By Chuck Stephens Shreveport, Louisiana-born experimental filmmaker Will Hindle (1929–1987) did two tours in the Army during the ’50s, More →
To combat the onset of seasonal affective disorder, in between editing articles and tearing out my hair I like to pre-hibernate and play critic as opposed to programmer, by watching all of the Hollywood releases that I’ve missed over the past year. I try to legitimize this stupefying act with the words “for your consideration,” but who am I kidding, sometimes I just like to lie in bed, pretend I’m Proust, and suck in trash. Oh, and what ludicrous trash I’ve watched, and as of writing I’ve got at least a week to go (depending on what the Swedish pirates shanghai me into watching).
But there is only so much garbage a mind can take without exploding. Hence, I have continued with an ongoing project that has provided me deep satisfaction over the past few months: re-watching the entirety of the most structural television series in history, the original Law & Order, in chronological order, including crossovers (not, alas, courtesy of the 104-disc doorstop, but if anyone at Universal wants to send me a copy, I’ll make room for it). I assumed I’d be skipping over numerous episodes because I would remember them from times past, but clearly my brain has stopped functioning at its peak: fast-forwarding has been a rare occurrence, which at the same time satisfies and depresses me.
Now, you might argue I could spend my time more productively—I have only watched The Tree of Life once (even though I am in possession of it now in DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats—so I plan on watching it on my iPhone soon), and I don’t recall the last time I read a book of film criticism. (I also haven’t seen the Margaret film everyone is talking about, but it hasn’t been playing in any city where I’ve been since October.) But there is such a thing as comfort food for the mind. I started watching this serviceably directed show with no critical purpose, only as a means of relaxation and comfort that comes with the strict framework of each detailed episode, and the sly inventiveness that ripples the surface when the law/order division is tinkered with, which, by Season 9, is appended by a reliance on sensational cases that ramp up the entertainment value (as there are only so many ways to abduct and/or murder a child until you reach exorcism). Mike Post music also helps me fall asleep.
Despite the criticism that the show sensationalizes life in New York, I’ve found it pretty compelling to watch the city literally transform before my eyes over a decade (it’s by far and away the longest-running TV show shot on location). Over the course of the nine seasons I’ve seen to date, other intriguing themes: the impact of technology on police work (and consequently, society…see for example the introduction of cell phone and computer technology; eventually we’ll get to CCTV); the shifting dynamic caused when new actors enter an established system; a pretty weird and shifting politics, which is hard to conclusively define, but is a believable expression of the American political divide. (I’ve yet to reach 2001, but I imagine that the way L&O deals with 9/11 will prove an invaluable time capsule.) The stripped-from-the-headlines episodes also carry with them a mix of laughability but social engagement, much like the way Jon Stewart deals with current events. (Wouldn’t surprise me if many Americans of a certain age likewise got an understanding of their news from Law & Order.) Plus, the before-they-were-famous cameos are priceless, and I’m tweeting the best as they arise, because I can’t think of a better use for Twitter.
Back to the present concerns. Issue 49 (that’s right, only one to go before the big 5-0) of Cinema Scope allows you to chew on the usual eclectic, if some occasionally longer, array of interviews, articles, and columns. There are fewer reviews in the spotlight than usual, as we covered over 100 TIFF films over at Cinema Scope Online during the festival, and continue to post reviews online on a weekly basis. You know the drill by now. There is one new addition to be found on the back page of the print issue of the magazine, a new column from the resuscitated Chuck Stephens titled Exploded View. To quote Professor Stephens, “In Exploded View, discreet component parts of two films—one from the era of artisanal experimental film of the ‘60s and 70s, the other from the realm of the International Art Cinema—will be briefly examined and counter-posed: comparative, enigmatic, and often wholly inconclusive fragments from a pair of small controlled explosions which have forced the films’ various parts at unequal distances away from their original locations. It’ll be a blast.” I only hope there’s enough leeway to leave room for a future column discussing Vincent D’Onofrio’s über-method, borderline Lynchian performance as Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent versus the Jerry Orbach’s weathered and beaten Lennie Brisco in the original L&O. Oh Lennie, how we miss ya.
PS Now into Season 10, starting to remember episodes, not liking Jesse Martin, and getting bored. Guess I should start planning Issue 50.
PPS Watched Margaret.
PPPS Due to a printing errors, the images in our inaugural Exploded View are incorrect in print, but they are kosher on the website version. Something must have exploded at the printers.