Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Dissolve has sadly but elegantly irised out (so you win again, terribly written pop-culture news sites that are full of typos and annoying listicles)

The Google image search for 'iris out' hilariously turns up nothing but pics of Iris from The Flash.
Back in May, Pitchfork.tv posted a well-made animated short adapted from an anti-PG-13 essay published by the Pitchfork Media-owned film review site The Dissolve, and I wrote, "I'd like to see [Pitchfork.tv animator Mack] Williams do more animated tie-ins with The Dissolve. The site's discussions of Midnight Run with Adam Scott and Running Scared with Paul Scheer are crying out for the animated treatment, as is Noel Murray's essay 'Why great comics don't always make great movies.'" Sadly, there won't be any more animated Pitchfork.tv/Dissolve team-ups because during a three-week break I took from posting AFOS blog material (but I wasn't able to take a complete break from writing that material), The Dissolve closed up shop after two years of publication, simply because the economics haven't been kind to The Dissolve.

Although The Dissolve's reviews of new releases were well-written, they weren't the reason why The Dissolve was my favorite destination for discussions of film--other than The Onion Film Standard with Peter K. Rosenthal, of course. In an age when click-bait--particularly superhero movie costume news updates and listicles that are so lazily written and mindless they've caused me to stop writing listicles for good--has dominated film writing and made it less appealing to me, the content that made The Dissolve special and unique was all the articles that clearly weren't generating as many hits as the kind of empty and forgettable click-bait The Dissolve stubbornly refused to succumb to publishing in order to stay alive. I'm talking lengthy but never-boring and never-pretentious articles like the essays about the challenges of adapting graphic novels for the screen or the fascinating changes in recent film score music and the "Movie of the Week" roundtable discussions of older films like Repo Man and John Carpenter's Snake Plissken flicks and more recent cult favorites like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and MacGruber, discussions that often made you look at an old film in a new light. The reassessments of Spike Lee's work as a music video director or the reassessments of the filmographies of directors like Frank Tashlin and Ernst Lubitsch were also among the things former Dissolve staffer Scott Tobias and his colleagues "knew few people would read" when Tobias and Keith Phipps discussed the demise of their site, but The Dissolve was admirable for not caring that only a few film geeks would read those pieces.

The Dissolve's articles were often as impeccably edited as the movies the Dissolve writers adored and celebrated in their "Movie of the Week" discussions. Typos or misspellings were such a rarity over at The Dissolve. The only typos I spotted were in articles by--ooh, big surprise--Nathan Rabin, who, as an easily bored and barely awake TV recapper for the Onion-owned A.V. Club, once memorably wrote that Jack Donaghy "sneaks pills into Tracey's [sic] jelly beans and transforms him from a space case to an Adderal [sic] achiever" when Jack was so clearly not drugging Tracy Jordan, so Rabin would repeatedly get mocked for his pills mistake in the A.V. Club's comments section. Ooh, look, here's another one of those Rabin typos now.

Somebody put pills in Nathan Rabin's jelly beans when he wrote that opening sentence.

Typos aside, Rabin's pop-culture writing is actually often worth reading. Like so many of the other former Dissolve writers, Rabin (who perhaps saw the writing on the wall and actually left The Dissolve a couple of months before the site's demise) came from the A.V. Club, which championed and fostered the same kind of smartly written and witty pop-culture writing that was found on The Dissolve and continues to do so, although the A.V. Club, along with Indiewire and Uproxx, has lately become much less of a favorite destination for me because of how often its gazillion ads (fuck you, Flowplayer) cause my browser to freeze up. Meanwhile, The Dissolve refused to clutter its articles with ads, which I assume is what also brought about the end of The Dissolve. But it's better that The Dissolve went out fighting with the integrity in its writing intact instead of dying out as yet another slow and laggy site full of articles that are either littered with or disrupted by ads that slow down my browser and can't be turned off.

If you write or blog about film or pop culture, you might get asked by someone the following: "The Internet's as overwhelming as Comic-Con. There are too many sites to choose from when I want to read stuff on the Internet. How can I tell apart the sites that are worth visiting from the sites that aren't worth visiting?" It's simple. Any publication that frequently makes typos like the following isn't worth the time of day.



Neither is any publication that posts "20 Things You Didn't Know About the Catering for Ant-Man."

Remarkably, The Dissolve was neither of those things, although it did publish a listicle, but only occasionally, like when it discussed "The 50 most daring film roles for women since Ripley" or was presumably ordered by Pitchfork to assemble "The movies' 50 greatest pop music moments." Listicles aren't the only form of digital publishing that bores me. Blog posts that are simply hastily written regurgitations of press releases bore me as well. Sure, The Dissolve had a news section that consisted of hastily written regurgitations of press releases too, but otherwise, 90 percent of its content was the thoughtful and lengthy pieces about movies like Heat, a movie I was obsessed with in college, or Midnight Run, a movie I'm still obsessed with and was a favorite subject of the Dissolve writers because of its countless highlights, like Danny Elfman's "Try to Believe" theme, and because, as Noel Murray said, "This is a movie about adults, made for adults."



When I recently watched McCabe and Mrs. Miller for the first time ever (I checked it out from the San Francisco Public Library, a great alternative for whenever Netflix's DVD rental service comes up short), the first place I clicked to after watching the Robert Altman western was The Dissolve because the site had once picked McCabe as a "Movie of the Week." I wanted to read what the Dissolve staff had to say at length about Altman's offbeat western about the struggles of independent businesses against Big Business, struggles that were similar to The Dissolve's own financial struggles. Not even the late Altman's McCabe audio commentary was satisfactory enough for me. The "Movie of the Week" section is the thing I'll miss the most about The Dissolve. I'm worried that Pitchfork Media will someday remove all these Dissolve articles from the Web because there are so many other older movies I haven't seen yet and were given the "Movie of the Week" treatment by The Dissolve, and I still want to read what its writers had to say about those movies.

I will admit that one of my recent blog posts was written in the style of a Dissolve piece. That post was "The Game of Thrones 'Hardhome' massacre and Mad Max prove that near-silence is golden, so why hasn't anyone stepped up to make the first great modern-day silent action movie?" It's a depressing, "Hardhome"-ish time for film writing: The Dissolve has been shut down, and nobody can make a living from film writing like the late Roger Ebert used to be able to do because the tech world is run by corrupt assholes who don't pay their writers. At the risk of sounding like William Fichtner's "Criminals in this town used to believe in things" line from The Dark Knight, when I was a stringer for a major newspaper in the '90s, I wasn't paid a lot for the movie reviews I wrote, but at least I was actually paid back then. Listicle click-bait like "The 5 Best-Looking Buttcracks in Minions" may have won this round, but let's continue fighting against that type of writing. Let's keep The Dissolve--and what it stood for--alive in our approaches to writing about film or pop culture. It will make the sting of its demise less painful. We can do better than listicles about yellow buttcracks.

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