Monday, September 3, 2012

Prolific vs. good


“Hitchcock is the most overrated director of all time,” the boss said one day.

At the bookstore I work at aside from selling lottery tickets, cigarettes, pop, and chips, we also buy and sell used DVDs. What prompted the boss’s comment was a box set he had just bought of Alfred Hitchcock’s early works, the crappy public domain stuff that gets sold on double-sided discs in dollar stores. I love Hitchcock but these bargain-bin collections are pretty shitty. Sure there will be a few diamonds in the rough (The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes) but most of it isn’t worth watching.

But I couldn’t let a comment like that stand. Up until that point I’d been having a bad day. I don’t remember why. Maybe I had received another story rejection. Maybe two. Maybe I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Whatever the reason, I had resigned myself to the fact that it was just going to be a bad day and there was nothing I could do about it. The boss’s comment made me stop and re-examine that. I could take anything the world cared to throw at me, but I wasn’t going to keep quiet when one of my favourite directors was being disparaged.

“Oh really?” I said. “So you think ‘Rope’ is no good?”

“No,” the boss admitted. “Rope is good.”

“Rope is great,” I said. “And what about ‘Strangers on a Train’? Could an over-rated director have made Strangers on a Train?”

“No, Strangers on a Train is good too.”

“Oh wow, I throw out two Hitchcock movies and they both happen to be good. How about Rear Window? Is that over-rated?”

“No, Rear Window is good--”

“Huh, so now I’ve named three Hitchcock movies, and all of them are great. Not bad for the most over 
rated director of all time.”

Eventually the boss back down, maybe because I was scaring him with my Hitchcockian devotion to Hitchcock, or maybe because I was right. We compromised and decided that the most over-rated director was either William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola (you’re free to disagree of course, but remember you’d be taking us both on). Weirdly enough, afterwards the ‘bad day’ cloud that had been hanging around me dissipated and I spent the rest of the shift thinking about Hitchcock.

It’s important to remember that Hitchcock made a lot of dreck. A lot of dreck. He made over forty movies in his career, and when you’re pumping them out like that you’re not going to hit it out of the park most of the time. This is something I’ve been struggling with myself lately: can you be prolific and good? How do you keep up a high standard of quality while still producing new work? I try to write everyday and write a new short story every month. It’s easy to meet quantifiable goals, but what if your goal is something that can’t be measured, like improving yourself? Is it worth turning out a string of duds to pull out a ‘Rear Window’? Is it possible to write only the masterpieces and not the sub-par works?  

I think in the end both masterpieces and mundane works are part of the same artistic process.  If the less-than-steller Hitchcock movies need to exist so that my favourites could come into being, well, that's fine with me. I think all you can do is keep writing, or filming, or sculpting, or whatever, because that's the only way you'll create anything, good or bad.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, and while I admire Hitchcock as a director, if the boss had said "Hitchcock was a sexist, evil fucker," I would have said "Yeah, he was."

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