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‘Singles’ Going Steady

When Cameron Crowe released Vanilla Sky a few years ago, it was critically derided as an over-indulgent, confusing mess — mostly because that’s exactly what it was. The problems were myriad, but it was mostly derailed because it seemed as though Crowe was conscientiously attempting to make a “weird” movie. This was clearly a mistake — and disappointing considering that when he attempted to make an honest, heartfelt movie in 1992’s Singles, he accidentally made one of the strangest films of all time. Singles is generally considered a mostly forgettable romantic comedy that happened to have Mother Love Bone on the soundtrack and featured members of Pearl Jam in a band called Citizen Dick. Despite the popularity of grunge when it was released, it didn’t make very much money (it was out-earned by such cinema classics as Universal Soldier and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! in ’92). The only DVD that exists is a bare-bones affair, available for less than ten bucks. But it would be a well-spent ten dollars, as it provides some moments that are as strange as anything in Blue Velvet. Need proof? What about the extremely strange Debbie Hunt character, who is obsessed with video dating and seems to be acting in another movie entirely? Or what about the fact that people are regularly seen dancing to Soundgarden and Alice in Chains songs (and not ironically)? How about the fact that hunky Campbell Scott was 30 years old and playing a character who was 28 but acted damn near 40? For a flick supposedly aimed at young people and featuring a hot rock soundtrack, their concerns (and look) were awfully “adult.”

But despite all that strangeness, Singles is the best time capsule of the grunge era we have. In a development that no doubt gives Jean Baudrillard a hard-on, Singles has become the collective memory of the grunge era. It seems like there’s no possible way that people could have acted like that, and yet that’s exactly how people acted. It doesn’t matter if it was ever true — it’s been memorialized on tape, and that tape has been filed away in the collective conscious as fact.

This becomes all the more apparent when set against another film. The documentary Hype! also tried to capture the vision of the “Seattle scene,” but that movie mostly comes across as bitter musicians defending their decisions and trying to sound cool. Hype! is a genuine article that comes across as completely constructed; Singles is a piece of fiction that reads like a history lesson. Crowe set out to make a cute movie about rock fans in Seattle, and he ended up creating a strange cultural cornerstone entirely by accident.

The moral? Real life is stranger than fiction, but fiction never lies. COMMENT

Check out Pearl Jam’s performance at MTV’s Singles premiere party: