Criterion is key in regards to the deadening hipster movement that is killing American films these days. Because today’s hipster fetishizes everything. They take heartfelt films, like The 400 Blows, and turn them into this weird package of inauthentic, thick, shallow, sexy, dark blaaaaggggghhhh. You can see the drooling Essex Street white boys and girls surrounding Antoine Doinel and twisting him until he no longer threatens them. Until his purity and beauty is transformed into the same venal nothingness that they feel inside. They turn hearts into winks. They defang love. They melt and hammer art into consumer lunch boxes with no peanut butter and jelly—just hollow nothin’. They think they’re cooler than mainstream America, but they’re just the flip side of the same Fast and Furious coin. It’s not a real counter-culture. There’s no original intent or purpose. They’re not fighting anything. They put the Nic Cage blockbuster The Rock out on Criterion. Why? Because they’re just so fucking cool. True mavericks like Gary Snyder and Phil Whalen and Don Cherry have been replaced by little bitchy passive aggressive children who cum on their canvases and have absolutely no idea who they are. They go to college, they get out of college, they make movies about college, then they make movies about leaving college, then they make movies about street people doing drugs, then they hang out with Vincent Gallo and Michael Stipe, and then they direct Ant-Man for Marvel.
I’d like to get away from all this for a while and then come back to it and begin over. Please don’t misunderstand me and half gimme what I wish and take me away not to come back. America’s the right place for love. I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. But I do miss people, in all their untidiness and uniqueness and incongruity and glory. I’m tired of computer robot people. And most of all I’m tired of having the same congealed slickness pounded down my eyeballs from an “indie film” that I get from an action movie. There’s no life, no mess, no mistakes, no affection (imitations of A Woman Under The Influence don’t count). And at the end of the day, ain’t that what makes us great? The blunders, cracks, imperfections and oddities? No matter how many people try to run away from it and try to not feel nothing and to embody perfect insincerity—there’s only one truly fresh and honest piece of art. And that’s just something that comes straight from the spirit. Williamsburg vampire squad be damned.
I believe A.O. Scott could be as good as Pauline Kael if he went and spent some time with the old man in the woods. There’s brilliance in A.O. yet. I believe today’s hipsters have a shitload of talent and could do things no one else has ever done—if they just let down their board game guards for a minute. Hell, maybe even The Criterion Collection can lose a little luster and get kinda simple and modest. There is that hope which springs eternal in the human breast. Sleeping with the windows open. Sleeping by the river. Wildness that can absorb all dull shrillness and help take off the steel of skeleton costumes.
Anyways… What was it ol’ Ginsberg said?
do the work —
And what’s the Work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken
— Noah Buschel