It’s 10 in the morning, and the sun is now sitting comfortably outside of your bedroom window. You’re hunched over a wooden table, agonizing over a few diagrams in a dusty old textbook. Hours melt away in seconds, and people come in and out of the room like ghosts, only to be greeted and sent away. If this scene sounds familiar, you also have studied for exams before. In all the greatest works of art, there is a mad human being at the center. In any work, creativity stems from obsession, be it with the craft, or a dream, or even just an idea. These seeds are what fuel the creators of our favorite pieces of pop culture, and we the consumer give back to them by also obsessing over these works. No matter how many times I’ve seen Almost Famous, I know that Cameron Crowe has thought about and written about it more. It’s his baby, and works like that show a craft and care that so many people fail to realize is happening in dorm rooms and homes everywhere.
As a premed student, I do a lot of studying. From the very beginning of a semester, I’m already predicting what will be on the first exam. And as soon as that one is over, I’m thinking about the next one. When I leave the lecture hall to discuss that test, it’s hard to take the conversation away from work. Whether it’s the triumphant feeling of success or the agony of failure, it feels too good to share that with others. When we leave those halls and go home to our families, it’s hard to convince them how much this work has consumed us. It becomes a part of your very being, it worms its way into your quotidian thoughts and conversations, and it always feels like you could do better. If I just crammed the night before, I could have gotten #11 for sure. Next time, I say. Next time, I’ll be ready. There’s always a next time.
I’ve started to notice that are quite a few similarities between this aspect of school and the pop culture world. I doubt that Leonardo Da Vinci received drafts of his work back with low grades on them, but he definitely sat in a room alone, gazing at Mona Lisa, looking for some crack in the paint or coloring error in her hair. What we see on the big screen at a movie theater or on our TVs at home isn’t just the results put in front of us to view and control; it’s the combined effort of thousands of hours of thought, trial and error, fear, and acceptance. It’s why I find director’s commentary so fascinating, if only to hear them say how long a single scene took to shoot. Some would argue that it removes some of the inherent magic in film when one knows how it’s made, but, on the contrary, it enhances the feeling of accomplishment and wonder in each frame. When I was younger, the games I played and films I watched were simply what was on the screen and nothing else. Now, when I see something like the intro of God of War III or the car scene in Children of Men, all I can think is “Wow, that must have been expensive.”
In a way, committing yourself to one piece of work is a form of obsession. To envelop yourself in its flaws and rough edges, to work day after day to iron one corner over, just to present it to an audience that you will never meet all of. At face value, it seems pointless. However, some of the greatest achievements in pop culture were products of one passionate person who was willing to see them through to the end. Even when there isn’t something to present in the end, the road there can be paved with hardship, unparalleled creativity, and invaluable experiences for everyone involved. One of the perfect examples of this is 2002’s Lost in La Mancha, which details Terry Gilliam’s attempt to make a film based on Don Quixote. Although it is, at times, incredibly depressing to watch such a clever vision fall apart so quickly, it also shows how devoted Gilliam was to his vision. At the end of the film, with most of his actors either sick or out of commission, he doesn’t throw out the entire idea. Instead, he states with resolution that he WILL make the film someday, and it WILL stay true to his vision. This uncompromising determination is inspiring to a student like me, since it doesn’t always feel like there’s a bottom to this mountain that defines my career of choice. Knowing that someone, against the advice of so many, refuses to quit or change what he started out to do, and what had completely engulfed his life for years, is invigorating. And like the titular monster slayer of Gilliam’s failed project, I will keep my nose to the ground, with the knowledge that I’ll be able to help at least one person at the end of this wonderfully insane road.