A Hooplehead Reunion

The first half-dozen years or so of the 21st century saw some of the strongest arguments that a Golden Age of Television had arrived. Many of those were produced by HBO, from the New Jersey mobscapades of The Sopranos to the sprawling social canvas of The Wire. While it was cancelled after three season, the Western series Deadwood stands tall among the standouts of that time. Even thirteen years after its cancellation, it’s difficult to find a series as accomplished, with an ensemble cast as strong, and with writing as distinct.

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Americans, animals, but neither fish nor fowl

We’ve all been there. You find yourself in your late teens or early twenties with a profound sense of existential malaise. You’ve been to school for most of your life and you could go to school for a bit longer, but why? What for? To prepare for a job that, at best, bores you if it doesn’t outright depress the hell out of you? To lead a life of quiet desperation? Some try to escape by means of alcohol, drugs or sex, but not you. Oh, no.

Instead, you do you. You try to give your life a sense of meaning by organising an insane art heist with the aim of stealing the ultra-rare books on display at your university’s library. It’s obvious if you think about it.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

If there was alien life out there that had discovered a method to objectively measure charm and they used that to discover intelligent life in the universe, they would surely have discovered the Earth after the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, directed by George Roy Hill, written by William Goldman, but most importantly starring one of the greatest double acts in Hollywood history, Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the titular characters. The effortless chemistry between Newman and Redford, combined with Hill’s assured direction and Goldman’s wit, make the film a master class in ’60s cinema. There are few films that are as purely enjoyable as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Breathing freely for the first time

He is quiet, almost sullen, but there is also a coiled tension there, as if he’s ready to react – possibly more strongly than expected, possibly violently. Talk to him the wrong way, touch him perhaps, and he might lash out. His new colleagues have their suspicions about him: a young man his age, practically still a boy, who has been in juvenile detention for the past five years? There’s almost only one kind of crime that could account for that.

Atmen

So perhaps it’s the best thing for everyone involved if the work he applies for, in order to appeal for early parole, has him dealing with those who are already dead.

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The Adaptation Game

Wildlife, Paul Dano’s 2018 adaptation of the Richard Ford novel of the same name, is a strong directorial debut and a film featuring several strong performances, from Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette, a mother worn down by constantly needing to be the adult and pragmatic in her marriage, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jerry, the insecure father who finds no other way to prove his self-worth than abandoning his family when they need him most, and Ed Oxenbould as Joe, the son through whose eyes we see everything unfolding. Dano’s direction is traditional and quiet but serves the material well, evoking a very specific 1960s America we don’t often see and allowing the performances to create a complex, layered emotional landscape. It is a faithful adaptation, but not a mere flattening out of the novel into overly literal illustrations of the literary material.

In doing so, however, Wildlife has ended up in a strange in-between state. It uses cinematic means to achieve what Ford did with his prose, but it does so in such an unassuming way that there’s not all that much point for anyone who has read the novel to see the film. For better or for worse, after seeing the film, my main thought was, “Yup, that’s Richard Ford’s Wildlife.” Can an adaptation be too faithful?

Wildlife

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… to miss Treme

I have never been to New Orleans, and while I would like to go there, it is unlikely I’ll be traveling to the United States in the next couple of years. As a result, I cannot even begin to say whether Treme, David Simon’s four-season HBO series, delivered an accurate depiction of the city. More than that, I’m definitely not entitled to claiming that I care about New Orleans based on having watched a TV series. But I can say that I have come to love the series’ version of New Orleans – and that’s due in no small part to Simon’s unique brand of storytelling.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Midnight’s Children (1981)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I have this thing where I sometimes prefer a later, arguably derivative variation on a theme to the original. I enjoy Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead considerably more than the Beckett plays it is clearly, heavily inspired by. I find Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns grating and much prefer some takes on Batman that take their inspiration from Miller but do their own thing with it.

Midnight's Children

Similarly, although in so many ways it looks to Günther Grass’ seminal The Tin Drum (1959), at times almost to the point of plagiarism, I would choose to re-read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, over Grass’ novel any day of the week. Have at me, German Studies PhDs!

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Fear eats the soul: AMC’s The Terror (2018)

Inside the vessel, below deck, too many men, too close. Sweat and grime and noise – but even then, you’re too cold and have been for months and months. The food is bad and the days monotonous. Outside, blinding whiteness and the unreal beauty of the Northern Lights. Also, a creature with an uncanny knack of attacking when it is smartest and doing the most damage. Last time, it was your mate to the left that was killed; next time, it might be you. Will you ever make it back home, or is the best you can hope for a quick, clean death?

The Terror

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The Rear-View Mirror: Amadeus (1984)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

It is a riveting scene, and one that at a glance would seem entirely uncinematic: the younger man, sick, pale and sweaty, lies in bed and dictates music to the older man, who scribbles musical notes onto paper as if it was a race against time – which it is. The brilliant composer will not live much longer. It is a scene that doesn’t seem to need the big screen: it could just as well be performed on stage, and this is in fact where it originated. None of this seems immediately cinematic – yet it is one of the great moments of 1980s cinema: Mozart and and his bitter, envious rival Salieri racing against death to get his final masterpiece, the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, out of the dying man’s head and onto paper so it would be preserved for posterity.

Amadeus

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