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Episode 99 - Sign o' the Times vs. Stop Making Sense

Sign o' the Times vs. Stop Making Sense  

58 members have voted

  1. 1. Which movie should be inducted into the Canon?

    • Sign o' the Times
    • Stop Making Sense


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Anyways, haven't been able to find Sign o' the Times yet - surprised so many voters here have - but Stop Making Sense is indeed incredible. Abstaining for now.

 

I will admit to using certain "extra-legal" means to obtain it.

 

Generally I do not condone this practice (I paid to rent Stop Making Sense on Amazon), but when the film in question is not commercially available where I live then I have no qualms.

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The board ate my post, but it was some snarking at Armond White, and a plea to consider Purple Rain for the Canon instead.

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For me it has to be Sign O The Times (I bought a bluray copy from Amazon, there doesn't really seem to be any other legal means of seeing it); though Stop Making Sense is more consistent in what it offers Prince's film is daring and driven with a chapbook-like narrative, balancing its theatricality with cinematic motifs & evocation. Stop Making Sense opens brilliantly and builds beautifully but loses power in its last stretch (all the best songs of the film stacked up in the beginning). There is a neurotic magnetism to Byrne but putting it next to Prince does it few favors-- every moment we're with Prince in Sign O The Times he is catching us up in his wake, bringing us into the gossamer tangle of imagery & melody that seems to (almost physically) ooze from him, as if he is a valve of the primordial and here, yes, he is turning.

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In the spirit of this episode's guest, I'll be contrarian and say Armond certainly didn't match my mental image of him (ie. a bitter and cantankerous grump). Separating his appearance here from all else he's written - I thought it was a surprisingly fun conversation!

 

Didn't really catch a "mansplain-y" vibe; seemed like polite back & forth with some gentle disagreement, though I guess it's Amy's perspective that really matters. Seems like Armond's got a precise, academic way about him, but does that qualify as "quasi-intellectual"? The concepts and arguments were sound, even if I didn't always agree.

 

Agreed. In general, I thought that when Armond stuck to what he liked about Sign o the Times and Stop Making Sense, the discussion was enjoyable and his comments often insightful.

 

But some critics can deliver negative criticism in a way that isn't mean or dismissive, and therein lies the problem with Armond White. We're probably lucky that this was a "vs." episode where both critics were positive on both movies.

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The only reason Stop Making Sense is winning because none of the voters have seen Sign O Times ..

 

I went in with a big bias towards Prince but now I'm Stop Making Sense all the way so I'm not sure you're right. I did watch both. There's really no way of knowing what would have happened, but there's definitely no way Sign O The Times was ever going to win this under the current circumstances.

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Do we need to put either of these into the Canon? Can I vote "None of the above"?

It's an either/or situation. Otherwise, you can simply abstain.

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Ok, I listened to this podcast today; and my biggest takeaway from it is does Armond White really believe that Miles Davis was on the side of Traditional Jazz? This blows my mind, not just that Miles Davis released albums of avante garde "Jazz is the Future" like "On the Corner" and "Call It Anything"; it's that the entire "Traditional Jazz is better than Modern Jazz" garbage was created as a reaction specifically against Miles Davis' music. What is really sad is that Armond White was alive when this reactionary backlash happened. Miles Davis back in the late 60s early 70s made crazy experimental futuristic music that was attracted a massive audience and traditional jazz fans started this backlash against it due to it's popularity. The whole "Traditional Jazz" is the real deal trope killed jazz music.

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I have a lot of history with both movies. I have seen both many times (mostly in theaters). Sign of the Times used to be a midnight movie here off and on for years after its initial theatrical run and my best friend is a massive fan. But I don't love it the whole way through. Stop Making Sense is the only movie that made me sit in the theater for back to back showings in its initial run. I also have a lot of history with both bands/artists. Prince is close to my heart, having grown up in his hometown and having seen him perform many times. I'm one of those those who think he was a genius. But I have a love for Talking Heads that has lasted three decades after they broke up, and despite knowing how much Tina hates David. :/

 

I'd like everyone to see Sign of the Times -- I'm always recommending it to people and have long been sad that it's tough to see, but Stop Making Sense is one of my all-time favorite films. And all time favorite albums even though there's some bad editing in the album. I'm sure I'd prefer Stop Making Sense as a movie even if I could set the music aside. I'm so thankful that there are no crowd shots. It helps make it timeless for me.

 

Purple Rain is an bad movie. Of course I saw it a couple of times in a theater a year ago (after Prince died). The movie is awful but the concert footage at First Avenue is worth it. Last time I saw it, I cried hard during the opening number. RIP

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((WET BLANKET ALERT)) I am not a fan of concert films and I don't think either host really sold me on the cinematic worth of them. Interesting time capsules, but this conversation sounds more like talking about how great Prince and the Talking Heads were as musicians (yes, true). I'll agree with Armond, if there's room for one there should be room for both. They're both great musicians of the 80s and while I don't agree concert films should be anywhere near the canon, well... fuck it, Clerks is already in.

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Ugh, that was some painful man-splaining. I wish I had access to Sign O the Times so I could vote (plus it sounds great, would love to see it).

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And now Jonathan Demme has apparently just died, geez.

 

And people were thinking the Prince movie would get the sympathy vote.

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Nothing more enjoyable than listening to a Freudian with a condescending tone of voice.

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Nothing more enjoyable than listening to a Freudian with a condescending tone of voice.

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Oh god! This has to be the worst episode of The Canon yet. Armond White was unbearable. He seemed in no way interested in having a discussion and hitting the coversational ball back and forth. Any ball Amy was hitting into his court - he just let ... drop.

 

And I don't know if it's because Amy is a woman or if he's that way to everyone, but he was so condecending I almost quit listening halfway through.

 

On a semi-related note: Amy should get Scott Mantz for a La La Land episode! THAT would be a fun battle to listen to and observe. He's such an outspoken fan of La La Land that would be a blast to listen him and Amy duking it out over that movie. Who's with me? ;-)

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Nothing more enjoyable than listening to a Freudian with a condescending tone of voice.������

Nothing more enjoyable than listening to a Freudian with a condescending tone of voice.������

You can say that again. ������

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So tired of hearing this argument about La La Land. Even the fact that that's the first sentence of my comment annoys me. Seems like next week will be more of the same though, since it's guaranteed to come up in the discussion about Whiplash. Amy brought up in an earlier episode how annoying Stranger Things was (and how TERRIBLE it is to anyone with good taste *sigh*) because it would reference things without necessarily doing anything with it, in a winking manner. I guess she's not aware that not everyone has seen as many movies as her, and that movies and TV can be perceived as referential and fun even without the audience knowing exactly what is being referenced. Maybe she thinks that most people don't get the references like she does, so any enjoyment those people get out of it is uninformed and thus they shouldn't actually enjoy it. I despise this argument on so many levels. She's even made the point before in a couple episodes that "EVERYONE knows the story of Medea/Orpheus/etc, how could anyone miss the reference??". Ugh. I don't mean to come off like a dick, it just annoys me. /rant

 

As for these two brilliant movies, I'm having a very hard time deciding. Sign has an unparalleled level of fun, and Sense has an unparalleled level of weird. Both movies have incredible music and incredible performances from the bands. But only one of them has the giant suit, which I was aware of (and laughing at) before ever even hearing the music by the Talking Heads so I think I have to go with that, for the cultural impact.

 

It's strange that both Amy and Armond said Yes to both movies in the end. I think that's the only time where they haven't made a final decision on the show, though the whole point of the show has always been that there are no real rules, so whatever who cares. I'm guessing Devin would have been more committal and forced answers out of everyone and probably would have gone with Stop Making Sense? I'm still just so happy the Canon is back, regardless of my kind of pedantic complaints.

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First off, I haven't seen Sign o' the Times, so my vote for Stop Making Sense probably wasn't a fair one; but that didn't stop me from casting it. I've seen it more times than I can count. Both hosts made interesting points. On the racial diversity displayed in both films, it bares mention that all of the extra musicians performing with the Talking Heads [except for the four core members] are black.

On the guests assertion that Byrne is dealing with sex, I was a little surprised that Amy seems to find him so asexual. Sure, the wide-eyed crack-rooster dancing of Psycho Killer aint the pelvis-thrusting of a Prince performance, but you have to look at the less choreographed moments. Take the last minute or so of Found a Job, when Byrne is simply pacing back and forth, nodding his head, and playing the same chords over and over again. He reaches a meditative, shamanistic state where he's focusing on nothing but those chords. Such is the same with a spiritual fugue, or dare I say sexual congress. It's not something to be over-analyzed or intellectualized, it is simply the body taking over where the head won't go. Byrne himself has said of music that a lot of times the body understands it before the brain does. This was the idea behind the siezurelike quaking and shivering during Once in a Lifetime. The music, like the Holy Spirit, is taking over the body and moving it independently of the will.

Strange coincidence that Jonathan Demme died today. I'll never hear American Girl without seeing that woman singing along to it in her car at night.

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R.I.P. Jonathan Demme

 

I voted for Stop Making Sense despite not seeing Sign o the Times. I feel bad doing that but White made little argument for why it's a better movie, instead just seeming to be a fan of Prince. I was weary about how a discussion of a concert film would go but Amy did make some good points about the film itself, and the choices of shots.

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Funny aside: on the commentary track, Byrne says "This movie doubles as an exercise video. If you do everything in this movie as long and as hard as I do, you'll be in pretty good shape." I believe he says that during the jogging section of Life During Wartime.

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So tired of hearing this argument about La La Land. Even the fact that that's the first sentence of my comment annoys me. Seems like next week will be more of the same though, since it's guaranteed to come up in the discussion about Whiplash. Amy brought up in an earlier episode how annoying Stranger Things was (and how TERRIBLE it is to anyone with good taste *sigh*) because it would reference things without necessarily doing anything with it, in a winking manner. I guess she's not aware that not everyone has seen as many movies as her, and that movies and TV can be perceived as referential and fun even without the audience knowing exactly what is being referenced. Maybe she thinks that most people don't get the references like she does, so any enjoyment those people get out of it is uninformed and thus they shouldn't actually enjoy it. I despise this argument on so many levels. She's even made the point before in a couple episodes that "EVERYONE knows the story of Medea/Orpheus/etc, how could anyone miss the reference??". Ugh. I don't mean to come off like a dick, it just annoys me. /rant

I think it's because stuff like La La Land and Stranger Things--both things I happen to like, though I definitely prefer the latter--are mostly nostalgia porn. The people who made this have seen a few John Carpenter films? So have I!!! That's so cool!!! What's the artistic bent at play, though? That progress comes from paying attention to the past, or something? For La La Land, that's definitely true, because that's a film all about romanticizing and fetishizing artifacts of a bygone era, and that the moving into the future is scary. That's why Ryan Gosling is uncomfortable playing in John Legend's band--which I don't think the film is making fun of, but rather, the movie is so rooted in Gosling's and Stone's POV that we're supposed to feel sad that he's not making the jazz music he likes, I suppose--and it's also why Emma Stone's breakthrough comes from a story that isn't even about her, but her aunt. The movie rewards them for leaning into others' stories and work for their success, and then rewards them for it, except that they don't get to be together, which would feel justified, but the film wants us to feel sad for them, that they got to have their dreams, but not each other. They're not even real characters, which the film recognizes, by putting a million doppelgangers in the margins at any given moment.

 

Stranger Things just seems like it wants to preserve all this stuff from a couple decades ago--though, it's all stuff I love, even though I'm not of that era--and it just happens to be a lot of fun, and to have a great cast. Stranger Things does have one of my favorite jokes, which is when Papa Byers is telling Jonathan to take down his poster for The Evil Dead, because it's inappropriate, and that's supposed to be the tip-off for how much of a dick that character is, because we know The Evil Dead will go on to be a cult favorite, and that the dad is disconnected from pop culture in that way, but that's because the show knows that it's for people who enjoy films like The Evil Dead. It's a show that says, "Hey! The fact that you play D&D, and like The Thing--even though it was a flop at this point in time--means you know how to solve this mystery that is specific to your life." It's a show that rewards nerdy exceptionalism in a way that is serendipitous for serendipity's sake. The best that one could say to the benefit of Stranger Things is that it's about using pop culture, and also science, to get young, alienated kids through adolescence and into adulthood. Mike, Will, Dustin, and Lucas are all unpopular, but have fun playing games and watching movies. When Will is swapped out for Eleven, they're able to use their interests to save everyone.

 

Other than being Easter egg hunts, what are Stranger Things and La La Land aren't really about much. And I don't think anyone is saying you shouldn't like them, but that they're more concerned with references and callbacks than actual, textual meaning.

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Other than being Easter egg hunts, what are Stranger Things and La La Land aren't really about much. And I don't think anyone is saying you shouldn't like them, but that they're more concerned with references and callbacks than actual, textual meaning.

 

The thing is, people are saying I shouldn't like them, specifically Amy and Armond (and Devin for Stranger Things, I don't actually know his opinions on La La Land, though I wouldn't guess they're positive). Armond said La La Land can only be enjoyed by people who know nothing about the tradition of movie musicals. This show has repeatedly made the case that great movies don't necessarily have to be about more than some simple fun premise (more precisely, Devin has repeatedly made this case). So it annoys me when I'm told that La La Land will never ever ever have a place in the Canon because apparently it's so referential that it's somehow worse than Working Girl and Pennies From Heaven, two movies that are distinctly "fine" in my opinion.

 

By the way, just to be clear, I'm not saying La La Land is my favorite movie of all time by any means. But I definitely think it's a very solid movie that is facing Avatar levels of post-release internet hatred, and I think "superior minds" are having a blast telling everyone else in the world how horrible the movie is.

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Other than being Easter egg hunts, what are Stranger Things and La La Land aren't really about much. And I don't think anyone is saying you shouldn't like them, but that they're more concerned with references and callbacks than actual, textual meaning.

 

I think La La Land does have textual meaning. It's not necessarily easy to suss out, though, because as in Chazelle's previous film Whiplash, it is about an unresolvable dichotomy. He likes to leave his movies in that space, so people wind up thinking they aren't about anything, when really they are about the contradiction.

 

Whiplash is about the struggle between one kid's personal happiness and his professional obsession. At the end of the movie he makes a choice: he is going to pursue that obsession, all else be damned. Chazelle is careful to end the film before we see what the results of that decision might be. He literally cuts to black as soon as the music stops. He's not going to tell you if his protagonist was successful or not.

 

La La Land also opens with clear contradictions. It opens with a bright sunny day and a title card reading "Winter." We then watch people stuck in awful freeway traffic do a cheery dance about what a lovely day it is. The movie is called La La Land. It's named after the city it takes place in, but uses the cutesy, sometimes mocking nickname for that city. So what does that city represent? One song seems to say so: City of Stars. "Stars" are both the actors who appear on screen (something that, presumably, people come to L.A. to be) and also unreachable points of light in the sky.

 

A whole bunch of dichotomies and double meanings here. These are your clues as to what Chazelle wants to say about human relationships, the nature of chasing dreams, etc. The movie is about achieving one dream while giving up on another, about how it's sad but also sometimes necessary.

 

Now, I can see arguments that Chazelle takes on too much and gets his points confused, or that his perspective on this is too limited, white-privileged, or lacking in life experience. I might not agree with all of that, but I can see that line of argument. Lacking textual meaning, though? No.

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I think La La Land does have textual meaning. It's not necessarily easy to suss out, though, because as in Chazelle's previous film Whiplash, it is about an unresolvable dichotomy. He likes to leave his movies in that space, so people wind up thinking they aren't about anything, when really they are about the contradiction.

 

Whiplash is about the struggle between one kid's personal happiness and his professional obsession. At the end of the movie he makes a choice: he is going to pursue that obsession, all else be damned. Chazelle is careful to end the film before we see what the results of that decision might be. He literally cuts to black as soon as the music stops. He's not going to tell you if his protagonist was successful or not.

 

La La Land also opens with clear contradictions. It opens with a bright sunny day and a title card reading "Winter." We then watch people stuck in awful freeway traffic do a cheery dance about what a lovely day it is. The movie is called La La Land. It's named after the city it takes place in, but uses the cutesy, sometimes mocking nickname for that city. So what does that city represent? One song seems to say so: City of Stars. "Stars" are both the actors who appear on screen (something that, presumably, people come to L.A. to be) and also unreachable points of light in the sky.

 

A whole bunch of dichotomies and double meanings here. These are your clues as to what Chazelle wants to say about human relationships, the nature of chasing dreams, etc. The movie is about achieving one dream while giving up on another, about how it's sad but also sometimes necessary.

 

Now, I can see arguments that Chazelle takes on too much and gets his points confused, or that his perspective on this is too limited, white-privileged, or lacking in life experience. I might not agree with all of that, but I can see that line of argument. Lacking textual meaning, though? No.

See, I think pretty much all of that is there. In fact, I would even argue that the white-washing argument is a little overblown, but they are privileged as fuck.

 

It's that part that bothers me. Why do I care about these people achieving their dreams? Who are they, anyway? Ryan Gosling gets a really good job playing music that isn't even that bad, and then he turns into a grumpy asshole who can afford to feed himself while still playing music--also, when their argument gets too heated, their food in the oven burns, because subtle filmmaking. I liked it better when his mini-keytar made him look impotent because he wasn't having a good time playing for an 80's cover band--who, again, are not that bad. Sebastian is an undisciplined schmuck who can't spend a couple hours just playing Christmas songs, but who has enough income to waste on antique stools that held the asses of dead people he happens to like.

 

Same with Mia. She's a nice enough woman with talent, but then does the super irritating thing of constantly asking her manager if she can leave work early. Um, no? You have a job in a city of millions of people, and it wouldn't have been that hard to call in, or trade your shift. But if that doesn't work out, you have an education, and you can live with your parents for a while. Oh no! You might have to live a pretty good, comfortable life--which is sort of what happens anyway. Mia even has a big old poster of Casablanca on her bedroom wall--also, how does she work in a coffee shop, and live in that nice of an apartment, even with roommates?--which is so broad. Obviously, we worship the greats for a reason, but Mia can't do better than one of the most revered films in all history? Again, I do think this is on purpose, because Chazelle could clearly reference something more meaningful, but chooses something as big as he does.

 

Also, why do we never see these characters hungry? Money is barely an issue, except when it suddenly is. They care about their aspirations, but to what degree? They don't have any actual problems or conflict, other than their lives just aren't going their way right when they want them to. So, emotionally, I'm not invested in the story, even though I can appreciate the spectacle--because this is directed like it's no one's business.

 

I like your point about duality, because I think the film is aware of it, but it's also aware that nothing really changes. Yeah, it's sunny in winter, which is a sharp contrast with normal seasonal changes, but in L.A., it's always bright and sunny like that. I even like that number in their apartment, where they have this entire dance number that travels throughout their home, and they even use their lamps and so forth to make themselves look even more glamorous. That goes all the way to the end, where Sebastian never actually does anything to make jazz special, despite his claims that he loves and understands it so much, and where Mia ends up with a nice enough business type like her boyfriend from the beginning of the film. Which actually makes that ending set piece so strange to me, because what does it mean? The most popular theory is that it's a "what if?" scenario, but I don't think that's the case. I think it's that they see each other, and re-remember how great their relationship was, even though all the moments that are shown are all the low points of their knowing each other. What is the film saying if it's a "what-if"? What is it saying if it's a reinterpretation of events?

 

Again, with La La Land, there are clearly ideas and motifs littered throughout the picture, but how many of them actually mean anything? To refer back to the American Beauty episode--there are truths, but where's the insight? Why am I supposed to feel for these overgrown children? What does their story mean? What are they actually giving up? Yeah, sometimes you have to compromise. So what? Their relationship is based off of supporting each other, because the only real thing they have in common is that they're ambitious as artists. They're not even in the same medium.

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