Tag Archives: New York Times

Publishing & the Profit Motive

I just read a justifiably indignant NY Times article criticizing the wrongdoings of the publishing industry. The quote below summarizes author Timothy Egan’s complaint:

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

As an impoverished, struggling writer, I more than empathize with his point. However, the one thing that Egan is forgetting is that book publishing is a for-profit industry. If Barbara Bush’s dog will sell more books than a struggling artist’s poetry, then a publisher is wise to favor the former, even if it hurts our personal sensibilities. Or look at it the other way, that dog book just bankrolled 10 garrulous memoirs. Without the best-selling fluff, the publishing house couldn’t afford to take a loss on you.

In these tough economic times, it’s very important to remember the profit motive. Though it’s not romantic, I highly advise considering potential readership before launching into 10 years of toil. But that’s only if you want to get published.

movies: Rock Star (part II)

The main character in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys describes his lover’s attraction to him in this way: “She’s addicted to reading. And as a writer, I create her drug of choice*.”

As a music enthusiast, I feel the same way about musicians. Since, I hold a particular affinity for those of the rock variety, I’ve seen the film Almost Famous so many times that I now ration its viewings. Naturally, I really wanted … no yearned for Rock Star (2001) to be good. Maybe my expectations were set too high, because I found Rock Star to be mediocre to boring.

But why? The plot concept is great and the actors are perfectly cast. So what went wrong? The answer lies in the DVD extras, where one of its creators say that the movie is supposed to be a parody of 80s arena rock. Spinal Tap is a parody of arena rock. Rock Star is an earnest drama about the path to self-hood that tries to be a parody when it’s not too busy soul-searching. This mix doesn’t work. And the flick misses the mark on both parody and drama. (It doesn’t quite fail, it just hits the widest ring on the target.) Furthermore, the Steel Dragons are not a real band and nobody is interested in watching extended scenes of their performance. During one such sequence I minimized the screen and checked my e-mail without missing a beat (get it? A beat!).

But every thorn has its rose, and this movie has a few pretty buds. The plot revolves around the rise and fall of loser wannabe rockstar and his girlfriend. As I mentioned earlier, the lead casting is perfect. Mark Wahlberg is the quintessential everyman. If somebody were to revive Death of a Salesman, Wahlberg should be cast as Willy Loman. He’s ambitious and attractive in a way more evocative of successful car mechanic than of a leading man. Wahlberg’s qualities are so striking that three years previous another director spotted his dynamic and used it in a much better film, Boogie Nights. Similarly, Jenifer Aniston is the everywoman — beautiful in a bland way. She was a believable waitress in Office Space, a believable sales clerk in The Good Wife, and a believable maid in Friends with Money for the same reason that Bradd Pitt dumped her for another woman. (Angelina Jolie is not a believable waitress; she is a believable assassin.) And similarly, those are all better films. Who can forget Anistan’s argument about flair?

And everybody’s a sucker for a “true story” or a least something with a little verisimilitude. Seems that this movie is inspired by Ripper Owen’s rise from fan to member of the band Judas Priest. (Check out this 1997 NYTimes article for backstory.) Oh and what about the guy (John Corabi) who temporarily replaced Vince Neil? He must have had an experience similar to this one. (Except that Corabi got fired from Motley Crue.) I wonder what these guys have to say about the film. What do you think?

All in all, Rock Star is a good flick to catch on a rainy Sunday afternoon if it happens to air on VH1’s Movies That Rock … or, if you’re like me, desperate for a rock ‘n’ roll film fix.

But don’t take my word for it; check out these cool reviews:

Steve Rhodes on CelebrityWonder.com disagrees with me and thinks casting ruined the movie.

MoviesForGuys.com calls it a “formula movie that works.”

A.O. Scott of the NY Times calls Almost Famous “more complex and better written.”

TheCelebrityCafe.com says “If you’ve ever dreamed of being a Rock Star, then don’t miss this!”

*Quote to the best of my memory