Friday, September 14, 2007


God has a lovely sense of humor. He (or she or it) always seems to delight in finding new and interesting ways to force me to face my own shortcomings. God's most recent attempt at jocularity showed up as I was preparing to pen a piece on arrogance. As I sat pontificating the most effective way to frame the concept, I took a second to browse through the endless documents on my hard drive. There are often half-finished or useless pieces that I saved at one point or another that are primed for the trash bin. As I was perusing through articles I had not seen in months (or years), I came across a piece I had written about seven years back which is simply dripping with arrogance. The piece in question was written when I was still living in New York City. At the time, in addition to the work I was doing with others, I was the proprietor of a small chain of video stores called Couch Potato Video. We were a little boutique type organization fearlessly battling the Blockbusters and the Hollywoods by specializing in cult, foreign and classic films. It was a cool store; and seemingly perceived as such by our loyal customer base. If you have ever seen the film "High Fidelity," we were the video equivalent of that record shop. Part of the fun for our customers was the knowledge base of my partner, Tony, and I. Yes, we knew our stuff. We were also monumentally opinionated, and weren't afraid to cast judgment upon the film choices of our clientele whenever we saw fit. I suppose it was all in good fun and I don't imagine we hurt too many feelings; and yet, there was an undeniable arrogance to our offered insights. In response to this, I was asked by a small magazine to write an article detailing the rental proclivities of the average video store patron. I undertook the assignment with vigor and quickly turned out a piece entitled, "Why People Rent Crap." Oh, the arrogance. As I wrote my admittedly humorous essay, I found myself spewing frustrated opinions about the lack of taste that most people seemed to manifest. While I was feigning light-heartedness, I was undeniably pissed about the inability of these dolts to showcase some informed decision making. Clearly, I was judge and jury when it came to understanding which films contained elements of quality. Rereading this article, I kept thinking about the fact that just about everyone believes that they have good taste and a good sense of humor; when obviously that is not possible. Or is it? Is not humor and taste in the eye of the beholder? Is there really anything in this world that every person would agree is funny or tasteful? And why should my opinion hold more weight than the next persons? And so, as I read, God playfully revealed to me that I still have a long way to go in evolving into the man I long to be. I still struggle with this issue. Arrogance (a function of ego- the direct opposite of humility) shows up in my life quite regularly (albeit far less than it once did). When it comes to the things I am passionate about (baseball, music, literature, etc.) I secretly tend to think that most people don't know what the hell they are talking about. I am not proud of this fact... I am not ashamed of it either. I am just very aware of it. I have always been quite diligent in being forthcoming about my faults with those I work with in an effort to keep myself off of any potential pedestals. Therefore, perhaps the best route to a demonstration of arrogance is my very own offensive display of superiority And so, without any further ado (and without any editing or re-writing), I give you "Why People Rent Crap" in its entirety:


By Michael Mark

People love to rent crap. They really do. It’s undeniable. They are friggin’ junkies for the stuff. I showcase anything replete with an insipid script, hokey acting, and a trite storyline, and it’s snatched up quicker than a box of zeppoles left outside Alec Baldwin’s dressing room.

They stroll in, day after day, one after another, looking for the crap; they wander the store furiously seeking out the crap; they victoriously locate the crap; and they approach the counter pleading with me to relieve them of some of their hard earned cash, that they may retreat to their dwellings, and piss away an hour and forty minutes of their lives basking in the crap. It’s a curious phenomenon to say the least.

Now, by no means am I suggesting that everyone should altogether cease renting the crap. Heaven forbid, no. After all, crap accounts for about seventy-five percent of my inventory (unavoidable, considering that it accounts for seventy-five percent of films produced in this country). By all means, I need the crap. I need the unoriginal hacks to scrawl the crap. I need the fat cat studio heads to finance the crap. I need the untalented cash cows to receive 25 million to perform the crap. And I need the uninformed masses (at least those who reside on the Upper East Side) to seek out the crap. These “crap-cravers,” as they will, heretofore, be referred to, are a fascinating and varied lot.

Now, as far as I can decipher, there are two distinct brands of crap-cravers. The lion’s share of them, fall into a group I refer to as “the lost cause crap-cravers.” These are the folks that are fully aware of the existence of Fassbinder, Cassavetes, and The Coen Brothers, and have even tested the waters of their work, but maintain an overwhelming preference for crap. These folks are not the target of this diatribe. There’s not a whole lot I can do for them. And, after all, they are my bread and butter. People with absolutely no taste are essential to a thriving video store. And so to the lost cause tribe of crap-cravers, I say, “by all means, my friends….please, come on in, rent Domestic Disturbance, and Dragonfly, and Deuces Wild; go home, and have yourselves a big crap-tacular crap-fest!”

At the other end of the crap craving spectrum, we find an entirely different breed of renter. Herein, we find what I call “the sheltered crap-craver.” Unlike the lost causes, these individuals have simply been fed a bill of goods that they have been cottoning to for far too long. At some point in their lives, someone did them the disservice of suggesting that the films of Don Johnson held some sort of cinematic weight. Consequently, these poor bastards cross the threshold desperately searching for a Kubrick-ian experience, and unknowingly walk out thinking that they have found it in a Michael Mann film. Sad, yes. But, by no means incurable. They draw my interest because I know, in my heart, that I can help them.

This is not to say that I haven’t made an attempt. I most certainly have. Day in and day out, I strive to lead them away from the dark side of manipulative, pandering poppycock, into the enlightened world of edgy, non-linear, integrity-laden brilliance. But try as I might, they persist. I offer up Minnie & Moskowitz, but they want Kate& Leopold. I strongly suggest Ghost Dog, but they adamantly insist on Snow Dogs. I push them toward King of New York, but they retreat to Sidewalks of New York. I beg them to try The Seven Samurai or The 39 Steps or The 400 blows or 8 ½ or The Ninth Configuration; but they inevitably go home with The 6th day and 3000 Miles to Graceland and 40 days and 40 nights and 28 days, and The Ninth Gate. And to complete the lunacy they stand, utterly lost, in the new release section, and proclaim, “There is nothing good to rent…….I’ve seen everything!!!!”

Which brings me back to my original hypothesis that what we are dealing with here has less to do with the mind-numbingly insipid, than it has to do with the pitifully uneducated. That is not to say that many of these folks are not awash in their own vapidity (for example, the people who rent DVD’s, and then return to the store complaining that their VCR is unable to play them)- but they are, indeed, the minority. Therefore, in an act of unparalleled altruism, I have devised a system that I believe will be of great service to these wayward renters. And so, with no further ado, I give you:


1. If what you are renting is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

2. If what you are renting stars Keanu Reeves, but is not The Matrix……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

3. If what you are renting centers around a self-consumed individual who, through an extended interaction with a mentally handicapped person, finds a new sense of humanity and is miraculously transformed by the experience……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

4. If what you are renting has Andie Macdowell, Daryl Hannah, or Penelope Ann Miller credited in any way (even as a key grip)……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

5. If what you are renting is a movie whose preview opened with the line, “In a world without rules….”……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

6. If what you are renting stars John Travolta, but he is not dancing or shooting heroin ……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

7. If what you are renting was touted by Jeffrey Lyons as a “slam-bang action thriller”……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

8. If what you are renting has a cast made up of the stars of Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

9. If what you are renting is a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan, and it’s not When Harry Met Sally……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

10. If what you are renting is the remake, retelling, sequel, or prequel to anything other than The Godfather ……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

11. If what you are renting has a protagonist on the run from an unnamed government agency, while everyone he trusts systematically turns out to be part of a massive evil conspiracy……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

12. If what you are renting has a title track sung by Celine Dion, Phil Collins, or Sting……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

13. If what you are renting is a bio-pic that chooses to turn an acknowledged scumbag into a martyr, under the guise that the general public is just too stupid to empathize with a flawed individual……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

14. If what you are renting stars a musician or pop singer of any kind, other than Bjork in Dancer in the Dark or Tom Waits in anything……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

15. If what you are renting is a coming-of-age story, where a young man from a broken home, searching for meaning in the cruel world, is taken under the wing of a mysterious stranger and led to a deeper understanding of his place in this world……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

16. If what you are renting is a Kevin Costner movie, you are not only renting crap……….YOU ARE UTTERLY HOPELESS!!

If this list has left you feeling frustrated and desperately wanting to scream, “in the name of all that is holy, what the hell am I supposed to rent, then?!?!?!?!?!?” Fear not, my cinematic simpletons. The following is a list of twenty films from the last ten years that you have almost undoubtedly let slip under you radar (especially if your radar is finely tuned to scout out whatever excrement Ben Affleck will shortly be dumping into your local multiplex). So write them down, create a mental clearing for change, tromp down to your local video store, and STOP THE CRAP!!

  1. Twin Falls, Idaho (1999) Directed by The Polish Brothers
  2. Rubin and Ed (1992) Directed by Trent Harris
  3. Buffalo 66 (1998) Directed by Vincent Gallo
  4. Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995) Directed by Henry Jaglom
  5. The Straight Story (1999) Directed by David Lynch
  6. Funny Games (1998) Directed by Michael Haneke
  7. A Brother’s Kiss (1997) Directed by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld
  8. Fall (1996) Directed by Eric Schaeffer
  9. Amateur (1994) Directed by Hal Hartley
  10. Clean, Shaven (1993) Directed by Lodge Kerrigan
  11. Hands on a Hard Body (1997) Directed by S.R. Bindler
  12. …And God Spoke (1993) Directed by Arthur Borman
  13. Chuck and Buck (2000) Directed by Miguel Arteta
  14. Dead Man (1996) Directed by Jim Jarmusch
  15. Cube (1998) Directed by Vincenzo Natali
  16. The Kingdom Parts 1 & 2 (1994) Directed by Lars Von Trier
  17. American Movie (1997) Directed by Chris Smith
  18. Broken Vessels (1998) Directed by Scott Ziehl
  19. The Celebration (1998) Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
  20. Safe Men (1999) Directed by John Hamburg

So there you are, my friends. Michael Mark- warts and all. I constantly attempt to help people to see that a spiritual life is not a life devoid of errors and character liabilities. Spirituality is not about never making mistakes; it's about how you handle your mistakes. It's about being able to examine the areas of your life where your natural instincts are out of proportion and work toward fine-tuning them through spiritual practice. Let us all work toward finding commonality with our fellows. Let us all work toward releasing judgment. Let us all attempt to find our way to being a person among people and a worker among workers. Let us all make sure to see the twenty films listed above... just kidding.

God bless you,

1 comment:

Fab said...

Mwaaahhahahahahahaa. Hehehehhehhhhheeeeeeeehheheheheh.
Please. In this catagory it is just fine to be arrogant. You've earned it! I mean... that's just my own humble opinion..... heh.
VERY nicely written.