“Kane-ism” is a term that I just made up to describe the syndrome in which truly groundbreaking, original, daring & justifiably lauded works of art that get so outlandishly overhyped out of context that it’s hard for newcomers who weren’t exposed to it at it’s starting date can’t see what all the fuss is about.
“Kane-ism” is of course derived from “Citizen Kane” - a genuine masterpiece that has had an impact on virtually every film ever made after it (not to mention the influence it exerted over comic-books & pop art). The title is invoked by every two-bit armchair film buff or would-be critic as the standard of Great Cinema. Ironically though, a lot of people who watch the flick wonder what all the fuss was about. This is not because the film wasn’t as good as it was made out to be, it’s because the film techniques Orson Welles pioneered in it were (and still is) so thoroughly copied, aped & imitated, that it doesn’t stand out anymore. I’ll admit it, the first time I saw it I thought it was okay…but not “all that.” Sometime later I took a film studies course in which our class watched numerous landmark films in chronological order - and the technical advances of the film stood out as if they were in 3-D and technicolor, and it’s influence on all the other films in the series was patently obvious.
Anyway, in a more recent example, I’d cite “Pulp Fiction.” I saw this flick on it’s first weekend in general release. The way they characters talked, the odd jumping around from one point to another in the storyline, the abrupt change of focus from one set of characters to another, the violent twists - yikes. It was something different that was for damn sure. Of course in the interim ten years from then to now, we have been deluged with second, third, fourth, fifth (and occasionally first) rate Tarantino copies - replete with “funny violence”, long drawn-out dialogue replete with pop culture references, fractured timelines, etc.
I’m not surprised when folks too young to see this flick the first time around sneer at it as being over-rated, but I know it’s because they’ve only grown up seeing this same type of movie churned out again and again.
So, what other works suffer from this condition of 'Kane-ism"?
Casablanca. One of the most perfect movies ever, and my personal favorite; it has been the subject of so many tributes, homages, parodies, and quotes since 1943, that when people see the original, they are underwhelmed.
Babylon 5 was the first TV SF with a rigid, planned-out story arc. Now, arcs are everywhere. Before B5…nada. Same goes for CGI.
Buffy…where to start with Buffy? You really had to be there for the first season. It still wins converts now, thanks to DVD. But there was something in the air that first season. Something magical. Now…every show tries to be the “new Buffy.”
Apparently they were groundbreaking, and their sound was unique for its time.
Having been born one year after their breakup, and raised on music that I guess was based on their techniques, I can’t see a single thing that stands out to me in their songs. In fact, I agree with James Bond about the need for earmuffs.
But I’ll tip my hat to whatever it was that they contributed historically, as I reap the benefits of their career while thinking the music itself is massively overrated.
Only if you never saw Reservoir Dogs in the theaters, since it eventually became a cult video hit but got buried theatrically. And even that was a pastiche of all sorts of heist dramas from before it.
I’ll cite 2001: A Space Odyssey because not only are the special effects light years beyond anything that had come before it, but they were made before we even landed on the moon. And the entering-the-stargate light displays with weird designs, photographic reversals, and atonal music may seem old hat in an age when they can be emulated on an iMac, but there was nothing remotely like it back then.
Shakespeare. There are plenty who don’t get how great he is; Cecil discussed this a few weeks ago.
Neal Adams. His comic art was so completely influential that 90% of all superhero comics today are imitating him.
Jack Kirby was also highly influential in comics.
Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics talks about this process, how a groundbreaking pioneer tends to look crude as people take his ideas and polish them so they look better on the surface. One of McCloud’s points about becoming an artist is that at some point you recognize that you begin to understand some older talent whose work always looked crude to you.
Back to movies: My daughter was highly unimpressed with Star Wars when she first saw it. It wasn’t anything new to her.
Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Still widely appreciated, but often for the wrong reasons. People equate their edgy subject matter and flawed, sometimes psychotic, heroes with their quality.
What I see as a problem with 2001 is that there is a tremendous difference between seeing this in 70mm in a theatre versus on a TV. It is so overwhelming, that the sensory experience alone can disrupt any concerns about plot. I once thought, you know, big deal about this movie, when I was younger and had only seen it on TV. But finally seeing it in a theatre over the past few years, utterly changed my view and opinion on this film, to the degree that I doubt I will ever own it on DVD or any other format, because I wouldn’t want to waste my time watching it in that way ever again. There’s just no point.
I would challenge anyone who thinks 2001 is just an old, overhyped movie to see it in a theatre. It’s one of those films that epitomizes what a film is supposed to be – a larger than life experience, in a big dark room, with no interruptions.
Kirby, absolutely. When I was reading comics as a kid, Kirby seemed clunky, old fashioned, and boring. Now I understand what all the fuss was about: his work is stunning, dynamic, and absolutely everything in (at least American) comics flows from him. I’d also add Steve Ditko.
One of the problems (as noted in Understanding Comics) is that many current fans are exposed to flashier copies and the original seems dull. Another is that those same fans haven’t necessarily seen the key work by those two. Their 1990s work, especially Ditko’s, is lackluster and pathetic compared to their 1960s work. (One inker refused to work on Ditko in the 90s because SD was barely finishing his sketches and was relying on the inker to practically draw it himself.) The fans look at the new stuff and wonder if all the fuss is just due to nostalgia. I still think that the hallowed Golden Age stuff from the 40s and 50s is largely crap compared to Kirby and Ditko, but maybe I’m just not all the way there yet.
Gotta disagree with Pulp Fiction. It’s very, very good, but I don’t think it’s groundbreaking and daringly original. It’s no Kane, or even Birth of a Nation, just a synthesis of pre-existing techniques applied to a mainstream action movie.
Isn’t this the exact opposite of what the OP is talking about?
I’d say The Matrix; there were a number of things about it that were really cool when it came out, that everyone and his brother have done nearly to death now. (“Hey, let’s show the characters floating in mid-air in slow-motion in the big fight scene!”)
Face it - the best modern fantasy writers (Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin to name a couple) have him beat in terms of plotting, charecterization, philosophy and raw writing style, and even his obsessions with linguistics, history and geography are hardly unique. If most fans didn’t start reading fantasy via Tolkien, they’d probably notice this and alter their estimation of his work.
But without him the genre wouldn’t exist.
*Except for the Silmarillion, which has yet to be surpassed. I doubt another author could get such a book published.
I’ve gotta question Pulp Fiction as having that dramatic an effect. It certainly spawned numerous “kinda like Pulp Fiction” movies, but what about it has been groundbreaking in film, in such a way that movies that aren’t witty-banter/action/gangster films have been changed permanantly?
This, I have to disagree with. When I finally saw Citizen Kane as an adult (I’d seen it as a kid and, predictably, didn’t get it) my reaction was pretty much what Art Vandelay says: “meh”. It was OK, but it didn’t live up to the hype to me.
Now, Casablanca - that still works perfectly. It’s as close to a perfect movie as we’re ever likely to see. Even with all the stuff that has become clichés, it flows like a river.
Don’t forget Michael Jackson. Without him, MTV would probably never have existed (good or bad, there). The Thriller music video completely changed the nature of the genre and music, and is still being imitated directly.
Aside from being mildly amusing, however, no one really understands its influence today simply because it is copied so much.
Have to disagree there. Read a lot of dantasy, and nothing yet stands up to Tolkein. Some of it is different, some of it copied, but nothing is as good. Tolkein was one-of-a-kind.