Sunday, December 12, 2004

Excellence on the boob tube

An operatic, expansive view of a New Jersey family. A serious, hard hitting police drama that sharply articulates the fascinating steps of an investigation while giving equal amount of time to the deviance that arises from its positions of authority. A caustically funny ensemble that creates new rules of television storytelling and certainly takes the cake for its reliance on narration. A kinetic, endlessly inventive drama that bends and shapes time in breathless ways. A somber and biting satire on beauty, lust, family and friendship. And a wildy irreverent look at all things California, full of neurosis and stammering sentiments.

What do all of these things have in common? They all exemplify the boundless alternatives to the big screen- small screen comedies and dramas that challenge the sometimes constrictive ideas and themes of movies. And they're all excellence in television. The Sopranos, The Shield, Arrested Development, 24, Nip/Tuck and Curb Your Enthusiasm- six shows that often have me dropping everything and racing for my TV fix. On a weekly basis, these shows are able to develop and deepen characters beyond imagination, creating dynamic personalities and addictive scenarios that full length films could only dream of. Imagine trying to condense the muted emotions of Tony Soprano in a two hour sitting or formulate the subtle comedic grace of Larry David into an hour and a half (which has been done to disatrous lengths in his film called Sour Grapes, which David mocks in his own series). Television has become the modern novel.

So what do we owe to this success? Two things. First, the advent of DVD, and the inclination to release entire seasons both cult and current, has given these shows a chance to generate a strong fanbase. In the past, if one didn't watch shows like Quantum Leap or Law and Order (both now on DVD!) the likelihood of one investing time halfway during the season was minimal. Stations were required to hype new series from the beginning and hope for the best. Plus, many companies have mastered the art of a timely DVD release. I remember missing all of 24 season 1 on its initial run. I was given the DVD copy and watched it from start to finish. Three months later, season 2 aired. The release of the DVD boxset corresponded significantly to the downtime between both seasons, giving avid lovers of the show ample time to digest the intracacies of the plot while also cultivating a fresh fanbase. Secondly, TIVO has revolutionized television. The ability to record a show every week with the press of a button marginalizes any excuses to miss our favorite shows. The TV will do it for us.

Networks have obviously found a goldmine in reality tv shows. Realtively easy and cheap to produce, they're also endlessly self-serving, shallow voids of time. Hopefully, they will soon run their course. I just have to love stations like FX and HBO. They have the courage to produce thoughtful, intelligent and often groundbreaking series that give us some hope for the future of television. Series like Deadwood, Rescue Me, Carnivale, Entourage and even Comedy Central with riots like Reno 911 and Chapelle's Show, prove that not everyone in the executive suites have lost their faith in the power of strong series. They may not be included on my favorites of the year here, but they are a healthy, invigorating alternative to the wasteland of reality tv.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Interrupted By..... You're fired!

There was a very small story I happened to catch in the news at the beginning of this week that begs follow-up. I didn't see it captured in any major news story. In fact, I only recognized it in one of those small streaming lines at the bottom of the screen that displays stories about puppy dogs that save children from burning houses and how well the Japanese poppy seed market is doing. It read " CBS Producer fired after breaking into programming during CSI- NY". Ok. And let's not brush over the fact that the interruption was to announce the passing of Yasir Arafat. So, here we have CBS firing a man due to supposed procedural errors because the airing of the interruption occurred at an untimely moment during the final five minutes of CSI- NY. And this was all done without senior executive approval. The producer should have placed the breaking news in the same streaming line that features the fucking Japanese and the miracle pups. My god. I understand fans across the country were outraged and this is what prompted CBS to take the drastic action of giving the producer the chop. They utlimately re-aired the episode of CSI the next night (and ABC announced how the show ended so people would watch their Friday night line-ups instead... God bless competition). Without sounding too pessimistic here, I have to say that we truly are the most unintelligent, uninformed and disrespectful race walking the earth right now. Here we are- a generation of people so embroiled in the weekly lives of a fucking television show where no matter how severe the scenario, I promise you we'll have a fucking answer within 50 minutes- that we're fit to be tied over the fact that a MAJOR news article of world politics has interrupted our zombie like state. Is that too pessimistic? Now, granted, this is not a pro-Arafat piece. I firmly believe the man was a terrorist who carried no other assumptions than violence- he proved this when he was minutes away from creating a Palestinian breakthrough on the lawn of the White House in 1998 and then turned away, content to recycle methods of bloodshed and become a hermit. But this is a story that, ultimately, can affect history. It posits the Middle East on a precipice of uncertainty. Who will take control of the PLO now? Whatever progress or regress is made there can most definitely effect our lives here in the United States. What if someone as equally dangerous and maniacal steps out of the Hammas blue and becomes the next leader? Will Arafat's deputy (who is certainly leaning more towards U.S. diplomacy than many Arabs desire from their political leaders) stand in? All of this is important to us... and we get upset because we don't get to find out which officer breaks out the ultraviolet light and identifies the killer's cum hidden behind the bed of the dead girl? I literally became nauseous when I found this story. I'm not sure what's worse.. the stupidity and utter blindness presented by the American people or the fact that no one else finds it supremely unsettling. But hey, we can now sleep safely because the killer on the fictional television set has been captured.

The cinema of David Gordon Green

You may ask yourself who the hell is David Gordon Green? If so, I urge you to seek out his three films- "George Washington" (2000), "All the Real Girls" (2003), and his latest called "Undertow". The name of Green has been thrown around casually as the premier torch carrier for the isolationistic and beautiful films of Terrance Malick. And it doesn't hurt that Malick has assisted with the production of "Undertow". Like Malick, Green looks at his subjects with innocent eyes."George Washington" follows the idyllic days of a group of teens in a dirty southern town. A little bit of plot impedes the atmospheric tranquility that Green steadily builds, but the film is a revelation because of its natural inclination to simply document the transcendent beauty of this town's gray skies."All the Real Girls" also charts the mood and atmosphere of two young people falling in and out of love (the remarkably graceful Zoeey Deschanel is pitch perfect). A lot has been made of the unnatural dialogue between the characters, but that's the way Green works. He masks everything in his films with a touch of child-like innocence. But there is nothing artificial about the emotions that jump off the screen in his ode to young love.And that's precisely what makes "Undertow" less of a film than his previous works. While still a highly impressive and fine film, "Undertow" bogs itself down with a ponderous narrative. It starts off promising enough, utilizing a mesmerizing Philip Glass score, over-lit freeze frames as the titles roll and a kinetic romp through the fields after a doomed rendezvous of young love. It feels a little like "Badlands". But then, the mechanisms of the plot kick in and the film turns into a rudimentary thriller, full of dangerous uncles and greed-filled murder. Chris (Jamie Bell) and Tim (Alan Devon) are brothers living with their father in the Georgia backwoods. Their somewhat mundane life is shattered when Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas) returns home and opens up old wounds that send Chris and Tim on a flight from home. "Undertow" might have worked brilliantly as yet another film that loses its concentration on any one idea and lingers on the mood and atmosphere of its setting. The best scenes in the film involve the brothers acquaintance with a homeless girl who takes them into her vagrant village full of concrete, busted doors and camp fires. The brothers come across Violet and her female friend quickly after being beaten up by a man. The minute they look up into the camera, you see how downright wasted and weary these girls appear. Until I did further research, I assumed these girls were natural inhabitants of the location Green decided to film around. I was surprised to find out that both are studious actors. And that is the beauty of Green's cinema. He surveys the 'real'. Unlike Harmony Korine who also examines the 'real' (and maybe slightly fucked up) Green carries a distinct amount of admiration for his subjects. "Undertow" shines in that regard. Moments like these, along with the introduction of an African-American couple who briefly take the boys in and a cashier in an auto shop who flirts with Uncle Deel, crackle with immediacy and energy because they are not things you would normally see in a film. Green allows space and even rejoices in the the idiosyncrasies of life. All three of his films are small miracles, not unlike the cinema of Paul Morrissey- both men who shy away from typical storytelling and revel in the hidden beauties of trashy places and inarticulate people. I just wish "Undertow" would've loosened its plot and allowed for a more lyrical advancement of a mood and place that is rarely seen on screen.

first and foremost

So is this the wave of the future? Am I one of the millions who has jumped into the cyber abyss and joined up with a radically diverse group of independents who all have too much to say and way too much space to say it in? Either way, I'm digging this blog thing. Trust me, there is much more to come. Politics, film, music, sex, hobbies, sports.... all are fair game here.