Random Factoid #413

14 09 2010

It’s kind of a slow day for factoids, so I’m going to resort to one of the simplest questions in the cinematic library: has TV overtaken cinema as an art form?  A.O. Scott brought the issue to prominence again last week with his article “Looking for a Blockbuster Film in the ‘Mad Men’ Era” in The New York Times.

Here’s some of what he brought to the table:

The salient question is this: Will any of the movies surfacing this fall provoke the kind of conversation that television series routinely do, breaking beyond niches into something larger? This bad summer movie season, in what seems to be one of the best television years ever, reinforces a suspicion that has been brewing for some time. Television, a business with its own troubles, is nonetheless able to inspire loyal devotion among viewers, to sustain virtual water-cooler rehashes on dozens of Web sites and to hold a fun-house mirror up to reality as movies rarely do.

Look back over the past decade. How many films have approached the moral complexity and sociological density of “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”? Engaged recent American history with the verve and insight of “Mad Men”? Turned indeterminacy and ambiguity into high entertainment with the conviction of “Lost”? Addressed modern families with the sharp humor and sly warmth of “Modern Family”? Look at “Glee,” and then try to think of any big-screen teen comedy or musical — or, for that matter, movie set in Ohio — that manages to be so madly satirical with so little mean-spiritedness.

I swear, I’m not trying to horn in on my colleagues’ territory. But the traditional relationship between film and television has reversed, as American movies have become conservative and cautious, while scripted series, on both broadcast networks and cable, are often more daring, topical and willing to risk giving offense.

While I love watching TV every once in a while, it will never take over the role of movies in my life.  I watched some “Mad Men” this summer (too much, in my opinion) and didn’t quite fall in love with it like everyone else.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good show.  But as I sat there using up hours and hours of moviewatching time, I couldn’t help but remember what I love about the movies.  In their two hours or so, they start and finish an entire story arc.  There’s not any time for beating around the bush.

I think the fact that movies are so concise is something that appeals quite a bit to me.  Sure, TV series have the ability to develop these arcs over time and get us really emotionally invested in characters over time.  But that just adds to the sense of wonder I get from watching movies – if I can get connected enough to care about the characters in such a short amount of time, I know I have watched something great.

Anybody actually jumped ship and gone to the dark side … that is, preferring the small screen over the silver screen?



2 responses

16 09 2010
James D.

The Wire was certainly better than any movie in the last ten years or so. A masterpiece from beginning to end.

16 09 2010

I don’t know where I fall on this. They’re such different mediums, and I think that I love each for the unique advantages they present. I mean, a Mad Men movie might not be that good, just like an Up in the Air tv series would probably not be that good. It’s too hard for me to compare the two. I love both equally.

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