My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin
You want to know how much I love you guys? This is how much I love you guys—when I discovered The A.V. Club and fell in deep, envious love with Nathan Rabin’s writing last year, I didn’t mainline everything he ever wrote, especially “My Year of Flops”, for the site in one or two feverish days. No, I added this book to my reading list and calmly waited until last year’s ban on buying books from Amazon expired, because I wanted to make sure that I could review it for the blog. Those are the lengths I will go to for you guys. And, at last, my wait is over.
My Year of Flops is a selection of entries in the “My Year of Flops” column at The A. V. Club, where Rabin examines cinematic flops. Not cinematic flops that have since become acclaimed classics and not cinematic flops that have since become cult classics, but cinematic flops that have firmly remained flops. In his efforts to fight against “the tyranny of mass opinion” (250), Rabin examines them afresh and concludes if they’re actually failures, grand fiascos, or secret successes. This collection collects the best of the first two years of the online column (which is still ongoing), as well as a few films examined exclusively for the book.
I’ve always had writers whose work I utterly adored before. But it was only last year that I met two authors whose work inspired me and my own writing. It’s quite a novel experience, because I’ve never had someone I can point to and go “THAT! That’s what I’m aiming for!”. The first is Tom Wolfe. And the second is Nathan Rabin. Actual text sent to my roommate in October:
I can never write anything touching the majesty of this sentence
And by give up, I, of course, meant taking my writing both more and less seriously. What I love in Rabin’s writing and want to take away for my own is his generosity of spirit, his incredibly vivid but accessible language, and the fact he can make that flow with jokes that range from quietly witty to gleefully juvenile. I mean, this is how he describes Jennifer Lopez’s ascendency after her work in Selena: “In an act of pop-cultural transubstantiation, Lopez gained Gomez’s power by playing her, like a warrior devouring the heart of an enemy in order to acquire his strength” (201-202). But I think I also identify with and like Rabin’s writing because we have a similar affection for a certain kind of bad movie—the kind that take huge, glorious risks, the kind that great movies take. Failure, Rabin reminds us, can be a matter of perspective, as he proves in his two different experiences with Elizabethtown that begin and end the book.
This isn’t to say that My Year of Flops is a rehabilitation center that treats each and every movie it comes across as a delicate flower that just needs to be loved into full health. There are some true stinkers here, such as Battlefield Earth, and it’s delightful to see Rabin turn his snark on worthy subjects. As Rabin says in the introduction to the column, “I will try to be meaningful in my cruelty and constructive in my criticism”. Of course, this doesn’t always work; I found myself frowning when Rabin tried to maximize the comedic mileage of the image of Rosie O’Donnell in dominatrix gear by presenting it as a truly horrifying and sex-stunting image in his column on East of Eden. But the important part is that Rabin is explicitly trying, and such violations of that effort feel like actual stumbles, not hypocrisy.
My Year of Flops, as a printed collection, can feel a little thin—accordingly, the book has been padded out with several book exclusive columns, a few illustrations, and a minute-by-minute blow-by-blow of the epic Waterworld, which feels a little teenager on LiveJournal when contrasted against the main meat of the column. The columns, sorted into chapters based on content, are printed continuously, instead of with page breaks between each column, an approach I would have appreciated. Still, owning a copy of My Year of Flops is more of a tribute to the glorious column than anything else; it’s not something you’re satisfied with on its own. It either beckons you to just start following “My World of Flops” (the column’s current, broader incarnation) or watching movies with bum raps to give them a second chance. Still, I’m eager to encounter more of Rabin’s words in actual print, so my next target is his memoir, The Big Rewind.
And now I’ll go mainline “My Year of Flops”. I must be a real adult now, I’m capable of delaying gratification!
Bottom line: Nathan Rabin’s writing is what my writing wants to be when it grows up—generous, thoughtful, vivid, accessible, and full of jokes from the quietly witty to the gleefully juvenile. As a collection, My Year of Flops is really more of an invitation to start following “My World of Flops” or watching movies with bum raps. If you like Rabin’s writing, it’s a nice thing to have.
I bought this used book from Amazon.