Give the Old Guy a Break

I’m nothing if not (something of) a luddite.

More than occasionally, I feel like a prematurely old curmudgeon. Living in Bushwick, a place for young people if ever one existed, exacerbates these feelings. Earlier this month, for the first time in my life, I left a bar because the music was too loud. Less than a week after that, I did the exact same thing. Chalk it up to being out of touch or the way kids are these days: I get annoyed when I have nowhere to sit and I think people take way too many fucking selfies. By more than one stretch of the imagination, I am an indignant cunt.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I love watching classic films on the big screen. Let me clarify: I love watching classic films on a big screen in a movie theater. While outdoor screenings sound fantastic in theory, and New York City hosts plenty of them during the summer, the experience is usually miserable (you can’t exactly expect that many people in what is akin to a concert venue to remain quiet and keep their phones out of sight). A repertory theater though, that’s something else. In a city like New York (or anywhere else really) these are some of the most uncool places to be on a Friday night, and as such, the likelihood of running into some jerk who thinks a movie is something to be glanced at in between sessions of Candy Crush is relatively low. Furthermore, the people who run and attend these things tend to be intensely devoted film fans, so bad crowd behavior isn’t usually an issue. At least, not in the usual way.

Summer was always my favorite season in Austin. Sure, it was oppressively hot and humid, but that tidal wave of baking sunshine always made me feel more alive and inclined to appreciate all of the joys of summer even more: breezy nights serenaded by crickets, afternoon dips in Barton Springs, and evenings at the Paramount Theater.

This beautiful theater, built in the early 1900s, hosts an amazing summer film series: with a book of passes, you can attend a double-header for $5.00. Casablanca always finds its way into the rotation, and the print is gorgeous. Other highlights have included Lawrence of Arabia, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, and F for Fake. Carefree nights spent bathed in the flickering light of that screen are some of my fondest memories of that town, and if you’re local to the area, I can’t recommend it enough.

Recently, my friend Ajai pointed me towards the second part of a Sci-Fi summer film series playing at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I’m looking forward to seeing Robocop on the big screen–a first for me–on Friday night. What I’m not looking forward to are the comments from the peanut gallery.

This is the curse of the repertory theater. While the bulk of the filmgoers are prematurely dusty cranks like myself and their guests, they also attract a small number of people who are obsessed with liking the “right” kind of art, and so flock to big-screen showings of classics they never got around to ripping from PirateBay. You can always tell who these people are by the way they loudly spurt irrelevant factoids about the film or filmmaker right up to the opening credits (at which point they begin hooting and applauding obnoxiously). They’re also the people who cause a ruckus at iconic moments in the film, which is basically the movie-going equivalent of having somebody blurt out the punch lines to a comedian’s set. While all of these behaviors are just as, if not more obnoxious than texting and talking, the one that always annoys me to no end is the slight, almost inaudible chuckle that accompanies a bad SFX shot, a dated turn of phrase in the screenplay, or a moment of admittedly uncomfortable political incorrectness.

I’m not too worried about Robocop. Despite being released in 1985, the film’s practical effects still hold up surprisingly well. If anything, the sheer wantonly cartoonish level of realistic violence often gapes the mouths of more casual moviegoers who have only seen action movies made after 1995. However, in some ways, I’m a little happy that I missed Terminator. The original 1984 film features a lot of wonky claymation and other effects that, to be perfectly frank, look downright hokey by today’s standards.

Those muffled laughs that accompany these sorts of lost-in-time moments annoy me for two reasons. First of all, I’m a firm believer that greatness, for the most part, endures. To make a rather inelegant analogy, consider the rambling story told by an elderly man nearing the end of a rather long and accomplished life. The story might have taken on several different endings, and it might take much longer to tell than it once did, and it might contain some jokes that seem lame (or even offensive), but we don’t laugh in the faces of our elders, and we don’t snort and roll our eyes when they use phrases that might be a bit insensitive. Classic films ought to be afforded the same respect, if not more. After all, a movie is literally lost in time, and can’t be expected to keep up with modern social norms and technology, lest every classic be given the mistreatment a no-less hallowed franchise than Star Wars received at the hands of its creator.

More importantly, we ought to approach pieces of art as what they are: standalone experiences for us to passively enjoy and then ruminate on. Not everything is going to appeal to everyone, of course, but that isn’t cause for members of an audience to alienate others who might be having something approximating a religious experience as they watch their favorite villainous cyborg storm the halls of a police station in glorious 35mm for the very first time.

Over at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci has a fantastic piece about the dangerous bog of nostalgia we’ve mired ourselves in. There’s a brilliant quote in that piece that Devin’s using to make a different argument–and my repurposing of it kind of seems similar to the very thing he’s railing against but so be it–but it speaks to why I find that hooting and hollering, the snickering and chuckles, the indignant grunts and tongue clucks so obnoxious:

 “When you like a work of art for nostalgic reasons – you saw it as a kid, your sick dad showed it to you before he died, it evokes memories of a magical time in your life – you’re not actually talking about that art anymore…you’ve taken the conversation away from the art and made it squarely about you.”

Similarly, when you inject your opinions onto the film while the film is being played you derail the flow of the art–which should be a direct flow from the screen to the eyes of the audience and nothing more–and made it a hands-on experience that nobody else asked for. At this point, it’s not even out of respect for the art itself that you should keep your stupid comments to yourself, it’s out of respect for your fellow filmgoers that you might acknowledge that nobody cares that you think the casual way stars of the 1950s dropped the word “negro” is just awful, just as nobody cares that you know the Terminator’s exoskeleton isn’t real.

Art is art, and movies are movies. They aren’t for you or anybody else specific, they’re for whoever wants to take a moment to shut up and listen, and then walk away to ponder. True art isn’t tailor-made for a generation of spoiled brats who think they should be able to tell George R.R. Martin who lives and dies on Game of Thrones or who (get paid to) whine about Louie “not being funny anymore”. True art doesn’t come with a comments section, because it’s not a conversation. It’s something you can take or leave. If you leave, do so quietly.

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Reconsidering American Beer

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself at a trendy Bushwick restaurant (Tutu’s, for those of you in North BK) with two famished ladies. It was a long and harrowing ordeal, the specifics of which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say that after much finagling we found ourselves ordering drinks. My girlfriend’s companion, a visitor from Germany, was perusing the beer list when she sighed, and then loudly muttered that bars in the states only have “terrible” German beers (these being Radebeger and Bitburger). I pointed out that bars in Europe also import “bad’ American beers like Budweiser and Coors and sell them at outrageously inflated prices. Her retort was that America doesn’t make any good beer.

If her goal was to behave like a model “Ugly European” tourist, mission accomplished. Disregarding the fact that she was looking for a beer that was comparable to Corona (the most overpriced and flavorless of all the Mexican beers I’ve sampled), to make that sort of statement in the year 2014 outs you as someone who knows nothing about beer. As someone who enjoys all types of beer, from the trashy and cheap to the pretentious and pricey, it’s readily apparent to me and anybody else in the world who considers beer to be something more than a party tool or an accompaniment to football (American or otherwise) that the old trope of “American beer tastes like piss” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

According to the most quotable of quotable sources on the Internet, Wikipedia, there are some 2,800 breweries operating in the United States today. Of those, more than 2,000 are independent microbreweries. Short story made shorter, we’ve been taking beer seriously in the States for some time now, and you only have to spend a little time in any decently sized urban area to see this put into practice. Holding true to the nature of its country of origin, American beer is staggeringly diverse and differs from region to region.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been enjoying lately:

Leinenkugel Summer Shandy

This ultra-drinkable, delicious Shandy first got under my nose at Governor’s Ball, where it was a welcome and random addition to a lineup of overpriced cans of Miller and Foster’s. This bad boy is smooth and sweet as everything you want on a hot and humid day. It’s even better on draft (I found it on the menu at 5 Napkin Burger, go figure).

21st Amendment Bitter American

A very good bar with a small, weekly rotating tap-list just opened up a short walk from my apartment. Shout out to Left Hand Path, and shout out to the 21st Amendment Brewery, which I just discovered a few weeks ago. The Bitter American goes down clean and crisp with a bit of a hoppy aftertaste. It’s another great beer for the summer, as its flavor profile isn’t overwhelming and the low alcohol content means you can drink a lot as the thirsty night wears on.

Old Rasputin Imperial Stout

Lest I be accused of a wimpy American who can’t handle “real” beer, I thought I’d throw one of my favorite Winter standbys into the mix. Produced by the Northcoast Brewing Company, Old Rasputin is a hefty 9% ABV, and is the perfect thing to sip on as you get toasty by a fire. It runs as black as Guinness, with a flavor as robust as the mad Russian himself.

Abita Turbodog

I first downed this favorite at a bar in New Orleans, on draft, after spending about 8 hours in a car. It was the perfect introduction. Abita has a lot of great offerings, but I’ve always found myself partial to Turbodog. It has a rich, coffee-like flavor, a bit similar to a Stout like Old Rasputin, but with considerably less body (A comparatively mild 5.6% ABV), so you can drink a few without feeling waterlogged.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Rogue is one of the more interesting breweries out there, in my opinion, and the Dead Guy Ale is certainly not for everybody. It’s fairly hoppy with a spicy finish, and a combination of flavors that’s a bit hard to pin down. It’s brewed in the style of a Maibock, so if you imagine something like Shiner, but up the body by about 75% you’re…somewhere in the ballpark. Rogue: an enigma.

To close, I’ll cut and paste a comment from a BeerAdvocate forum member (from Sweden, no less) who had this to say, in a thread discussing whether or not American beermakers had surpassed(!) their European counterparts:

“For a lot of people, US beer equals Bud and Miller Lite, and of course those people will say that US beer sucks–but I don’t much are about their opinion since they don’t know the first thing about what’s going on in US brewing overall.”

 

Amen to that.

REVIEW: THE GOLDEN CADILLAC

Once, when I was mocking a shuffleboard-meets expat bar in South Brooklyn, I proclaimed that the key to a winning hipster-bar formula consisted of equal parts nostalgia and novelty. The place we were in, the name of which escapes me, had it right: combine the proclaimed “weird but cool!”-ness of eight or so regulation shuffleboards at an indoor bar space with a retro throwback feel and you had the recipe for trilby-wearing douchebags to be lined up for months to come.

The Golden Cadillac is not a douchebag bar, at least, there was nary an offensive soul to be seen on the Wednesday night that I met Miss Jen Blair for a few cocktails. Still, as the name might suggest, the bar is capitalizing on the still widely held belief that the way things used to be done was a better and simpler time. I don’t necessarily disagree: some of my favorite watering holes in the city are steeped in classic cocktail vibes, and I’ll be the first to admit that any spot that openly describes itself as “trendy” jumps out to me like only a shitty rooftop club can. However, it’s a thin line you have to walk between tribute and camp.

In my completely unqualified opinion, The Golden Cadillac has stepped one foot too far into the camp pool. It’s a cool space, with a great looking bar, pleasing layout, and decent cocktails (I thought the two drinks I had were a tad unimpressive for $12 a pop, but it’s possible that the A-list bartenders don’t come out until Friday and Saturday night). No one part of the experience at TGC rubs me the wrong way, but they all add up to just a little too much in the eye-roll worthy, “I was born in the wrong decade” department. The 70s motif is ladled on thick as molasses: the lighting behind the bar, the cocktail menu made up to look like a cheap diner, the sound system playing 70s only hits, and the bathrooms wallpapered with vintage back issues of Playboy–one layer of nostalgia piles on top of another until it feels like you’re drinking in a theme bar at Disneyland.

The landscape of New York City is littered with bars, and as trends come and go, its inevitable that enterprising business owners are going to try and hit every possible angle for one that hasn’t been exploited and tapped dry by the city’s saloon-keeper’s. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I surrender my speakeasy, prohibition-era lover credentials to nobody, but just one step over the line can turn your experience from a lovely evening with a well-made cocktail into an adult sojourn into liquor-laced playgrounds. The appeal of those bars from the 20s or the 70s lay in intangible qualities and atmospheres that can’t be recreated by a mandatory handlebar moustache policy or a “playfully guady” decor. It’s great to take inspiration from the beloved eras of the past, but the inspiration is best put to use in creating something wholly new and original rather than reheating the nostalgia in a microwave.