I saw the following post on WFMU by Brian Turner this morning (which has since has gone missing for some reason), and it confirmed my every fear: Hollywood is DOA.
Hollywood: Two Words
from WFMU’s Beware of the Blog by Brian Turner
That’s right, Beverly Hills Chihuahua grossed $29 million this weekend, taking the top place.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Disney’s canine comedy, edged out Shia LaBeouf’s Eagle Eye to take the top spot at the U.S box office this weekend.
The film about a wealthy pooch from Beverly Hills who finds herself lost while on vacation in Mexico stars Drew Barrymore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Andy Garcia, and George Lopez.
North American Box Office Top Ten:
1. “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” $29 million.
2. “Eagle Eye,” $17.7 million.
3. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” $12 million.
4. “Nights in Rodanthe,” $7.4 million.
5. “Appaloosa,” $5 million.
6. “Lakeview Terrace,” $4.5 million.
7. “Burn After Reading,” $4.08 million.
8. “Fireproof,” $4.07 million.
9. “An American Carol,” $3.8 million.
10. Religulous, $3.5 million.
This is why I look forward to the release of video games, or recent additions to UBUWEB and the Internet Archive. The era of our pop culture as told by Hollywood is dead. The Wire is without question the best series I have seen in the last 20 years, better than anything from Hollywood or even all the other series from HBO. Moreover, the recent sensation over AMC’s Mad Men is over rated in my opinion. I watched the first 9 episodes of season 1, and by the fouth episode was burnt on how “correct” the show is. It tries to implicate the viewer by re-framing all the racism, sexism, and religious intolerance at work in the late 50s, early 60s, yet it is far too academic. It’s argument is clear, and there is none of the moral ambiguity and more complex examination of a system that frames the impossibilities of a moment like The Wire. The push to make sure the viewer doesn’t mistake the 1950s and 60s as the good old days, seems empty when it erases the complex realities of those who lived then, just to capitalize on the issues that make good drama now. I don’t know, Mad Men justs seems like a paper some one wrote about advertising in the golden age, and how screwed up it was from our vantage point, and then decided to adorn it with some two-diminsional characters and turn it into a TV series. A blanket critique of the 1950s and 60s is as much an interpretation of that moment as an unchecked glorification of it, and neither make for a comeplling narrative.
Agreed — I enjoy the pop delights of TV shows like Doctor Who, Weeds, etc. But I can’t remember a time when Hollywood was more empty.
Hollywood is dead because it refuses to go long tail. Other industries have done much better.. Music remains fascinating because it has gone increasingly long tail. And I don’t know if you follow such things, but the recent opening up of the Xbox means that video games will be exploring the long tail too.
That zombie game looks great. Do you plan to go through it on Xbox? If so, I’m happy to do co-op with you on it via Live.
Actually, a related point — people are getting much of their communal entertainment through video games now, not through theaters. Xbox Live is a public place, 3rd space, whatever.
I think too that the romance of the PG blockbuster and it’s resultant pap has completely destroyed the theater as a third place for adults to be adults. This culture has become a bit sick — you’re either in Chucky Cheese or a biker bar nowadays. Families have been segregated into family entertainment.
Bingo! That’s exactly right. The family logic of popular American culture has gutted a good amount of it. And the unrepentant push to commodify this impulse, which has been happening for a while, but for a recent example is the animated C Lone Wares feature release is bordering on cannibalistic. The impulse to devour something alive and rich to destroy its legacy while you feed on its carcass for profits is a sick practice that Lucas and company just won;t avoid. Just think abnout the Star Wars trilogy (4,5,6) vs (1,2,3), could they ever make 5 in this climate? The Empire Strikes Back is that dark vision of the first trilogy that seems centuries away from any of the recent shlock put out. It was a narrative kids had to swallow and think about, it wasn’t easy for me to watch Empire back in 1980, but it was necessary and good: the good guys don;t always win, the force is not evenly distributed, and your father is the one who really wants to maim you 🙂
Come on, Empire is like Hans Christan Andersen compared to the Thomas the Tank Engine that are epsiodes 1,2,3 (insulting to 8-14 year olds around the globe).
As for the X-Box, I’ll be playing Left 4 Dead through by PC, and I think there are a group of friends who will be running a server for multi-user play if you go that route. It is high time I got back into video games, I’ve been all work and no play 😉
So it’s hard to argue with this (though October has never historically been a high point for new theatrical releases). Of the ones on that list, only “Burn After Reading” is worth a shake (and that said, I totally feel like it vindicates the reading I came to about the Coen’s in that long NCfOM thread). There are some bright lights, though, from the slightly-off-to-the-side-of-Hollywood; I personally thought “Choke” was great (and thoroughly under/mis-advertised) and the people who brought out that one, Maple Picture look to have a few other good ones in the pipes. But it’s true, the pickings are slim.
That’s weird – I wonder why WMFU took that blog entry down.
If it makes you feel better, my daughter is fond of asking why Hollywood movies are so bad, as she strides up and down Movie Gallery aisles. (She also wants to go as Jack the Ripper for Halloween)
Rev: I’m going to have to disagree with you about Mad Men. While I think you’re right on that the setting and details are a bit academic, that would only be a point against the show if that was all there is… it’s not. Of course I’ll agree with you also that it doesn’t come up to the level of the first four seasons of The Wire— few works in ANY medium have. That’s like us trying to compare [email protected] to UMWBlogs!
Where I see Mad Men as a success is in how it shows living, real, complicated characters moving through this world that is so perfectly captured. Where The Wire is social drama writ large, Mad Men is psycho-social drama write small. Don Draper is a soulful character running from his past, uniquely gifted at imagining an alternative present through advertising and philandering, and completely paralyzed by fear of the future. He’s full of conflict and contradictory impulses, and Jon Hamm makes him uniquely compelling.
Here’s the climatic scene from season one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvtcQxS9usk
The other 6 or so main characters have similarly complicated lives that the show weaves in and out of with depth comparable to what we’ve seen done with McNulty or Tony Soprano, though, perhaps not Baltimore. It’s the closest thing tv or film has ever produced on the era to Revolutionary Road, quite possibly a perfect novel (with a movie version soon coming, Mendes, Winslet, DiCrapio… and that’s not a misspelling).
But… I’ll agree that the movies sure do suck these days.
Generally I don’t like to disagree with you given your rhetorical acumen and superb writing, not to mention you’re finishing a dissertation on this moment in history. All of which immediately makes me an underdog, and puts the crowd on my side by default, and therefore the likelihood that I will be able to disagree more freely without fear of repercussions is that much greater. So let us begin. (How about that for an opening paragraph? 🙂 )
More seriously, here are a few of my issues in no specific order. I agree with you about the Revolutionary Road reference, yet I think the difference in time between the two works is significant. Revolutionary Road was written in 1961, basically while within the moment, whereas Mad Men always already smacks of a knowing eye looking back at history all too confidently and framing a narrative that is so squarely tailored for a 21st century audience. Which in itself isn’t bad, yet the attention Mad Men pays to historical detail, and the veneer of “this is how it really was” makes it seem that much more of a performance than an experience, which is the feeling I had when watching The Wire.
Granted, that scene on nostalgia looks pretty good, yet can it make up for all the scenes that are terribly forced. I’m thinking here about the times Don comes into contact with the “Beatniks” in the Village. Those scenes seem so facile and uninspired that it reminds me (as is often the case) that this is TV and they are trying to reproduce a moment with all the typical stereotypes.
And let’s talk about stereotypes. Don Draper and Betty Draper is a relationship that bores me to no end. The way the push the terrible realities of the 50s marriage and the general state of relations down your throat becomes annoying. And I am not arguing that this wasn’t the case necessarily, but this show makes it the rule for a moment that I think has become the standard talking point of critical departure for most discussions and critique of the 50s and early 60s. I don’t know, maybe I just feel in the case of Mad Men that the argument the are making seems so stereotypical and that, unlike you, the characters don’t really convince me otherwise. Who else is really compelling besides Draper and Betty (and they wore on me by episode 5 or 6)? And once you see Draper as an Okie in those flashbacks, I kinda lose all respect for him as he stands now. I mean how can that scrungy little kid be Don Draper, it just ain’t right.
And the frat mentality of the guys and gals in the office, sure it probably was like that, and sure the writers “are just being accurate,” but the show is using it as a way to “show and castigate” the viewer all at once. The worst kind of moral nonsense that TV is often good at. I often feel after this show that I have been spanked, and that I need to be a better human being because look what happening in the early 60s, kinda like cautionary TV show for our generation.
Finally, the accurate historical references annoy me the most, like when the idea of Eichmann’s trial comes up. Part of me appreciated the framing of the moment, but then part of me resented the way they anchor this “psycho-drama” in a historical frame that is little more than a modern day melodrama that for many will become the refrain “that’s what the 50s was like.” Was it? IS that what this show is even about, or is that simply the frame they are exploiting to make some moral valuations of our moment, for the latter is clear to me after 9 episodes (and I find it deeply annoying in its lack of complex subtlety), yet the former possibility is far murkier and I think somewhat irresponsible in their fast and loose interpretation of a decade through one character who spent his childhood in a terrible bowl cut.
The show sucks the life out of the complex realities of any history by being so god damned right in its retrospective gaze.
Well played, Rev. I agree about the forced nature of the beatnik scene (though the Beats were perhaps the cultural movement quickest to enter into self-caricature, so turn about is fair play).
Keeping with that moment though as an example of what I wrote in my last comment, the stereotyping is the backdrop to Don’s realization, through a Polaroid image, of the much truer feelings Midge has for that other cat. This propels Don into the crisis of self-realization he goes through at the end of the season which culminates in the Carousel scene. When, in recent times, on television or film, have you seen someone so conflicted, for whom resolution is simply unattainable? So outwardly together and powerful and so inwardly chaotic? So torn between a genuine sense of belonging and centeredness (with his kids, at times with his wife) and so unmoored?
As for the Drapers, for much the same reason, it’s more real than most other marriages you see dramatized. I’d venture part of the reason that it bores you is that marriages are often boring! The show’s take on the fifties isn’t that it was terrible; it’s that what the moment offered as fulfillment was, in fact, for people with a soul, boring. Revolutionary Road deals with that; Betty and Don are trying to. Setting the show in the advertising world allows the writers use the characters to riff off of their perspectives, to reveal truths about themselves as they hide and persuade the public. I think that it’s fascinating and unique to watch on the tube.
I can see seeing Betty as annoying; she annoyed me in the first season too, mostly because I thought January Jones didn’t have chops and only got the role because she looked like Grace Kelly. In season two, though, she’s had some amazing and dramatic turns. Other characters that are compelling? I think Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and Joan Holloway are each fascinating and watchable in their own ways (and get moreso in season two), trying to find their way through a world that depends on such an odd mixture of talent and neurosis; Duck Phillips is interesting in the second season, as he falls off the wagon and clashes with Draper. And, there are few characters as enjoyable to watch as Roger Sterling. Him and Draper remind me of Bunk and McNulty. How about the episode where Sterling makes the pass at Betty, and Draper pays him back by taking him our for a 4 martini lunch with oysters and then forcing him to walk 27 flights before a meeting?
I think where we differ is that you seem to feel the context overwhelms the story and the characters, and I think it compliments them. This is an odd position for me, because I generally can’t stand period drama, as I’m totally distracted by the inevitable ahistoricity. Yet, as a historian of the 1950s and 1960s, I don’t feel that way about Mad Men. I think there’s enough of a balance between the context (which is dead on, enjoyable, and living character in the show) and the timeless characteristics of fine drama (character arcs, movement, universal conflicts). There’s no happy ending and no settledness in this show; that alone sets it apart from most tv or film these days… but, clearly, I see more than just that.
As for the moral stance take… I’m not sure that there really is a moral stance towards our moment in the show; at least, I never, in my escapist Sunday nights, read it that way. Then again, if I were to think about morality in the context of our moment, I might implode.
So, we can agree to disagree. I’m curious. What was your take on “The Sopranos”? How about “Freaks and Geeks”?
Damn it, Luke!
Why do you have to be so gad damned smart! After that round-up Anto and I are going to watch the rest of Season 1 and venture into Season 2, that’s a beautiful rundown of the cultural value of the show, and your zen with the historical backdrop makes me second guess myself to some great degree. So, while I can’t go on, I’ll go on and finish this Season –you were more than right about The Wire so I can’t ignore you here. Your overall persuasion in this comment might be epitomized by your totally nailing the power of Draper’s character in your second paragraph, that’s enough to pull me back in. So bravo, as usual –you are one bad dude!
As for the Sopranos, I thought the first and second seasons were the best I have watched since Twilight Zone and The Prisoner. However, after Season three I started falling out of love with it to some degree, and once they started dragging their ass from season to season making us wait I gave up on it entirely. The power of the Sopranos is in how it pointed the way for The Wire, at least in my mind. It was important in many ways, but it quickly devoured itself because it was so sure of its importance, The Wire didn’t fall prey to this–it just made five season rapidly and got out: I really appreciated that working class mentality versus the primadonna status of The Sporanos.
Freaks and Geeks was also a lot of fun and I was bummed when they pulled it after the first season (did it even have a full first season?). It was a great nostalgia piece on the 80s, but I’m not sure it had the same power as the HBO series of the late 90s, it seemed too geared to a certain audience. That said, I haven’t seen it for over 10 years so I probably wrong. It would be one of the few shows I would point to in the 90s as memorable and thoughtful, I mean what else was there? The Simpsons? I don’t know, TV was dead to me for quite a while in the 90s.
Actually, it was all bullshit. I just wanted to see if I could convince you to watch more tv. Don’t blame me if you watch it all and still think it sucks. 🙂
We’ll save the Sopranos convo for the next time we have beer between us. I came to Freak and Geeks late, just this year, and was pretty much blown away. They got about halfway through the season before they learned they weren’t renewed; then totally went for it in the remaining episodes (I think many of those were never aired, but are on dvd). Probably one of the best takes on adolescence and high school I’ve seen.
I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmCpmEQD0L4
That scene hits home on so many levels. Like my sense of Mad Men, the setting in the early eighties is backdrop to the story (though I actually think its a bit easier and more relaxed/less forced than it is in Mad Men), and allows the writers/producers (Paul Feig and Apatow) to give the show a more autobiographical feel.
What I think all of these shows… Sopranos, Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men, Weeds (to a certain extent), Six Feet Under, (I haven’t seen Dexter or Damages, but want to), even both versions of The Office… is that there’s no easy take on morality, no black and white/good and evil. The Wire, of course, takes that to the highest level… but I also think it’s the common denominator that runs through most of the more exceptional television of the past decade. I think Lost tries to have that, but it’s consumed by its gimmickry, budget, and having to cliffhang for every damn commercial. I think we are in a golden age of tv right now. The fact that I have DVR and can watch only what I want when I want and blaze through the ads certainly helps.
Ok… back to work. This has been fun.