Movie Gives New Meaning to “Audience Participation”

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I didn’t go to see “Snakes on a Plane” this week, for the same reasons Indiana Jones wouldn’t, but I did take stock of the film’s impact on the cultural landscape. There’s never been anything like it, at least not at the level of a major Hollywood blockbuster.

Not the movie – which, depending on the critic you ask, is either brilliant or an extended SNL sketch. I’m talking about the way “Snakes on a Plane” was made, or more correctly, re-made. The moment word of the film surfaced on the Internet, pranksters went to work creating YouTube video parodies and filling up blogs with their versions of what something called “Snakes on a Plane,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, should be like.

First of all, everyone agreed that Jackson’s “Pulp Fiction” character should personify the performance, regardless of what the filmmakers had in mind. “Get these [expletive] snakes off my [expletive] plane!” shouted one wag’s faux Jackson.

Here’s the amazing thing. The filmmakers listened. Early this year, production resumed, and the words were inserted in Jackson’s mouth, along with a number of other changes suggested from various web sites. A web-based contest added a new song, Captain Ahab’s “Snakes on the Brain,” to the movie’s soundtrack.

When the movie opened, it was essentially a fan remix of the original.

It reminded me a lot of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a film that might have disappeared after a lackluster 1975 premiere were it not for fans that persuaded a New York movie house to screen it at midnight. An entire culture grew up around watching it. It transformed “Rocky Horror” into a multimedia, audience participation extravaganza, complete with water pistols, thrown rice and shouted responses to key scenes.

“Rocky Horror” fans re-made the film in their own image. Their elaborate antics were choreographed on an international level, at a time when an information conductor like the Internet was a distant dream. The film’s rise in popularity took years.

With “Snakes on a Plane,” it happened practically in real time. But “Rocky Horror” was an early and telling example of the remix culture we now take for granted. In pop music, Rihanna’s recent repurposing of Soft Cell’s lugubrious “Tainted Love” (“SOS”) exemplifies this trend. Today’ performers will take any work of art and re-shape it, for better or worse, into anything they want.

With pop plunderers like that leading by example, combined with ubiquitous technology at nearly anyone’s disposal, it’s not much of a leap for fans to get in on the action. When that happens, who knows what’s next?

Well, I do know what’s up this weekend:

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – Thursday jazz is becoming the hot night out in Claremont, the only place where I actually enjoy waiting for a table. Last week, vocalist Emily Lanier took the night off and gave the band a chance to really stretch out. Tonight she’s back, singing standards and classics. When she sings, “I’m a Lucky So and So,” I bet Big Joe Burrell is up in heaven smiling down on her.

Friday: Chris Kleeman, Bistro Nouveau – A talented blues guitarist, and the first musician to play at Bistro when they began offering music. Kleeman’s solo, and hopefully on the deck if the weather gods are smiling. Among the native Vermonter’s fans is B.B. King, who called his guitar playing “bad-ass” – which he no doubt means in a good way.

Saturday: Keith Urban & Little Big Town, Champlain Valley Fair – The big state fair to the north gets underway with a blockbuster country show featuring the newly-wed Aussie and a band that stands a chance at being this year’s Gretchen Wilson or Rascal Flatts. Other performers coming in the next two weeks include teen-throb Jesse McCartney, Foreigner, Carrie Underwood and the aforementioned Rascal Flatts.

Sunday: Acworth Fundraiser, Claremont Opera House – A benefit to raise money to fix the steeple atop the Church-on-the-Hill, a local monument that’s on the National Historical Register. The show features the Nines, a 10-piece band from Keene with a killer horn section, an a capella group and a one-act play by the Acworth Players.

Monday: Blue Monday, Salt Hill – The South Side of Chicago meets Dublin, with “Blues Gangster” Mike Benoit finessing the frets. This is a good excuse for an after work soiree with friends, even if the 8 PM music start keeps you up past your bedtime. Blue Monday happens every week through October.

Wednesday: Jazz and Tapas, Oona’s – I stopped by Bellows Falls last weekend to see what’s happening since the Windham closed. An abbreviated Front Porch Series, for starters (information at villagesquarebooks.com). But Draa Hobbs jazzy dinner music is still going strong at the place where it all began a few years ago. It’s worth checking out.

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