One thing bugging me in these last weeks of the naughty-aughts is the triumphal smugness of my TV-critic colleagues, the lucid Emily Nussbaum (in New York) and the trenchant David Bianculli (on NPR’s Fresh Air): The Wire this, The Sopranos that, The Shield Battlestar Sex and the Oz and The Office and HBO blah blah blah. What’s most irritating is they’re right. Television—at least cable television—has embraced longer and more complex storylines and left movies behind as a narrative medium. The Brits have been doing this kind of thing for years, but Americans have finally caught up and surpassed them. There has been a mighty leap—both in form (open-ended, polyphonic) and content (no moral absolutes, protagonists more imperfect than perfect).
I did say narrative. However blurred the lines between TV and cinema, TV hasn’t caught up with cinema as an interior medium, a pipeline to the unconscious. Twin Peaks was as far down that road as TV went—and subsequent attempts to match it saw their creators getting gotten lost in the thicket. (Most of the second season of Twin Peaks was thicket.) David Lynch might have conceived of Mulholland Drive as a TV series, but for all its bleeding narrative entrails, it seemed far more at home as a single, self-contained, semi-psychotic cinematic vision. That's another difference: When we talk of auteurs in TV, we mean David Chase and David Simon. We mean Larry David or Ricky Gervaise. Most of us have no idea who directed or even scripted the episodes we loved. (You have to go back to the early days of TV, to something like the live Playhouse 90 drama The Comedian with Mickey Rooney—included in a great Criterion Collection box on early TV live drama—to see a director like John Frankenheimer strutting his stuff.)
That said, the writing is on the wall or tablet. By the end of the next decade, most of the movies we see will be downloaded from the Internet onto our gigantic monitors. Theatrical exhibition will move more and more toward “event” movies—3-D, comic-book sequels, etc. You’ll find the indie films online and pay to buy or rent them. Some will go viral. Others will make back their (low) costs by finding niche markets. Most will go unseen except by family and friends. Emily and I—if our magazine still exists—will have bloody turf wars over what is my bailiwick and what is hers.
Odds and Endings: I left out some performances in my last post, chiefly Christian McKay’s uncanny Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles—not just an impersonation but a supernatural incarnation of the man himself. (Zac Efron is rather good, too!) See Sita Sings the Blues at the IFC Center if you live in NYC; buy the DVD if you don’t. Read Dwight Garner’s fascinating round-up on The Big Lebowski academic books in the New York Times book review—and check out my own 2004 Times piece. (Nyah-nyah, I got there first.) Wallow in movie blogs like Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and The House Next Door. This Avatar-related piece by Lane Brown had me laughing so hard I choked.
Get out of the house and go to a movie in a theater, but don’t be suckered by Precious or Up in the Air or It’s Complicated, however slobbered over by Times critics. Try to find the criminally underrated Brothers. Don’t drink too much, and never drink and e-mail (or blog). Till the ‘teens