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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Film vs. Television

When the invention of motion pictures came about, there were two very different schools of thought when it came to how best to get these images to audiences.  There were the Lumiere Brothers who filmed scenes of trains and factories, then projected them onto a large screen; similar to a movie theater today.  On the opposite side was Thomas Edisonwho had created a device called the kinetoscope, which was designed for one person to look through a viewfinder individually and see moving images.

I’ve always thought of these two differing ways of viewing motion pictures to be similar to the choice today of going to the movies or staying at home and watching television.  The former is a communal experience while the latter is an individual one and while some folks cherish the movie-going experience, DVD rentals and sales seem to indicate a rising contingent of people that would rather sit at home and watch movies by themselves.a

However, the truth of the matter is that television channels and production companies are finally taking advantage of the opportunity that a series affords them, making it easier for folks to sit on the couch rather than go to the movies.  With shows like Lost, Heroes, The Sopranos, The Wire, Weeds, the upcoming Pushing Daisies, and countless others, it seems like boob tube has more groundbreaking ideas and compelling characters than film does these days.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a film lover through and through and will always choose a great movie over a great television show, but the choice is becoming a bit more difficult to make.  The first season of Veronica Mars is just as good as most movies that come out each week and I would say that the title character is more memorable than almost any film character that I’ve seen in the last year or two.  Of course it would be easy to point out Batman orSuperman, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with one original character from a movie that I’ve seen recently that is as interesting and complex as the characters on Lost. Most of the really memorable characters in movies these days are the ones that come from comic books or have franchises.

The best movie that I’ve seen so far this year, Zodiac, has a structure that is actually more like a television series than a movie in that it is episodic without being confusing.  We get all the information and lots of character building without the commercial breaks.  Perhaps this is why I prefer long movies, it gives the characters room to breathe and grow.  Although, I would bet that if Zodiac were a television show (preferably on HBO), we’d get to know Robert Graysmith’s and Dave Toschi’s home life a whole lot better.

The difference between movies and television these days is similar to the difference between a short story and a novel.  Sometimes I’m in the mood for a short story, which I can read in one sitting and will give me a quick emotional gut punch.  Sometimes, however, I’m in the mood for a novel that will be give me rich characters and a texture that is hard to find in a short story; it’s a bigger commitment, but it can also have a greater reward if it’s done correctly.

I think the greatest cinematic achievement is Francois Truffaut’s The Adventures of Antoine Doinel series, which starts with The 400 Blows and continues through to Love on the Run. In this series, we watch a young Parisian misfit grow up, fall in love, get married, get divorced, find love, lose love, etc.  We get to know Antoine’s idiosyncrasies and while they might be annoying, we grow to love them.  To me, Antoine Doinel is the greatest of all movie characters because he is real; he makes stupid mistakes, finds himself in hilarious situations, and breaks his own heart several times.  Truffaut started the series in 1959 and when it was all over in 1979, there were four feature films and one short film about Antoine.  If it had been justThe 400 Blows, it would still be a remarkable achievement, but because we got to see this character get older and just a little bit wiser, the whole series is a masterpiece.

However, that series is from a very different era of film and television, a time when television episodes stood alone.  Now, however, television episodes consistently bleed into one another and you can’t just pick it up midway through, just like it would be hard to enjoy the second half of a novel if you hadn’t read the first half.  And film sequels now are about making more money, rather than about any kind of artistic integrity.  I mean, didn’t we say all we needed to say in the first Rush Hour film?  Were the characters’ not sufficiently wrapped up?  How about those Pirates films?  Do you feel more connected to the Jack Sparrow character now that he’s had two sequels?  I’m not trying to cast aspersions on anyone who enjoyed those films, but I just wonder if those characters benefited from the extra episodes.

The only recent film “franchise” that I think called for a sequel and delivered one was theBefore Sunrise/Before Sunset series.  Those characters needed to meet again, there were so many unresolved questions and the answers that came nine years later were well worth the wait.  Of course, the ending of the sequel was so pitch-perfect that it almost seems wrong to hope for another episode, but these characters are so beautifully drawn that I could watch Jesse and Celine walk and talk through all the cities of the world without being bored.

It is a reminder that movies can still give us, in smaller bites, what it takes television an entire series run to give us a morsel of.  It shows us that movies are still capable of pulling off rich characters, beautiful settings and high production value in a way that television can’t yet hope to achieve.  More than that, though, the best movies know when to end while television shows are at the mercy of the ratings.

It seems, all these years later, that Thomas Edison was incredibly prescient in expecting that people would rather watch moving images by themselves.  However, after watching the best television shows, the first thing we all want to do is find someone else who watched it so we can discuss.  Even when watching films or television series alone, we can’t help but want to make it a communal experience.

And so, with the greatest time of year for movies upon us, we also have television premiere episodes coming as well.  I know that I, for one, will be scrambling to see every possible movie that I can see while TIVOing all the shows that I can’t miss and hopefully I’ll manage to find some time to sleep.  The truth is, in the battle between television and the movies, the one undisputed winner is you.

– Noah Forrest
September 13, 2007

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon