I just read The Buzzing, by Jim Knipfel, who apparently writes a column for the NY Press. It was a Christmas gift from my Aunt who finds gently used copies of cool books at her local library for the family each gift season.
It's a light, predictable read for the most part, but it suffered from one of my least favorite tendencies in entertainment that's been popular for at least 15 years now.
Quentin Tarantino popularized a dialogue style that was fast and fresh, and thick with pop culture references. "Madonna" scene in Reservoir Dogs... Awesome. "Elvis vs. Beatles" in Pulp Fiction.... Good enough.
But recently I've been feeling insulted by this insistence by writers to insert their personal favorite "obscure" taste into their work. That's my biggest gripe with Tarantino lately. In "Death Proof" it's all "Nice one, Zatoichi" and "Vanishing Point is the best movie ever."
Barf. That kind of writing is soooo expository and insulting.
When I discovered that Tarantino had shot the bathroom scene of "Reservoir Dogs" after the bathroom scene of "12 Angry Men" I felt like I had unlocked a secret by virtue of experience.
But when you just add the titles of old movies into your dialogue, it's cheap and bewildering. It takes me out of the moment and it's condescending.
Juno suffered from this syndrome heavily. The "discussions" about Herschell Gordon Lewis and Sonic Youth were so heavy handed that I walked out of the theatre guilty that I hadn't ever listened to them and annoyed that now I was sure I wouldn't.
It's even worse when I know the reference, and that was the problem with "The Buzzing". There was too much dialogue discussing rare italian horror, Godzilla and Toho. When I'm already aware of these things, I want to interject. But that's impossible in a book or movie so here I am, subject to someone's endless rant about what's cool this week (does this sound familiar to you, dear reader?)
Okay. I get it, Knipfel (Tarantino, et al), you are a movie buff, and that's respectable. I'd like to have a beer and talk about trashy 70's movies, because I also enjoy them. But when your back-and-forth is purely obscure references, you end up sounding like that egoist dickhead at the party who puts everyone down because "What, you've never seen Bergman?!?"
Here's an excerpt from "The Buzzing" that exemplifies my problem with this kind of writing. (The protagonist -Baragon- is answering a phone call from a friend- Slaughter)
"Hey Caulfield- pick up the goddamn phone." It was Slaughter's code- a reference that very few people ever got- especially when it was explained that it had nothing at all to do with J.D. Salinger.
Baragon picked up. "Hey, Kelloway." That was the proper coded response. "What goes on? You home?"
So these guys are so cool they call each other nicknames based off of some obscure media. Then it's explained that it's a code. Then it's explained further that it's not "that Caulfield you're probably thinking of." Thanks dick.
For your benefit, I googled "caulfield and kelloway" and discovered that it's a reference to "Capricorn One." So really, it's an "obscure" reference from a really popular 70's movie. Just like Tarantino likes to do.