MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

TV > Movies

Lately I’ve been watching more and more television and fewer movies which, as a professional film columnist, makes me feel like I’m not doing my job.  I have a stack of screeners, a Fassbinder and a Bunuel from Netflix, and there are a few films in theaters that I still need to get to; however, I find myself procrastinating by watching episodes of True Blood, Mad Men, Skins, and Weeds instead of watching movies. It’s not so much that I prefer television to film, but rather that I think the gap in quality is shrinking to the point of non-existence.

It really seems as if the people running the television business finally understand how to make television shows after seventy years. There were definitely worthwhile shows over the years, but we are truly living through a golden age of television because the networks and the show-runners have realized that if you create a storyline that requires one or two seasons to wrap things up, not just one or two episodes, people will keep tuning in.  Shows like CSI or Law & Order might still be able to create, deepen and wrap up a case in under an hour, but I find myself gravitating towards the shows that require more of a commitment, something like Lost.

Lost is the show that really turned me on to what television could accomplish in terms of storylines and character; not only was I getting a little piece of the mystery every single week, but the characters were also growing richer.  That dual thrust of a complicated story and complicated characters has made each week something special, even if they’re focusing a whole flashback on Jack’s tattoos.  But the richness of the world that has been created on that show, the wonderfully nuanced portrayals, and the absolutely staggering plot twists have made it a show that I think rivals any sci-fi film that has come out in the last twenty years.  Hell, taken as one long movie, Lost is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

What the execs who run television are starting to realize is that they can create something akin to a novel, while movies are always going to be the equivalent of a short story. Movies can usually be taken in on one sitting and have two to three hours to develop a character or a plot, which is not that much time in comparison to the hours that television shows get. And the actors are starting to understand as well that they can really live and breathe a character for several years, thus creating something more human and realistic than what they can hope to accomplish in just a couple hours in a movie.

Think about the greatest performances you’ve seen in a movie theater in the past few years; perhaps you’re thinking of Daniel Day-Lewis (greatest living actor) in There Will Be Bloodor Meryl Streep in Doubt or Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd.  As great as I think those performances are, I think equally highly – if not more so – of Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men or Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach and Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights or Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin in Weeds or Michael C. Hall inDexter.  I’ve seen these characters go through a lot and they’ve been able to change subtly, almost imperceptibly at first, but when looking back at how they started and contrasting that to where they are now, you see how far they’ve come.

Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy is someone who’s seemed fairly consistent episode to episode, but looking at where she is on the show now, I realize she must have been changing slowly over the course of the show to get to this point; but I had never realized because she changed at the rate of a normal human being.

Then there are also the mini-series like John Adams or Band of Brothers or From the Earth to the Moon that can better tell the scope of someone’s life or the scope of a war or the NASA space program because they have the time to do it.  If John Adams had been made as a regular, three-hour biopic, they wouldn’t have been able to cover half of what the mini-series did; or, they might have glossed over key issues or condensed certain situations or characters.  Or, they might have even focused on one specific event in his Presidency rather than on the wide scope that the mini-series did.

I also can’t help but think about how much better some films might have been if they were turned into mini-series rather than “epic” films.  Che was over four hours long and still only tells us about two different times in his life without as much information and drama as we could have had.  At one point in the film, Che mentions his wife and kids who we never see, making it difficult to see the sacrifice he’s making by being in the jungle away from them.  Soderbergh’s film is an interesting one, but it’s not one that is really worthy of the title Chebecause it is not a comprehensive view of his life like John Adams.  It’s just as ill-fitting a title as Michael Mann’s Ali, another film that would have done well to be an HBO mini-series rather than the two-and-a-half hour film that had a series of scenes along the lines of, “hey, it’s Malcolm X, cool, oh hey it’s Howard Cosell!”

In various interviews, Quentin Tarantino has talked about how he dabbled with the idea of turning Inglourious Basterds into a mini-series. While I love the film dearly and still think it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year, I would have given anything to see the ten-hour mini-series version of that film.  There were so many stories left to tell: how the Basterds trained, who they were, their back stories, how Bridget Von Hammersmark became a spy, how Shoshanna came to be in possession of the movie theater, how Hans Landa got the nickname “The Jew Hunter,” etc.  We get to see one Basterd’s back story and it’s why I think so many people are huge fans of the Hugo Stiglitz character and I imagine Tarantino had several other similar scenes in mind for each of the Basterds.  The movie is wonderful, but the mini-series could have been legendary.

Look, I’m still a cinephile to my core and will always choose a great movie over a great TV show because I fell in love with movies as a kid.  But the disparity between the two mediums has shrunk over the years since I was a child and if one were to view TV shows as a way to make giant movies – like say Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander or Fassbinder’sBerlin Alexanderplatz – then I think the argument could be made that the best TV shows are approaching a greatness seldom seen in any medium these days.

At the very least, I don’t regret spending most of my summer catching up on brilliant TV shows rather than wasting my time on the utter dross that was in theaters.

– Noah Forrest
September 21, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-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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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.

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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.

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~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon