Tulkinghorn directed our attention to, but for some reason did not want to post himself, this excellent Vanity Fair piece by Bruce Handy about the best show on television, perhaps ever. Herewith, a key passage, upon the merits of which Tulk and I whole-heartedly agree.
The thumbnail history of Hollywood goes something like this: Once upon a time, the studios reigned supreme. They bulldozed geniuses and turned out dreck, but in applying Henry Ford discipline and efficiencies to filmmaking they also gave us The Lady Eve, Casablanca, and Singin’ in the Rain. By the 1960s, however, the factory system began to give way, power shifted to directors and stars, and a new generation of independent-minded auteurs crafted sometimes indulgent but often original and even brilliant films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, and Apocalypse Now. Then, another turn: studios got the upper hand back, or learned to share it grudgingly with a handful of superstars and A-list directors. But without the old assembly-line rigor the result has too often been big, bloated dreck, like the films of Michael Bay, or the gaseous Oscar bait that bubbles up every fall—the worst of all movie worlds.Meditate on that.
But, ah, television. Its great accomplishment over the past decade has been to give us the best of all movie worlds, to meld personal filmmaking, or series-making, with something like the craft and discipline, the crank-’em-out urgency, of the old studio system. I’m thinking first and foremost of The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999 and sadly departed in 2007. This strange and entertaining series, as individual a work as anything by Hitchcock or Scorsese, was the creation of David Chase, and it paved the way for The Wire, Deadwood, Rescue Me, Damages, and its successor as the best drama on television, the equally strange and entertaining Mad Men, which will launch its third season on AMC August 16.
...each episode of Mad Men, with its scrupulous period detail, is shot in just seven days on a budget that, at an average $2.8 million an episode this season, even a lot of indie-film producers would scoff at. But who knows? Going back to my original point, if Heaven’s Gate had been a 13-episode series with a hard-and-fast airdate, the last 30 years of Hollywood history might have been different, and Michael Cimino something other than the butt of a cautionary tale.
Or on this.