Saturday, July 06, 2013
Monday, July 04, 2011
I Love My Country
Anyone who believes we here in the U.S. of A. don’t actually make anything anymore needs to watch HBO. Let me be more specific: you need to watch Treme. Now. All of it.
Fourth of July fireworks have been cancelled here in Lubbock, as in much of the parched southwest, but my heart swelled with nationalistic pride and my eyes teared up repeatedly as I watched the second season finale of the series about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Created by television auteurs David Simon, responsible for HBO’s The Wire and NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street, and Eric Overmyer, who worked on both productions with Simon as well as St. Elsewhere and Law & Order, Treme is proof positive that the most interesting narrative work today is being done for broadcast and cable tv, not the movies.
My girlfriend has a low tolerance for menace (having been held up at gunpoint, she’s earned it), so halfway through the first season of Treme she gave up. Amidst the joy of creative people living vibrant lives in a globally and historically unique city, she correctly perceived the constant possibility of unannounced horror. Amidst plenty of examples, the ninth episode of this season suddenly ended with one of the most horrifying murders ever represented on American television. No small part of its horror was its banality, coming out of the blue as such things often do.
But to reach the fifth paragraph of an essay about Treme without mentioning the music is as criminal as some of the worst behavior the series has brought to life. Truly, it is hard to imagine any cultural text paying such consistent, knowing, loving tribute to the vitality of America and its unique cultural gifts as Treme does, episode after episode. The theme song alone (by John Boutté) makes me want to salute the nearest flag, and most episodes are so full of great American music that even a partial list is a cop-out.
New Orleans may be reasonably called the birthplace of American music, and our music, along with democracy and free-market capitalism, may be America’s most enduring contributions to global culture in the broadest sense. Nowhere else has this peculiar set of circumstances and energies produced such irrepressible joy, sorrow, beauty, ugliness, hope, despair, solidarity, and loneliness. Treme captures it all, even more vividly than did The Wire, which was inevitably drawn to the dark side of the American soul.
When Davis (Steve Zahn) leads his band for the last time in a nerd-funk cover of James Brown, or Antoine (Wendell Pierce) gives up his band to lead a bunch of aspiring high-schoolers, or Janette (Kim Dickens, the sexiest actress alive) gives up her high-profile chef in New York to return to NOLA and start over, or LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) recovers her inner fire after being raped by opportunistic thugs, or Delmond (Rob Brown) returns because Dr. John convinces him his father was right, or Toni (Melissa Leo) realizes her daughter Sofia and she will survive the suicide of the love of their lives, we know we will survive too, This is great art.
Which is to say, Treme is the best American television series. Ever.
Happy 4th of July, all.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Did you miss me? Hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since my last post, but full-time grad school plus teaching has taken over my life. Happily, I have reached the end of my obligation to full-time coursework, now I can take my time and finish strong. Another year, at least, but not another year away from FlixView.
In my absence the embedded trailer links in my last post have vanished, and incessant spam has forced me to disable the comment function. My profile still has an active gmail address which you are welcome to use if you have comments or questions.
I couldn’t avoid the omnipresent 30-second spots for Super 8, saturation campaigns are tough to live up to, but those 30 seconds at least didn’t give too much away. I was ready for a popcorn movie, I can’t even remember the last time I saw anything in a theater, and I suspect Super 8 will prove to be a crowd-pleasing money maker.
I was a teenager in the 1970s when Super 8 is set, and I made some movies with my dad’s super-8 camera, so J.J. Abrams’ script and taught direction had me at hello. The romance held up for the first 90 minutes or so, as Abrams and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg paid loving homage to the suburban teenage fantasies of that period. As Matt Patches points out on Film School Rejects, Super 8 often feels more like one of Spielberg’s own movies from the period than anything else, including Abram’s best work.
I don’t want to necessitate a spoiler alert, so all I’ll say about the gradual loss of momentum in the final act is that I wanted to turn Michael Giacchino’s score off, especially during the last sequence before the closing credits. I remember having a similar reaction to Abram’s otherwise astonishingly good Star Trek reboot, so it’s not fair to blame the tone on Spielberg. The production design is outstanding, although the camera work is occasionally distracting. But I ate my popcorn and it was good.