We define ourselves as people by our tastes – particularly as social networking and online sharing becomes more and more a part of our daily lives. The elements of pop culture you clutch to your heart say as much about you as those you push away. This week Eddy Temple-Morris has a question that will ascertain what sort of person you are, based purely on your view of two Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.
This week I was reminded of a question I was once asked by one of the best lyricists I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with in my life.
Dan Fisher wrote the words for The Cooper Temple Clause songs, and these days he’s fronting his own band, Red Kite, who are staggeringly good, but this piece is not about them, but about a random question Dan asked me last year, or possibly the year before.
There was a drinking session going on at my Losers partner (another a former Cooper) Tom Bellamy’s old place on the North Circular. It was a weekend afternoon and I’d joined a party that’d been going on for a while. Ciders were flowing, and Tom’s laptop was being passed, centrifugally, around the front room, where turns were taken with tune choice from Spotify. I love this game – when alcohol starts removing inhibitions, people’s tune choice can be very interesting and revealing.
But again, I digress, because in the middle of all of this a heated debate was taking hold. It was a debate that was sparked off by a deep question. It’s a question that, on the surface of things, doesn’t look that deep. But I assure you, it has ramifications way beyond its initial veneer.
Dan looked me in the eye and said: “Eddy, I have a question for you. It’s an important question: ‘Terminator’ or ‘Predator’?”
“That’s a very tough call”, I replied. “But what exactly are you asking me?”
“Which is the best one… the one you’d put on first?”
“But hang on, that’s two different questions and two different answers”, I ventured.
“No, it’s not”. Fisher (nobody calls him Dan, except possibly his parents) was unilateral. “The one you’d put on first is the best film”, he decreed.
I thought about this hard, and however I approached it, I could not get away from this thought: ‘Terminator’ is the best film but I’d always put ‘Predator’ on first.
“Aaaaah, then ‘Predator’ is the best film”, Fisher scoffed, while asking if I could pull another ‘apple juice’ from behind the sofa. Others in the room were joining in, allying themselves with one or the other, picking things they loved about each film.
“No it’s not, it’s the one I’d put on first. That doesn’t automatically qualify it as the best film”.
“Yes it does”, Fisher maintained. “If you put it on first, that means your saying it’s the best, there’s no argument here”.
“But there absolutely is!” I protested. “Look, ‘Terminator’ HAS to be the better film, it’s the genre prototype, Cameron’s vision, the script, the amazing story, the weird techno soundtrack, these are all things that make it stand out as a unique film that pushes the envelope”.
“But you like ‘Predator’ more?!” He interjected.
“Yes, I do”.
“And you’d always put it on first?”
“Yes, I would”.
“Then it’s the better film”.
“No, it’s not”.
This went on for some time, with hoots coming from various parts of the room. Our mutual friend, a lovely man called Matt Dunbar, was getting stuck in too, feet firmly in the ‘Predator’ camp. I don’t think we ever reached an accord. We just had to agree to disagree. Fisher gets famously bloody minded after a certain number of cans. But I’ve come back to this question again, and again, and laughed at how useful it is.
It’s a brilliant question, almost like a formula, or a metaphor, that can be applied across just about anything. I keep returning to this question, in the context of music, and in particular, this past year or two, in the context of dubstep.
Somebody on my Facebook wall last week said this: “Really hard to hate on Skrillex, but it’s slowly becoming a gimmick with repetitive sounds, patterns and arrangements though”.
My reply was immediate: “I know what you mean, it’s comparatively shallow but hugely entertaining, I think. Like watching ‘Predator’ instead of ‘Terminator’”.
His reply made me laugh: “That’s an excellent comparison!” Thanks Hugo!
But that’s it, isn’t it? That’s effectively the key to this whole Purist v Eclectic thing: Just replace ‘Terminator’ with, I dunno, Skream or Benga, and ‘Predator’ with Skrillex or Knife Party. There’s no question in my mind that the purist makes the ‘better record’ for a number of reasons, but when I’m in a club, or at a gig, the majority of my crowd are gagging for those big, fat, dirty noises, just like we love when the screen goes all ‘heat vision’ and you hear that guttural clicking noise that ‘Predator’ makes when he’s stalking his prey from the jungle canopy.
I LOVE ‘Terminator’, but next to ‘Predator’, it’s harder to watch. Cameron’s bleak vision is just not as easy on the eye as the sweeping, technicolor jungle panorama; and Brad Friedel’s haunting, stripped down, sort of 8-bit techno electronic soundtrack is much tougher than the huge, orchestral, rousing and stirring ‘Predator’ score by Alan Silvestri (who did ‘Back To The Future’ a short time before this). Like the theory of relativity, “‘Terminator’ or ‘Predator’?” is a question that can be applied across the whole of life, art, architecture, poetry, literature, or music. Respect and kudos goes to the envelope pushers, the genre definers, the frontier people whose talent and energy created something, but props must also go to the people that took that idea and made it more accessible by making it less deep and therefore more fathomable. When you go snorkelling in the shallows, the colours are brighter than when you go diving at depth.
So there it is: I KNOW ‘Terminator’ is the better film, and I love seeing it when it invariably comes on the telly, but if I’m honest, and I remember most people in that beautifully drunken room at Tom’s agreeing with me, if I had both DVDs in my hand and I had to put one of them on, it would have to be ‘Predator’. I’m a ‘Predator’ kind of guy. So shoot me. But please shoot me with one of those shoulder mounted Gatling guns, like the one Native American Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), scythed an area of jungle the size of Luxembourg with, when he emptied a whole box magazine in blind fury, ripping through branches, splintering boughs and shattering trunks. It sounded a bit like a Skrillex tune, didn’t it?