Like many people who think they are smart, I listen weekly to This American Life. I don’t do it for show. I’m no hipster intellectual. I don’t listen so that I can later recall the musings of Dan Savage or the funny observations of Sarah Vowell. But I do find that it makes for a wonderful (and appropriately timed) background to the daily walks that I take every few days. The walks that are part of a half-hearted fitness regimen meant to get me lean in time to impress the many Wonder Woman lookalikes at Comic-Con in late July. It’s not working, but I do find other uses for my time spent with Ira Glass. Most often, it is enlightenment.
Last night, I spent an hour catching up on episode #379, “Returning to the Scene of the Crime.” It is a year-old episode done for TAL’s live cinema event, one that I missed somewhere along the way. Within the episode were stories of drunk driving accidents by Mike Birbiglia and a touching tale of Dan Savage’s Catholicism, one that had me nearly in tears as I walked down wind from the over-capacity trash compactor in my apartment complex.
Wedged in the middle of these two serious acts was Joss Whedon, writer, director and iconic nerd. His presence, for me, coincides with receiving a copy of the wonderful Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog on Blu-ray only days ago. It was ironic, the way Joss might have intended. If he had any knowledge of or interest in the way I receive the content he produces.
In his segment, Joss sang a song from Dr. Horrible’s musical commentary track that expounds on the way that modern audiences demand that artists explain themselves. For filmmakers, this comes with the territory of creating DVD commentary tracks, picking apart their work frame by frame. Every filmmaker does it differently. Some comedy troupes get drunk and make fun of their own film, Kevin Smith tells stories, be they related or unrelated to what is happening on screen. Steven Spielberg doesn’t do them at all. But for Whedon and his Dr. Horrible cast, the decision was to embrace the absurdity and stick to their show’s original joke — to create an original commentary track with song. It’s a brilliant move, and one that further emphasizes the inventive nature of the entire project.
The experience, I thought as I ended my walk through the damp central Texas night, compels me to share. I would urge you to check out Returning to the Scene of the Crime via This American Life’s website. Or at the very least, enjoy the singing of Joss Whedon below. Then ponder this: must we always insist that the artist, filmmaker, what have you explain themselves? Or is there a time when we should be enjoying the art and explaining it for ourselves?
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog is on Blu-ray May 25, 2011.