They will survive: four years of pop culture classics

by Peter Jenks | 6/9/02 5:00am

Since the Class of 2002 came to Dartmouth four years ago, the rise of MP3s and DVDs has changed the way college students appreciate music and film. New technology has increased our access to a variety of artists, but this doesn't change the reality that only a few works each year show a glimmer of timelessness.

The last four years have ushered in a new golden era of film, as digital technology combines with artistic expression to create images that in the past had been relegated to the imagination.

On the other hand, the music world has experienced a slump. Hampered by greedy record companies trying to increase their already oversized pocketbooks, artists have been more and more reluctant to submit to corporate pressure. Popular music has suffered, but through this slump, a few beacons of hope shine through.

Movies

The Matrix (1999)

When Andy and Larry Wachowski submitted their script for "The Matrix" to Hollywood execs, none of them got it. They thought the story was too dense for mass audiences and the fight scenes a little too ridiculous.

The Wachowski brothers knew better. Inspired by Hong Kong fighting movies, where the action did more than entertain -- it enriched the story and characters -- "The Matrix" was meant to be the first of three movies. When Warner Brothers eventually signed the Wachowski brothers to a deal, it was just for the first film, and they'd play it by ear based on public reception.

An overwhelmingly positive response made "The Matrix" our generation's "Star Wars." While the movie's prophetic vision remains the stuff of science fiction, the breathtaking fight scenes and gripping story changed American film forever.

Gone are the days of Schwarzenegger and Stallone with their guns and glory. Slow-motion bullet-dodging and karate are now the kings of Hollywood action. The two sequels, "The Matrix: Reloaded" and "The Matrix: Revolutions," are both due out in 2003.

The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings," it's unlikely he ever dreamed that his magical Middle Earth could be convincingly portrayed in a film. But Tolkien never met director Peter Jackson. What Jackson did with the trilogy left us with mouths agape.

While some hard-core fans complained of certain omissions and additions, no one will mind in 30 years. The movie will be watched again and again for years to come -- not just because we love the story, but because it is a great movie.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Hubert Selby, Jr. is unusual as an author in that he was excited at the prospect of turning his brilliant novel into a film. He was so excited, and perhaps cautious, that he wrote the screenplay himself.

Add Darren Aronofsky's awesome directing and four perfect acting performances and the result is one of the most relentlessly depressing and haunting movies ever made.

Every part of this film smacks of genius. The cinematography is staggering and the plot is pure torture. This is one out of a handful of movies that was made without a flaw. Not only that, the film is for a good cause -- showing the destructive power of drugs and the drug culture. Every high-school kid in America should watch this film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" finished the job "The Matrix" started. As the Wachowski brothers did a year earlier for "The Matrix," Ang Lee called on Yuen Wo Ping, the legendary Hong Kong choreographer, to orchestrate the fight scenes. Peter Pau's cinematography helped Lee create one of the most beautiful films ever made.

Every aspect of the film invokes awe -- the fight sequences, the scenery, the acting and the story. This film is one of the few that truly transcends genres. In addition to featuring the best fights ever beheld by American eyes, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is an epic tragedy and a heartbreaking romance.

On the Bubble: Star Wars: Episodes I & II

Everyone was shaking their heads as they walked out of the theater following "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace." There may have been a little smile on those same people's faces after "Episode II: Attack of the Clones."

The question on everyone's mind wasn't how George Lucas thinks up the names of his films, but whether anyone will watch them 30 years from now. For what it's worth, Lucas did a killer job with the special effects, making both movies relatively entertaining to watch. Nevertheless, it's difficult to think that these films won't be classics, especially since they're essential parts of the Star Wars story.

Music

"Kid A"/"Amnesiac" -- Radiohead (2000/2001)

As rock music continues its endless evolution, Radiohead is one of the few bands able to thrive in a changing music climate. Created during the same recording sessions, "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" turned the world on its ear with ethereal melodies and haunting lyrics.

In this day and age, it seems Radiohead is the one band who can do no wrong in the eyes of both fans and critics, and that was certainly the case with these two albums. While the music is still too left-field for radio to place in heavy rotation, 20 years from now we will look back at these two albums as either a turning point in rock history or a reminder of what rock could have become.

"All That You Can't Leave Behind" -- U2 (2000)

In the midst of pop music that is either catchy and pointless or hard-edged and enigmatic, U2 released their best batch of songs in years. Songs like "Beautiful Day" and "All That You Can't Leave Behind" surprise you with the beauty they extract from simple rock and roll. The album burns with importance and represents the culmination of the career of the greatest band in the world.

"Love and Theft" -- Bob Dylan (2001)

When Bob's voice finally died sometime in the mid-1990s, he took it as a sign to show us yet another side of Bob Dylan. When he released "Time Out of Mind" in 1997, everyone was a little surprised at how good such a bad voice could make a song sound. "Love and Theft," Dylan's 43rd album, signals the completion of that comeback.

"Love and Theft" veers away from the dark importance of "Time Out of Mind" and reflects casually on his career. But Dylan's lyrics are as sharp and refined as ever, and he soaks them in a tour de force of blues and honky-tonk. For the 43rd time he reminds us that he is one of just a few true songwriter-poets.

"Stankonia" -- OutKast (1999)

After 1998's "Aquemini" and its mind-ripping single "Rosa Parks," OutKast set themselves apart from the rest of hip-hop by viewing it through the wary eye of an outsider. Big Boi and Andre 3000 seem to be able to derive inspiration from wider horizons than the rest of rap culture.

At the same time, OutKast remains true to the roots of rap, like George Clinton's P-Funk. OutKast are at the forefront of a new breed of innovative rappers who refuse to sound like everyone else. As a result, OutKast will be one of the few hip-hop groups we remember years from now.

On the Bubble: "Is This It" -- The Strokes (2001)

The Strokes' first LP was released to nearly universal acclaim. But critics were neatly split into two hemispheres. One side hailed every song on the album as a stroke of genius and proclaimed the Strokes the reincarnation of the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop all rolled up into one.

The second group of critics was not quite so exuberant. Older, wiser and more experienced reviewers gave the Strokes a pat on the back combined with crossed arms and a tapping foot.

What remains to be seen is whether the Strokes can come up with some new and innovative songs. Some critics labeled "Is This It" a giant, 30-minute, 11-track song. The song itself was frighteningly good, but if there's one thing the Strokes lack, it's the ability to break free from an established style.

Still, the New York-based rockers were a breath of fresh air in the all-too-stale rock world. The ball is now in the Strokes' court as critics and fans alike wait with bated breath for their second album.