Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Web treasure ahoy!

at 7:32 PM
Everyone who knows me in real life knows (no they definitely don't because why would I ever talk about this) that I have a thing for old, dead websites. Not like I go Captain Ahabing after them by asking Google "how do I burn CD" - I'm just fascinated to find anything that's been unusually silent for many years. It becomes a historical document dissociated with any contemporary viewpoint rather than the public face of some individual. 

In particular, really old sites ('90s) are written from such a different paradigm and often with such genuine optimism and creativity that it's sad to see how mundane the three-site web (FB/Google/WikiP) has become. Internet used to be Wind Waker. Now it's an overflowing dumpster of Comedy Picture Lists and status updates. There was a time when you never knew what a website might be.

Anyway, here are three cool old websites that you won't find on Blogger, Tweeter, Instagram, or Cracked. They don't use advanced programming and quad rendering or even Java+++ scripting language. Just good old-fashioned HTML. 

The Masked Reviewer (heads up: Internet Explorer required)
Man I love this guy. He's a superhero who dons a mask to take on the hefty responsibility of... screening average movies from the early '00s. Not since Space Ghost Coast to Coast has a secret identity been so wantonly unnecessary yet comically fruitful. 

Yes, he could use a bit of editing for grammar/punct/typos (so could I), and his reviews are occasionally a bit dry (he is so desperate not to spoil the plot that I often finish a review feeling like I've learned nothing), but his self-referentiality and careful injection of the third person always comes to the rescue. From his review of V for Vendetta: "Now don't go and think that just because the film features a masked hero that the Masked Reviewer is automatically going to give it a good review. That wouldn't be right!"

Really the only failing of the Masked Reviewer is that he didn't last for very long. He reviewed about a hundred movies before the site disappeared. The site is totally worth it just to read his "Expectation from the Title" of each movie (e.g. Beyond Borders: "When Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, and Amazon.com all run out of copies of "The Life and Times of John Favreau", a loyal fan turns to his favorite bookstore as his last hope. But when they don't have it, he must keep searching.") and his impression of what his mom would have to say (of Batman Begins: "He seems like such a troubled young man. He should see a psychologist, it might make him a happier person.")

Here's a really great concept for a site that doesn't have as much content as its poor interface first suggests.

The idea is that it's a pre-1990 punk catalogue stocked with primary sources. You can browse through bands and their discographies like on Wikipedia or AllMusic, but the band pages are complete with historical articles and interviews, and the album pages have reviews dating to their original release (rather than Stephen P. Erlewine's opinion). Since most of us don't have a gigantic 'zine library, this is a great way to see what people thought of the movement and the music at the time (and, as the site says, to demystify the scene). The only problem is that there aren't that many articles/interviews/reviews up (at least compared to how many bands/albums are listed), and there's no way to tell which pages will have content, so you just have to sift through one album at a time hoping to find content.

And of course, it's got my favorite bittersweet deadsite trope: the final update from December 2010: "Maybe the most significant thing about this update is the fact that this is the first actual site update (aside from data entry) since 2004! Hopefully this trend will continue and the site will see some more improvements in 2011."

The one-stop-shop for everything related to Avenal, CA's ruling low down mean'n dirty boogie woogie blues boys, The Bon Larvis Band. Granted it's a bit hard to read (probably don't start on the Latest News page), but this site is fantastic. There's no point in even describing it. Just start with the History and the Tour Diaries and enjoy. How can you not love this "news" update:

"Sad to say there aint been so many shows lately because "The Duck" is-you-know-where. We go to visit him alot, he has got plenty cigerates and all that stuff and sends his love. Aint nothin he aint seen before cause he lives the life he lives and he lived the life he lives! Who can ask for more!?

"Seriously we love the Duckman and lookin forward to that BBQ when they turn the man loose! Start gettin ready now ladies, but this time make sure you 100% legal cause we cant afford no more crinks in the plans, when the music calls we got to be there!!! Now we now it come natural, but have a heart! We still all still be here when you hit the "MAGIC NUMBER!!!" If you got my drift and I think you do!!!"

Supposedly the Bon Larvis Band has even got a DVD out there of a 1995 show (w/ Faxed Head), so, you know. That's on the Christmas list.

Other ancient sites I've mentioned before are Wordplayer and Mark's Record Reviews. Mark Prindle's site is a great combination of life story/collage, shrieking comedy, and musical open-mindedness, but it's barely dead (1996-2011) and the concept of a record guide is hardly original. Terry Rossio's Wordplayer is a screenwriting column that ran from the mid-'90s til around 2003. What makes it stand out is that Rossio is an established Tinseltown big-shot - writer of Aladdin, The Mask of ZorroShrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and its sequels  and therefore fills every column with Hollywood insider info. If you ever want to know how a movie makes its way from a concept in a writer's head to a multi-million dollar production, Terry lays it out here, complete with first-hand stories of Aladdin, Godzilla '98, and Small Soldiers. Anyway, Wordplayer isn't technically dead - the forums are still alive and Terry occasionally updates the site. But to think of a day and age where a famous person would write a website instead of hiring a PR firm to post on Tweeter for them! 

Man I keep calling it "Tweeter" like that's a joke but it's actually me forgetting that it's not called that. Who uses that site again?

So there you go. The web can be a fun place beyond just stupid Flash games and stupid forums for stupid MMOs and stupid updates about stupid things that happened in the stupid lives of stupid people and stupid blogs about stupid old websites about stupid things in the first place. So don't kill yourself yet! Maybe tomorrow!

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