Break the Studios, Save the Movies

Break the Studios, Save the Movies

Hollywood is in a prolonged state of crisis. Everybody knows this. Studios pump out a seemingly endless supply of sequels, spin-offs, remakes, reboots, and films otherwise based on any and all previously existing intellectual property, all of which invariably cost upwards of 100 million dollars. We call them tentpole films, because they’re supposed to be sure-fire bets that can make enough money to finance smaller, riskier projects across the studio’s slate, like tentpoles upholding a tent. The problem is that there is no tent. There’s just masses and masses of poles, sticking upright in a field, and we’re all so used to getting wet that we’re more likely to ask for the poles to be more interesting than ask for some tarp.

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The World is Going to Crack Wide Open

The World is Going to Crack Wide Open

“HALT AND CATCH FIRE (HCF): An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.”

Halt and Catch Fire has never been subtle about its view of capitalism. The very first thing that appears on screen at the start of the pilot is a definition of its title, worded to produce a clear double meaning: this is a story about how endless competition causes a system to implode.

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You Should Watch Charlie Chaplin

You Should Watch Charlie Chaplin

It’s 2017, and silent films are dying.

Silent films started dying in 1927, of course, when The Jazz Singer mainstreamed the use of synchronised dialogue – although it itself was a sound-silent hybrid, mostly using sound in the sections to do with musical performance. By the 1930s, basically all films were talkies, and apart from occasional blips – Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie or best picture winner The Artist – we’ve never looked back. Silent films have been dead for almost a hundred years, and there’s no good mourning them now.

But there’s the second death – the death that occurs when something once vibrant and alive is forgotten by everyone living. That time will come for everything and everyone, but there’s an artificial acceleration when an art form has fallen out of use. Charles Dickens is as popular and well-known as ever, but he mightn’t be if everyone had stopped writing or reading novels for a hundred years. He mightn’t have been had it not been possible to publish his serials in the form of the novel, instead of leaving them scattered across the volumes of history. Silent films are still films, but they’re different in a pretty fundamental way, in a way that seems impossibly big if you’ve never seen one.

So I’m really worried – unreasonably worried – that people are going to forget Charlie Chaplin.

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The Rise and Fall of Brooklyn Nine Nine

The Rise and Fall of Brooklyn Nine Nine

To love a TV show is to set yourself up for disappointment.

There are exceptions, obviously – Breaking Bad had a pretty much perfect run – but the serialised nature of television means it has infinitely more chances to let you down. Maybe it’ll be cancelled before it’s time. Or worse, maybe it will destroy itself from the inside out. The Simpsons is the greatest TV show ever made, but that fact is obscured now that there are more bad seasons than good. “Classic Simpsons” and “new Simpsons” are fully compartmentalised in my head. It hurts too much otherwise.

But The Simpsons was allowed be good – be great – for nine years. The greatest tragedy, one that seems to be constantly getting worse and puts me off watching new shows, is for a once great show to destroy itself within a year or two, the length of time it used to take a show to figure itself out. There’s more TV than ever now, and the whole cycle moves at double-speed: a show has to find its feet faster to survive, but it also burns out quicker. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had one my favourite seasons of television ever and then immediately fell apart in season two, True Detective revealed itself to be a bloated pretentious corpse in season two after an acclaimed first season, and Westworld didn’t even make it to the end of its first season before people stopped caring. There are fifteen shows currently on air with eight or more seasons, six of which are procedurals and another four of which are Fox’s animated comedy slate. A show can be long-running and soulless, but it’s telling how few long-running shows there are – how hard it is to sustain a show for that long now.

You’d think the rise of shorter seasons would allow shows to continue on for years longer without burning through as much material – and yet, again and again, once-great shows collapse in what is, to the binge-watcher, a few short hours. The Simpsons had nine great years, but more and more, a show has to be exceptionally sturdy to be good for three or four.  It becomes harder and harder to remember the shape of the show you once loved, because every time you think you catch a glimpse of it, another wave of crap comes along to drown it once and for all.

I really hate Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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Speed Racer Is Not An Art Film

Speed Racer Is Not An Art Film

The air crackles with potential. A change is coming. I see it on the horizon. Hope is home to roost at last. The tide is about to turn. I know the signs. People in Film Twitter ask some question – What film would you make everyone else in the world watch? What film would you take into the bunker with you if the bombs fall? – and ever more people give the same answer as me.

Speed Racer.

But it’s not just Speed Racer – it’s everything that writer-director team Lilly and Lana Wachowski do. People who never mentioned Sense8 in their life outed themselves as viewers in their hundreds when it was cancelled. The Matrix was never out, but it’s back in, and even the sequels are getting more appreciative second looks. I see gifs of Jupiter Ascending used in non-ironic contexts, and all of a sudden people remember that Bound exists. When my favourite film magazine took suggestions for future issues, I scream-tweeted “WACHOWSKIS ISSUE PLEASE” and six people liked it, only one of whom co-runs this blog. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t realise it would happen this soon.

The Wachowskis are on the verge of a critical rehabilitation.

Please don’t fuck it up by calling Speed Racer an art film.

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Duct Tape on Armchairs: Frasier and the Working-Class Sitcom

Duct Tape on Armchairs: Frasier and the Working-Class Sitcom

It’s the golden age of TV.

455 scripted television shows aired in America in 2016 – that’s compared to 192 in 2006. There’s been years of back and forth about whether current TV is the best thing ever – quite possibly the central cultural output of our time – or actually not very good at all, because so-called prestige TV is so often shallow self-serious bullshit. The obvious fact that TV has always been good, and that the “golden age of TV” corresponds only to the rise of paid subscription services (HBO, Netflix, Amazon) and cinematography that made TV look like movies, might be mentioned, but is never of concern. We’ll talk about the fracturing of the television audience – how three of the last five TV seasons had football at the highest rating, because sport is the only thing diverse audiences watch live anymore – but we’ll pretend that it fractures more or less at random, and its only implications are for advertisers.

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