Off the Top of My Head
January 15. Time goes fast, time goes slow. While things are moving along seemly at the same pace as last year, we are only entering the third week of the month. Another way of looking at it is it's the Ides of January. It's just not the same. I'll just have to remember Mick's encomium:
Time is on my side. Yes it is, Maybe 2020 is the year that's going to happen.
Well, it wouldn't be the Oscar nominations if there wasn't a bit of controversy. This year we're honoring the past. No people of color. No women nominated for
Best Director. New decade, same controversies. In the same spirit of innovation that has gripped every field except movies (Motto: if one sequel is good, two are better, and five are fabulous!), I would like to offer a couple of suggestions:
- Remember a few years ago, when the Academy caused a teapot tempest by nominating ten films for best picture? Everyone seems to have survived. Maybe the academy could do the same thing in different categories, like Directors. This year, nobody seems to be complaining about the quality of nominees, and whether or not they belong. It's just that there are no women. Maybe they could take a look, and say
You know, there are really seven good directors. Maybe we should nominate all of them!Some years, there might be only three. You could do the same thing in all the major categories, including best film. Five (or ten) is not a sacred number.
- Another way to deal with the gender issues might be to add categories for
Best Female Directorand
Best Male Director.It makes a much sense as
- And while we're at it, we might want to look at the dividing line between best actor/actress and supporting actor/actress. Now I haven't seen the film (actually, I haven't seen any nominated film since 2004), but I understand that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was pretty much universally admired. Tom Hanks, in the role of Mr. Rogers, received glowing reviews. So how, in a movie about Fred Rogers, can the actor playing Fred Rogers, if he's going to be nominated, not be nominated for Best Actor? Hanks figured out a way. He ended up with a nod for Best Supporting Actor. The expansion/contraction suggestion above would go toward fixing this. Or maybe the Academy was just having an
Oh, Boomer!moment. Hanks (1956), Anthony Hopkins (1937), Al Pacino (1940), and Joe Pesci (1943) are all part of the remake of the
Over the Hill Gang.Brad Pitt is the kid at 57, and being born in 1963, he's skirting the border between Boomerdom and whatever came after. Besides disco. There are many sins my generation committed. That's not one of them.
Not a Good Look
A Segway prototype wheelchair crashed during a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. That gives a whole new meaning to
Help! I've fallen and can't get up! On a totally unrelated note, Segway is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate. Mall cops the world over are in the sway of mysterious nation to the east. Top
The Golden Age(s) of Television
I don't know if it's insomnia, going to bed earlier (I'm almost ashamed to admit some nights I'm in bed before I used to step out for the evening), or a function of age and/or bladder, but I seem to be awake more at night. Consequently, I get to watch a lot of television. After three o'clock, my choices are limited to infomercials, Hallmark Channels, ESPN, PBS, and a curious phenomenon from post-digitalization of broadcast TV–added channels. Each local channel got three or four more channels in addition to their main channels. Mostly, they filled the space with packaged programming with charming names–Antenna TV, Me TV, GetTV, Charge!, Comet. The benefit to these channels is they don't show infomercials, even in the wee-est hours in the morning.
Surfing in this neighborhood is a walk down TV-history lane. Programming, especially shows from the late 60s to the early 90s, range from tolerable to execrable. Even shows like Murphy Brown, which were lauded at the time as being cutting-edge TV, don't wear well. Looking at the various line-ups is cringe-worthy television. The problem, it seems, is formulas. They were pretty finely-honed by the this time in the TV cycle.
Every now and again, a show from the early to mid-50s, also known as
television's golden age, will surface, usually in the far reaches of the time between midnight and the witching hour. Just because a show is in black and white is no guarantee of quality. Old Westerns like The Roy Rogers Show feature poor acting and lame scripts. The TV westerns of this period feature long chases by horse, and other features that are more about noise, showing the radio antecedents of these shows. For the most part, there's a reason they're on this late. Dragnet is legendary for the woodenness of the performances (as well as the legendary line,
Just the facts, ma'am. You watch because you're a Dragnet junkie or, well, that's the only show not selling you anything that's the best of bad alternatives.
But every now and again, an interesting show that reminds you why it was the golden age pops up. Two shows stand out–The Burns and Allen Show and the The Jack Benny Program. Both are filmed before live audiences. Yes, the shows lean too heavily on their premises (Gracie is a ditz, Jack is cheap and a lousy violin player), some of Gracie's explanations are too convoluted, and Jack wears too many silly costumes. But what makes the shows interesting is how they innovatively develop in the new medium. George, for example, regularly breaks
the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and regularly serves up both explanations of what's going on in the show (very meta) as well as reprising his vaudeville joke routines. Jack's shows move between the stage, his home, and sketches within the show. It doesn't hurt that the writing is better, sharper, than a lot of the competition. So ultimately to me what makes the shows fun is the way that they were adapting old forms for TV, with its shifts in timing and the need for a new visual language, among other things. You get to do cool things if nobody is sure what it is you're supposed to be doing.
Now, I'm told, we're in a new golden age of quality television (but before we get all big-headed, please remember that shows like The Explosion Show and People with Ugly Feet are debuting right now). Most of the quality action is taking place on streaming services and HBO, but AMC and FX have introduced some ground-breaking, well-received shows while maintaining the
old format. Although quality of writing makes a difference, we are again in a period of technological transition. Storytellers are no longer limited to a half-hour or hour format, nor do they necessarily have to break into the story every twenty minutes to sell stuff. There's also some innovation in the structures, I believe. Plus viewers can view a part of a show, all the shows, and do it on their own time without being held to the network's schedule.
Anyway, enjoy it while you can. It won't take too many cycles before someone tries to distill the new success into a formula, and the shows that result will put the 70s to shame in redefining