24 January 2008

Up the Game

Television has always been public enemy #1 for cinema. Once cinema adapted to cinemascope though, the challenge of competing seemed to end there… that is until now. With the popularity of DVDs now, television series have become something entirely different, not merely just time-wasters for bored Americans. You can pick your starting point from a variety of sources as to when television became something to be reckoned with, artistically, dramatically and comedically (I’m not as concerned with the financial aspect). Perhaps it was the advent of cable television. Maybe it was Twin Peaks. Maybe it came when HBO started producing original programming. Or maybe it just came as a result of DVD and Tivo. Plenty of articles were written this past year when the definitive Twin Peaks set was released by Paramount, most of them speculating a question more fascinating than the series’ central mystery: who or what killed not Laura Palmer but Twin Peaks? Few would argue that, if the show were pitched today, it would be a Lost-sized hit, but it’s quite likely that, all the drama between Lynch and ABC aside, viewers just weren’t ready for it. That seems ridiculous now, as the most popular dramatic shows on TV today (aside from those lousy CSI shows) demand viewer participation, even if it’s just to remember what happened in the previous week.

I’m going out on a limb to suggest that it’s the growing competition of television drama that crafted 2007 into the best year of cinema in recent memory (most chalk 1999 as the last great year for the medium). How does cinema take a step up from the compelling, serialized drama and character involvement of shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost or Six Feet Under? 2007 showed us that cinema’s best bet is “taking chances” on films that were completely uncompromising in their cinematic vision and scope. There Will Be Blood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and No Country for Old Men should be commended, no matter how you felt about any of the three, for at least reminding us of cinema’s often unreached potential.

Though I’m completely unorganized in my thoughts about this matter, not to mention that finding a definitive idea of what’s going on with the two mediums could be nearly impossible, I think this conflict could provide the best for both worlds. As both a reaction to the tripe of network programming and even the lack of compelling drama in the film world, HBO unleashed a giant of a television corporation, constantly giving their time to challenging, complex and utterly fascinating programming. As a result of this, cinema gave us films of lasting importance and of unmatched scope. We’ll always have to suffer through shit like Everybody Loves Raymond and Good Luck Chuck, no matter what happens. Cinema will never die under TV (we’ll always have Spider-Man, X-Men, and the Pirates of the Caribbean in some form to force the people off their sofas), but perhaps TV was always what cinema needed to keep it in check. Perhaps the battling forces will continue to challenge one another with their respective strengths.

1 comment:

Ed Howard said...

Interesting ideas, and well worth considering. I think to a large extent, cinema and TV are becoming, for better or worse, part of the same big monolithic cultural apparatus, as DVD tends to equate the two. If you can get both Zodiac and The Sopranos on DVD and watch either one on your home entertainment system, what really is the substantial difference between the two mediums? Most of my film-viewing these days is on DVD, with just occasional trips to the theater for new films or rare screenings of more obscure stuff. I'm not quite ready to say if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but the boundaries between these media are definitely starting to blend at this point.