Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 52

                                               Photo by Zoran Milosavljevic 

Being one who seldom does today what can be put off 'til tomorrow (especially in retirement), I'm only now working my way through Season Three of Deadwood -- and this after finishing Season Two several years ago.  Not that I didn't like the show, mind you, but it's easy to get distracted by the Next New Thing emerging from the churning mosh pit of quality programming in this era of Peak TV.

For reasons that were never sufficiently explained -- and much to the ire of its many fans -- a Season Four of Deadwood was not forthcoming. Instead, David Milch (the show's creator and head writer) suggested that he might wrap up the series with one or two Deadwood movies at some nebulous point in the future. Such vague promises are generally worth the paper they're not printed on in Hollywood, which is why nobody really believed those movies would ever happen.

I don't have HBO, so didn't see my first episode of Deadwood until it finally came to Netflix. Before then, I did some day-playing on another HBO show called Tell Me You Love Me. There we were at 6:00 a.m. one freezing cold morning -- there was ice in the gutters at our first location -- running cable and setting up lights, when a dimwitted civilian who was waiting for a bus asked what show we were making.  I told him, mentioning that it was an HBO production, whereupon he glared at me with an accusing stare.

"Why'd you cancel my favorite show?" he frowned.


"Deadwood -- how come you took it off the air?"

I just shook my head. If this fool was dumb enough to think that a lowly juicer running power cables through icy gutters in the pre-dawn darkness of the San Fernando Valley had anything to do with a network's decision to cancel a show, then he was just too stupid to deal with... but if nothing else, this was a reminder of how popular that show was, and how disappointed the fans were when it died a premature death.

Having left the notion of future Deadwood movies lingering in the air like a fart in an elevator, Milch took his talents to the benighted surf noir drama John from Cincinnati, which was greeted with a resounding thumbs-down from viewers and many of the critics.*  Next he created Luck, a series set in the arena of horse racing, which got the axe early in the second season after the media reported the deaths of several race horses during filming.

At that point, Milch seemed to disappear until surprising the world by bringing that long-rumored two hour Deadwood movie to life after all. It aired last week on HBO as the rarest of all things in Hollywood: a promise kept.  I don't know if this will be enough to make all those angry Deadwood fans happy -- remember, the word "fan" is short for fanatic -- but it's more than Hollywood usually delivers.

I haven't seen the movie, and won't until HBO allows it to be aired on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but that's okay. I've still got ten more episodes of Season Three to watch first, which will take a while since I'm not a binge-watcher. Shortly after rejoining the Season 3 travails of Al Swearengen and company in their exceedingly grubby, bloody little frontier town, I stumbled across this, which discusses the making of that two-hour Deadwood finale.  It's an interesting piece, but with some awful news: David Milch is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, a fate I wouldn't wish on anybody. Above all, this is a wrenching personal tragedy for Milch, his family, and friends -- Alzheimers ranks high on the list of terrible ways to go, for all concerned. Beyond that, Milch's writing and creativity has stood above the pack for a while now (rivaled only by David Simon, IMHO), and the loss of such a protean creative force, still in his prime, is a blow to everyone who appreciates dark, edgy, nuanced television dramas.

A quote from the article sums up the situation -- and then some -- rather well:

"Deadwood: The Movie is about the tension between wanting things to change versus wishing they could always stay the same.  It's also about the resonating power of loss."

Sometimes life really is a bitch.

Note: NPR re-ran a good interview with David Milch last Friday.  It's worth a listen.  


I'm not a member of the skateboard generation. Granted, skateboarding started when I was a kid, but back then you had to make your own board by cutting a skate in half, then nailing those cheap metal wheels onto a two-by-four.  One of my best friends did just that, then promptly fell and broke a leg with a nasty spiral fracture that kept him bedridden all summer long. This might not have been enough to dissuade me from trying it as well, but there were no sidewalks in the rural hills where I lived, and precious little pavement of any sort. What asphalt we did have was so rough as to render any sort of skate-related activity impossible, which is why I eventually turned to motorcycles for my adolescent thrills -- and paid the price.**

Still, the in-your-face culture of skateboarding that grew out of those early days held an undeniable appeal.  I loved Dogtown and Z-Boys, a gritty skateboarding documentary by Stacy Peralta that told the story of a legendary band of rough-and-tumble skateboard rats in Venice, California, long before that town became a fashionable colony of Santa Monica.  Even now, I always stop to watch when I see kids practicing and learning the difficult, bruising art of sidewalk surfing.

Minding the Gap continues the tradition, a sensitive, lyrical documentary focusing on three adolescent skateboarders who come of age and grow into young men while grappling with the harsh realities of finding their place in a culture that seems to become more fractious and dysfunctional with each passing year.  It's definitely worth seeing -- and worth a listen is this 20 minute interview with the film's young director/cinematographer (and fellow skateboarder) Bing Liu, who has since become a professional camera operator with some notable credits on his resume.

If you feel any resonance with the world of skateboarding, see the movie and listen to the interview.


In this Martini Shot commentary, Rob Long dissects the relative economics of movie theaters vs. the current streaming powerhouses of Amazon, Netflix, and eventually Apple.  The world of movies and television is changing fast, and the jury's still out on where it will all wind up -- but you can bet the landscape of Hollywood will look a lot different a decade from now.

For more on the evolving nature of television, Tim Goodman (TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter) and Jason Snell (his podcast co-host at the TV Talk Machine) continue to discuss and analyze these ongoing changes as the digital revolution batters away at the crumbling walls of the Way Things Were.

In this excellent piece, Robert Lloyd (television critic for the LA Times) deconstructs the relative virtues and cultural resonance of single-camera vs. multi-camera comedies.  Multi-cam shows are an entirely different world than single-cam, and it's easy to dismiss the former  -- with that irritating, idiotic laugh-track -- as an inferior brand of televised entertainment.  I've done exactly that more times than I care to admit, mostly because the modern multi-cam sitcom no longer appeals to me... but that wasn't always the case. As a kid, I used to sit down in front of our ancient Cathode Ray Gun with my mom, dad, and sister to watch "All in the Family," laugh-track and all.  It was a funny, relevant, ground-breaking show at the time.  As the years passed, though, my tastes in television changed, and I came to view multi-cam laugh-track shows with something close to contempt.

How ironic then that when I finally aged-out of the single-camera world, with its 16 hour work days and end-of-the-week whipping post of Fraterdays, I was left with no choice but to embrace the much more humane world of multi-cam sitcoms, where the work hours generally ranged from 35 to 45 hours per week.  I made a lot less money, but suffered infinitely less pain, boredom, and misery, a tradeoff that worked for me.  Besides, multi-cam shows turned out to be a lot more fun to work on -- there was a lot of laughter on those sets, which isn't always the case on single-cam shows.

To quote Chuck Berry: "C'est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell..."


In this fascinating interview, John C. Reilly talks (among other things) about meeting the considerable challenges of his role in the recent Laurel and Hardy movie.  It's a good one.

Here's an eight minute short that offers an entertaining and informative deconstruction of the cinematic phenomenon known as "Bayhem" -- the dynamic shooting style of Michael Bay, in which the camera dips, swoops, and circles all over the screen in his famously pyrotechnic action movies.  I've only seen one or two of Bay's early films -- that was enough -- but this short explains where his style comes from and why it does (and often doesn't) work.  Definitely worth your time.

And while we're speaking of brainless action movies, here's a good look at some of the considerable thought, planning, and effort that went into a few of the stunts for the movie Venom.  Say what you will about all these glossy, vapid super-hero movies -- and to my mind, the less said the better -- at least they provide lots of well-paid work for crews and stunt people.  Hey, there's a silver lining in every cloud.

This piece from Wired magazine is a bit dusty -- five years old -- but still relevant to anyone interested in how cutting styles in movies have evolved over the years.

And last, here's an 11 minute clip of an interview with Orson Welles discussing some aspects of making Citizen Kane.  I don't know if film schools still teach Citizen Kane to the current generation of students, or if these young people have any interest in or appreciation for this cinematic landmark, but unlike any director working nowadays in Hollywood, Welles was a genius with a creative vision that overshadows them all -- which means he's always worth listening to.

That's it for now.  I hope you're all working and making money -- and if that's not happening, at least having some fun.  You know what they say about all work and no play... and it's true.

* Not all critics hated it, though.  Read this rather stunning review, then decide if you'd like to check out John from Cincinnati -- I did, and I do. It's now atop my Netflix queue.

**  A broken tibia and fibula that kept me in a cast and on crutches for nine long months...

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