This Issue

Home Theater (A Very Special Episode of Reverse Shot)

Is it really true that American cinema has largely been made irrelevant by television’s serial dramas and serious-minded comedies? Or does the argument—which is sometimes difficult to counter—simply feed more fuel to the “film is dead” proponents? For the first time, Reverse Shot is going to look—partly—to the small screen. What, then, is television? How is it distinct from cinema? Read more.

The Latest

Manakamana

manakamana_t.jpg Produced under the aegis of Harvard University's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's film Manakamana seems to engage with something like a phenomenology of attention. Like so many of SEL's projects, this film is a kind of neostructuralist endeavor: eleven eleven-minute shots—roughly the length of a reel of film—taken from a fixed position inside of a cable car ascending (six times) and then descending (five times) a mountain in the Trisuli valleys of Nepal.

Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-alive_t.jpg Jim Jarmusch’s films have a knack at catering to (and implicitly confirming) the taste of their ideal viewers: the record collectors crate-digging for that near-mint promo copy of Rain Dogs; the aging punks jostling for a front-row spot at a Stooges show; the adventurous indie kids braving a doom metal set. It’s no coincidence that so many of the director’s reference points are musical: there’s always been an especially clear parallel in rock n’ roll fandom between what you listen to and who you are—or at least who you seem to be.

Looking/Interior. Leather Bar

looking_t.jpgHowever unsuccessful Interior. Leather Bar may be in turning sex, rather than anxiety about sex, into a storytelling device, Franco’s observation about the urgency and power in such a pivot is astute: in a visual and storytelling culture in which gay sex remains taboo, other, and fundamentally threatening, there is political power in destigmatizing queer sex and recognizing it as a part of the fabric of everyday life. Looking does just that.

Alan Partridge

partridge_t.jpg Partridge is as familiar to British audiences as Homer Simpson or Archie Bunker is to Americans—they have had twenty years to feel everything there is to feel about him and back again, whereas the majority of U.S. audiences will have 90 minutes. Happily, Alan Partridge doesn't waste any time, kicking off with a burst of “classic Alan” at the radio mic (“Later on we’ll be asking, which is the worst ‘monger’…fish-, rumor-, iron-, or war-? Not especially hard, that one”) followed by one of the most joyous and perfectly judged title sequences since Catch Me If You Can.

The Wire/Juice

misgivings_t.jpg Despite The Wire’s density, it is rarely difficult to follow, yet—crucially—the dialogue remains free of clunky exposition. The logical conclusion to draw from this is that The Wire is a fine example of pure visual storytelling, which is surely a key facet of both successful television and cinema.

Dom Hemingway

dom hemingway_t.jpgDom Hemingway opens with one of many monologues to camera (an aspect of this role—constant yabbering—that apparently appealed to Law) introducing Dom as an eccentric jailbird, screaming an ode to his own penis ("My cock could save Somali children from starving!") whilst being fellated by a fellow inmate. He finishes with a smirking, insincere apology for the lack of any warning of his ejaculation. And then, hard as this might be to believe, it all goes downhill from there.

Mad Men/Inside Llewyn Davis

madmen_t.jpg For Mad Men the setting of an elaborate period scene alongside the crucial establishment of multiple characters created a disconcerting effect. But not an altogether unpleasant one. The airless, studied, nearly David Lynchian removal that seemed to typify the first season was also what made it uncannily fascinating. Though the show evolved, these negative feelings lingered. There is no sense of illusion in Weiner’s show, but rather a feeling of toxic plasticity.

Enlightened/Chuck & Buck

enlightened_t.jpg Amy is the creation of Mike White, and over the two seasons of Enlightened becomes the purest version of a character the writer and director has returned to and refined over his career: the protagonist whose genuine, unadorable awkwardness is portrayed with such steady, nonjudgmental empathy that our desire to recoil is eroded, even as we continue to see and understand that reaction in other people on screen.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!/Sherlock Jr.

sherlock jr_t.jpg Every effect is carefully calibrated, and every detail—in this case, the diplomas, the names, the attire, the weak smiles, the too-rigid postures, the slight shifts of vocal inflection—meticulously mapped out. In this sense, Awesome Show is the ideal work of art for a cultural moment in which cult appeal is manufactured rather than earned over time. It’s a ready-made jumble of shaggy-dog stories, blunt satire, crude gross-out humor, mock commercial interludes, and eighties-style computer graphics, populated by a cast of top-flight alternative comedians and amateur weirdos.

Girls/Fish Tank

girls1_t.jpg To give Girls the benefit of the many, many doubts it raises—about its cloistered, strategically (?) whited-out New York City; about the half-critical, half-aspirational vibe of its generational portraiture; about the absolute phoniness of so much of its plotting and dialogue—the show can be pathologically watchable when it dispenses with any pretenses to urban anthropology and plunges into its characters’ headspaces. Sometimes, the show’s depths are kiddie-pool shallow, but occasionally, as in “One Man’s Trash,” there’s a bit of an undertow.

It Felt Like Love

it-felt-like-love_t.jpg There’s a great risk that comes with truly intimate cinema. Eliza Hittman’s feature debut brings us so close to its young subject—and to the very sexual core of adolescence—that it seems to put both her and the audience in a kind of constant peril. This risk is also the beauty of It Felt Like Love, which eschews coming-of-age conventions in favor of a chain of immersive moments, not bothering to put us at ease during any of them. In dramatizing what probably amounts to only a few, crucial weeks in one girl’s life, the film evokes an entire, authentic world of teenage pathology. Rarely does a movie so fixated on flesh and body mortification feel so completely interior.

The Swan/Saw

theswan_t.jpgSaw and The Swan are only a decade old, but both now seem like relics from a time when it was a novelty to fixate on the body and its destruction; they represent blunt, perhaps unintentional, stabs at integrating ultraviolent, mutilation-based horror into a mass-audience aesthetic. Both franchises were canny enough to wedge themselves into a widening gap in our society: between the surface belief in exceptionalism and self-improvement, and the reality of stasis and decline.

Futurama/A Prairie Home Companion

Futurama_t.jpg The saga of TV and cinema is not about one ascending while the other declines, but rather about overlapping, mutating influences. It was once said that 1950s French film critics discovered Shakespeare by watching Orson Welles; how many budding film writers would later discover Welles by watching The Simpsons? That show’s abundant Citizen Kane parodies were but one element that made it such a personal gateway to other discoveries, including creator Matt Groening’s other series, Futurama.

Nymphomaniac

nymph_t.jpg Von Trier’s martyr complex doesn’t necessarily mean that his films are always complex about martyrdom, but it’s become increasingly difficult to dismiss him (as many have and a few still do) of simply indulging his theater of cruelty sensibilities in movie after movie. The closer von Trier’s work edges toward some sort of explicitly personal revelation the more slack some of us are inclined to cut him, partially because it forces him to lean less on his coldly virtuosic presentational skills, and partially because that sense of confession often underwrites vital cinema.

Breaking Bad/A History of Violence

breakingbad_t.jpg Though A History of Violence and Breaking Bad follow opposite trajectories—one toward redemption, the other damnation—they both investigate whether the man makes the circumstance or the circumstances make the man. The question can be asked of many of the so-called “difficult men” associated with the new golden age of television—Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Jimmy McNulty, and the like—who are all, like Tom Stall and Walter White, descendants of the flawed male heroes of Hollywood noirs, Westerns, and gangster pictures.

Louie/Kramer vs. Kramer

louie_1_t.jpg The feature film is exceptionally effective at tracing movement and development, at dramatizing and helping us to make self-contained sense of journeys from there to here, then to now, who he was to who he’s become. By contrast, this episode of Louie starts, and stays, in the here and now. Except for rare digressions into multiple-episode story cycles (season three’s Parker Posey and David Letterman–replacement storylines, for example), Louie episodes are self-contained.

Downton Abbey/Howards End

downton-abbey_t.jpg It’s important firstly to note that Fellowes’s treatment of class (he has said that “class marbles almost every aspect of our lives”) is fundamentally one of form, not substance: Downton Abbey is constructed as an entertainment around the subject of class, but seeks to provide very little substantial analysis, commentary, or political argument on it, concentrating instead on providing an account of the context within which its characters, its principal attraction, are more or less fortunate to exist.

30 Rock/Mean Girls

30rock_t.jpgMean Girls and 30 Rock clearly spring from the same comic worldview: a stylized yet curiously relatable carnival of spring-loaded insults, curveball cultural references, and moments of genuine empathetic connection self-consciously undercut by absurdism. Her world is unapologetically female-centered and concerned deeply with how modern-day women—be they just past puberty or pushing forty—navigate the choppy waters of friendship, the puzzles of romance, and the contradictions of both contemporary feminism and popular culture’s construction of the idealized woman.

Top of the Lake/Hardcore

top-of-the-lake_t.jpg Jane Campion’s seven-part Top of the Lake series, which she developed with Gerard Lee (Sweetie) and co-directed with Australian Garth Davis for BBC2 and the Sundance Channel, provides a limit case for disambiguating the presumed collapse of boundaries between television and cinema. It is also a sterling example of a relatively new (and still rare) television genre pioneered in the early ’90s by David Lynch: the auteur-driven series.

The Sopranos/Irreversible

Melfi_t.jpgThe Sopranos is always thinking of us viewers and our relationships to its characters. Constantly implicit is the question: why do we care about Tony Soprano? And more provocatively, why do we want to see this man better himself? The first scene of the series, in which Tony meets Dr. Melfi, establishes the show as an ironically pitched journey toward fulfillment—can therapy help Tony Soprano overcome the unseen demons that haunt him so that he can become a more effective father, husband, and boss?

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