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Project X And The Age Of YouTube – Hit And Home Run

(First published on Urban Times on 12th Aug 2012)

This article is a continuation from Project X And The Age Of YouTube – Inconvenient Truths.

Quality Strikes Out

Glorified mayhem, or something more? (source: still from Project X)

I once said that people get what they deserve. I stand by that. The quality of entertainment used to be high because people responded to that level of material. Today it’s stripped down which is not surprising. People respond to increasingly shoddier stuff – I meant to say shittier. There we go.

Let me take the opportunity and address those who blame the epic drop of quality of life on corporations and money. These zealous Don Quixotes say that a competitive, free-market society encourages the production of cheaper products, which, over time, degenerates to crappy and useless content.

It’s an accurate assessment (yes, windmills do exist. But not everywhere). See, the argument then goes on to blame all mass producers for the low quality of the products they manufacture, all the while absolving from responsibility the people who buy said products en masse. The people have no choice, says Quixote, in so many words. They have to go for these cheap and crappy items, rendering all kinds of trash commercially viable, because they’re strapped for alternatives.

Wrong! If that was the case, then when items cost the same, people would choose the high-quality products over the low-quality ones. Which we don’t.

Take films, for example: a theater ticket costs the same for all films, be they shitty or witty; be they badly-written and poorly-acted or well-written and superbly performed. Ditto for rental DVDs. Yet, lo and behold, mass preference doesn’t opt for the gourmet feature. It prefers the junk, the nuggets, the happy meal, despite price parity. In fact, when one takes the whole industry into account over a period of time, the standardized model wins over the original and informed pieces of work, period.

The highest grossing films in 2011 were excellent productions and could pass for good movies. Some of them are. But when you list a few missing gems, you get the bigger picture: the kind of quality that’s rewarded over the years v the kind of quality that’s marginalized. (Missing gems: Shame, The Artist, Midnight in Paris, A Dangerous Method, The Ides of March) / source:

See what I mean? There’s a reason behind the rise of dubious and repetitive material across the board. People go for it. We love it. How do you think the Hollywood blockbuster formula came to be? Not by supreme studio conspiracy. Studio execs realized over time that audiences responded to certain stimuli, many of which involved formulas that were replicated at will, on which they doubled down to produce flashy, silly, entertaining movies that sold like hotcakes.

There you have it. People get what we ask for. Thank you crappy, studio blockbusters for pointing that out, and for helping us expose the claims of current-day zealots who want to blame everything on money and conspiracy theories. It’s about time we called apples apples, owning up to the fact that we have a lot to do with the low quality of life everyone rages about. We, the people!  

Bat Out Of Hell

Clean hit, home run, ecstatic crowd! (source: still from Project X)

Inconvenient truths, inconvenient proof. Trolls. Shooting and recording frenzy. The lowering of standards. The price to pay for technological empowerment. The gates of production were yanked open to the talented eye of those who’d been shut out, taking away the power from the entrenched studio corporations and spreading it around, only to leave us inundated with dubious performances and uncomfortable moments. Weird silences and 2.0 chokes. Blockbusters made by studios to make sure they don’t lose their traditional grip on the market. Unimaginative, recycled, regurgitated pap.

In the meantime, we have movies like Project XStrange, misunderstood and hard to pin down, they tell a part of the tale in a way only they know how: realistically and by example. They emulate the world they depict, keeping their eye on World 2.0 long enough to bat it out of the park with a clean shot.

At first glance, these movies’ appearance is crass. Their style is unappealing. They look poorly made, flawed and ill-defined. But their madness is methodical and informed, and their angle necessary. Their aim, after all, is to capture the everyday-ness of the world, that vibrant mediocrity which constitutes ordinary life, holding it up for all to see, glorifying the redeeming aspects of it without glossing it over.

They shot the film in the way everyday kids would, keeping the dialog on that level

Now that’s a clean hit. When a movie targets parts of reality that suck, who cares if it’s riddled with everyday-ness? The theme is not an idealized, studied, quality-driven rendition of the world after all: it’s a long take on the shitty, boring, mundane aspects of life.

So let the script tell the story as it is, without gloss and makeup, and with plenty of ‘amateurism’ and ‘crassness’. Because amateurism and crassness (or the appearance thereof) are an asset in this case. Ditto for lack of substance. It lends the material an air of credibility.

A suburban teenager’s fantasy night out. (source: still from Project X)

Phillips and his director, Nima Nourizadeh, knew exactly what they were doing when they made this film. The casting was genius, employing unknowns to tell the story of ‘unknowns who want to become known’. They shot the film in the way everyday kids would, keeping the dialog on that level. No need to make a quality movie about the unqualified aspects of life. It would be pretentious and ludicrous. Just tell the story as it is – crass, non-ideal, flawed, opportunistic, full of meaningless comments and jokes that fall flat, peppered with moments of ecstasy and driven by the will to do things that seem pointless in retrospect. Filled with boys who want to get laid, who crack misogynistic jokes and misanthropic comments. Filled with girls who flaunt their sexuality, trying to beat guys at their own compulsive, power-driven game. Riddled with uncomfortable scenes and unsavory behavior.

It just tells the story as it is, as it would be in real life – crass, non-ideal, flawed, opportunistic…

Boom! Phillips’s and Nourizadeh’s in-your-face approach gives Project X an air of authenticity, the kind it merits, if not demands. The movie delivers exactly what it promises.

In fact, rumor had it that Project X happened for real – at least that was the angle the studio sold, which in the age of YouTube isn’t a hard sell at all.

People didn’t buy into the ‘reality’ of the film in the way they bought into The Blair Witch Project, to be fair, but they saw it for what it was: a “cinéma vérité” (truthful cinema) feature that represented the world of reality-TV and social media.

So there you have it. Project X, a film permeated with teenage crassness, playing on the unsavory aspects of suburban adolescence and World 2.0. Not a satin-smooth piece of work, not even close. But a damn good chronicle of the times we live in.