Underwhelmed By Greatness?

 

RearWindowHave you ever had this experience? Have you ever sat down with a book, a film, an album, what have you, that you’ve heard from time immemorial was a classic and thought…eh? Maybe you would have liked it if you had come to it cold, but it just couldn’t bear the weight of its own legacy.

I’ve always been a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time. The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled “Breakdown” is one of the most gripping 30 minutes of television I’ve ever seen (you can find it on Netflix or Amazon). While I’ve worked my way through most of the Hitchcock corpus, I had, until recently, somehow failed to make the time for Rear Window, considered one of the director’s all-time classics. Finding myself with some unexpected free time on a recent Sunday, I popped it up on Netflix. And, well…eh.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid film. The acting is stellar, confining the action primarily to Jimmy Stewart’s apartment was clever (it’s essentially the movie equivalent of a bottle episode), and there are some moments of genuine suspense. Overall, however, I came away underwhelmed. Without giving too much away (although, to be fair, the film is 60 years old, so a spoiler alert is an act of charity), the tension in the plot runs as follows: one of the main characters either did A or did B. In the end, it turns out he did B. Not exactly white-knuckle stuff.

Now, to be fair to the film, I probably would have had a much different reaction had I seen it in a cinema in 1954. In 2015, however, when thrillers go to baroque lengths to hide the ball on plot twists, Rear Window seemed almost pedestrian by comparison. Had it been some obscure little film, I probably would have delighted in it. As a movie that’s so deeply engrained in pop culture, however, that my first consciousness of it came through a childhood viewing of Simpsons episode, it had a higher bar to clear.

And, honestly, that feels, at some level, like a disservice to the film. But there’s simply no way to decouple my reaction from the expectations created by decades worth of hype.

What “masterpieces” have you come to late, only to discover that your expectations were disappointed?

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  1. TheRoyalFamily Member
    TheRoyalFamily
    @TheRoyalFamily

    War and Peace. Not only does it have its reputation as one of the all-time greats of literature, but I had just finished Anna Karenina, which deserves every bit of praise it gets. I don’t think it could have lived up to expectations even if it were practically perfect, and it wasn’t.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Adulthood.

    • #2
  3. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    • #3
  4. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Mike H

    This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    That’s nerd blasphemy.

    • #4
  5. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Mike H:This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    Tread lightly, Mike.

    • #5
  6. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Almost everything Goethe wrote.

    • #6
  7. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Frank Soto:

    Mike H:This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    Tread lightly, Mike.

    There’s a caveat in that I’ve only seen the first episode, because people oversold it.

    I’m sure it gets better.

    • #7
  8. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Citizen Kane.  Boring.

    Btw, as to Rear Window I have only one thing to say to you – Grace Kelly’s entrance.

    • #8
  9. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    grace-kelly-2

    The movie has Grace Kelly.  I think you might have missed the point.

    • #9
  10. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Honestly, I am more likely to be underwhelmed by most classics on first viewing.  Even a lot of classics which I have come to love did not live up to expectations.  For a lot of classics, nothing could live up to the expectations that are put on them.

    • #10
  11. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Caddyshack.

    • #11
  12. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Mike H

    Frank Soto:

    Mike H:This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    Tread lightly, Mike.

    There’s a caveat in that I’ve only seen the first episode, because people oversold it.

    I’m sure it gets better.

    I don’t judge any show by the pilot. Of course it doesn’t help that Fox showed the episodes out of order. I never watched it until way after the fact and it was on Netflix, but I’ve been drawn in by the themes of the show more than by the craft of its production or individual stories. Oh, and Cristina Hendricks is a seductress in it. I can forgive A LOT for that plot line to exist.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The problem with a movie like Rear Window is that you almost certainly already “saw” it before you actually saw it, because it has been adapted, parodied, and blatantly ripped-off way too many times over the years.

    I’m not a big fan of Agatha Christie, for example, because almost all of her stories were repurposed wholesale by the many, many tv mystery shows of the 1970s and 1980s. It was the rare tv mystery show that didn’t do its own version of Ten Little Indians or Murder On The Orient Express.

    The classic movies that tend to hold up better are those that don’t really lend themselves to being remade, repurposed, or parodied.

    I was mesmerized by Citizen Kane when I first saw it, at least partially because the first time I saw “Citizen Kane” was when I actually saw Citizen Kane. Nobody else has ever really used Citizen Kane as a template for their own movie or tv show (except for parodies of the whole “Rosebud” gimmick, but that isn’t really the point of the story so it’s ok that one detail is spoiled).

    By contrast, a kid seeing Star Wars Episode IV is going to be disappointed, because they’ve already seen dozens-upon-dozens of movies which used that movie as their template/inspiration.

    You don’t want to watch an old movie and think, “haven’t I already seen this movie?”

    (When I first saw Rear Window, I kept expecting a “twist”, that Stewart wasn’t actually seeing what he thought he was seeing. But there was no twist. The “mystery” in the story was actually more straighforward than in all the parodies and repurposings. The plot is basically “man witnesses crime.”)

    • #13
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Shakespeare’s sonnets. Dang near all of them.

    If you’ve ever read his complete works cover to cover, the sonnets are at the end. After such wide-ranging blank verse giving insight into so many aspects of human nature, it’s a bit of a disappointment that the sonnets’ scope seems so… constrained.

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Shakespeare’s sonnets. Dang near all of them.

    If you’ve ever read his complete works cover to cover, the sonnets are at the end. After such wide-ranging blank verse giving insight into so many aspects of human nature, it’s a bit of a disappointment that the sonnets’ scope seems so… constrained.

    The plays were for a paying audience.

    The sonnets were either personal letters to a particular individual, or else they were for Billy’s own personal consumption.

    I bet George Lucas’ personal diary/correspondence is way less interesting that Star Wars too.

    ;-)

    • #15
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I think we’re all jaded by the spectacle of modern film. We expect to be visually awed at every turn. It’s CGI crack.

    When deMille needed a crowd of 10,000 C.B. went out and hired a crowd of 10,000. Now they hire 50 people and pay them to wander around a green screen for half-hour and then digitally replicate them to their little heart’s content.

    And Grace was beautiful, but I never thought she was that good as an actor. She may be the least deserving Oscar winner of all time.

    • #16
  17. Sheila S. Inactive
    Sheila S.
    @SheilaS

    I was really surprised at how much I hated Katherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Probable Cause:Caddyshack.

    Cracked has a very good podcast about how difficult it is to create comedy that can transcend time.

    Each generation has its own sensibilities and its own cultural references, so comedies get dated pretty quickly.

    This is why comedies can pretty easily get away with reusing the structure and tropes of previous works, as long as they don’t reuse the actual jokes and/or cultural references.

    For example, no sane person would try to do a shot-for-shot remake of Animal House or Up In Smoke today, but there are still plenty of “outrageous college comedy” or “stoner comedy” movies made.

    http://www.cracked.com/podcast/cracked-podcast-episode-1-generation-gaps/

    • #18
  19. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Mike H:

    Frank Soto:

    Mike H:This came up during the Meetup: Firefly.

    Tread lightly, Mike.

    There’s a caveat in that I’ve only seen the first episode, because people oversold it.

    I’m sure it gets better.

    Watch “Jaynestown”. Yes, it does.

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Sigh.

    Moby Dick.

    Yeah, it’s a classic.  I get that.  Peter Robinson will probably be chiding me.  I get that, too.  But, I’m sorry.  It’s a closed book to me.  I cannot . . . get . . . through  . . . it. Sorry.

    I even tried listening to it as an audiobook, because someone with my handle and avatar should be able to say they have read through it once. I gave up after it almost put me to sleep on the morning commute and very nearly caused a bad accident. Now the only time I attempt it is when I am suffering insomnia.  Works like a charm.

    Seawriter

    • #20
  21. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    The Great Gatsby was a great bore.

    • #21
  22. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin. People told me it was a classic. In historical terms, it is, but a pretty awful one. Characterization horrible. Wildly overdramatized. And personally I’ve never been able to stomach that flowery 19th-century style of prose.

    • #22
  23. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    TcG beat me to it.  Grace Kelly is quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the history of cinema.  No joke.  I remember being kind of annoyed with Jimmy Stewart’s character for his underwhelming treatment of her… but that’s not really a point about the movie.

    • #23
  24. Sheila S. Inactive
    Sheila S.
    @SheilaS

    Seawriter:Sigh.

    Moby Dick.

    Yeah, it’s a classic. I get that. Peter Robinson will probably be chiding me. I get that, too. But, I’m sorry. It’s a closed book to me. I cannot . . . get . . . through . . . it. Sorry.

    I even tried listening to it as an audiobook, because someone with my handle and avatar should be able to say they have read through it once. I gave up after it almost put me to sleep on the morning commute and very nearly caused a bad accident. Now the only time I attempt it is when I am suffering insomnia. Works like a charm.

    Seawriter

    My husband was so determined to get through that book. He finally made it through the audiobook and was so proud of himself.

    I have not, (tried to read and gave up) but I see no reason to subject myself to it to prove a point. I’ve read and enjoyed enough old classic literature with dry and difficult prose that I don’t see why I should beat my head against the wall for this particular book!

    • #24
  25. Ricochet Thatcher
    Ricochet
    @VicrylContessa

    Anna Karenina, and pretty much anything else Russian. I feel the same way about Russian opera- don’t get it, hate listening to it.

    • #25
  26. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Vicryl Contessa:Anna Karenina, and pretty much anything else Russian.

    I second that.  I just can’t do it.  I had blamed it on being a slacker college student, so when my 14 year old read The Brothers Karamazov and gave me specific reasons I should read it, I jumped in.  Oh dear God, I thought I was going to die. I made it through the first three chapters with little comprehension and less appreciation.  I just don’t get it.

    In contrast, I loved Russian composers when I took piano.

    • #26
  27. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Vicryl Contessa:Anna Karenina, and pretty much anything else Russian. I feel the same way about Russian opera- don’t get it, hate listening to it.

    Dostoevsky is not overrated, though.  Try Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov on for size.  Also, Gulag Archipelago lives up to the hype.  You may simply be reading the wrong Russians!

    • #27
  28. user_1030767 Inactive
    user_1030767
    @TheQuestion

    Misthiocracy:The problem with a movie like Rear Window is that you almost certainly already “saw” it before you actually saw it, because it has been adapted, parodied, and blatantly ripped-off way too many times over the years.

    I’m not a big fan of Agatha Christie, for example, because almost all of her stories were repurposed wholesale by the many, many tv mystery shows of the 1970s and 1980s. It was the rare tv mystery show that didn’t do its own version of Ten Little Indians or Murder On The Orient Express.

    The classic movies that tend to hold up better are those that don’t really lend themselves to being remade, repurposed, or parodied.

    I was mesmerized by Citizen Kane when I first saw it, at least partially because the first time I saw “Citizen Kane” was when I actually saw Citizen Kane. Nobody else has ever really used Citizen Kane as a template for their own movie or tv show (except for parodies of the whole “Rosebud” gimmick, but that isn’t really the point of the story so it’s ok that one detail is spoiled).

    By contrast, a kid seeing Star Wars Episode IV is going to be disappointed, because they’ve already seen dozens-upon-dozens of movies which used that movie as their template/inspiration.

    You don’t want to watch an old movie and think, “haven’t I already seen this movie?”

    I had that problem with Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I had heard every line in the movie before I actually watched it.

    • #28
  29. Red Feline Inactive
    Red Feline
    @RedFeline

    The Old Man of the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Written by a man, for other men. Left me cold.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    EJHill:I think we’re all jaded by the spectacle of modern film. We expect to be visually awed at every turn. It’s CGI crack.

    When deMille needed a crowd of 10,000 C.B. went out and hired a crowd of 10,000. Now they hire 50 people and pay them to wander around a green screen for half-hour and then digitally replicate them to their little heart’s content.

    And Grace was beautiful, but I never thought she was that good as an actor. She may be the least deserving Oscar winner of all time.

    I think that argument is overblown.

    Firstly, on the big screen a crowd of 10,000 still looks way more impressive than a CGI composition. The big CGI spectacle movies don’t do well simply because of the CGI. If that was true, then movies like Noah, Elysium, Oblivion, and Tron Legacy would have been blockbusters.

    Meanwhile, the highest-grossing movie in the United States last year was American Sniper.

    Story still matters.

    • #30

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