Much has been said about serial dramas such as The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007), The Wire (HBO, 2002–8), Mad Men (AMC, 2007–15), and Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–13) bringing about a new golden age of television. A lot of these discussions, however, have centered on the idea that quality television has become more cinematic than ever—a modifier that implies a superiority of cinema and a teleological linearity toward a particular aesthetic. Notwithstanding the overuse of the term and its implications, there is no consensus about what exactly “cinematic” means in these contexts.
Season 8 of Friends (NBC, 1994–2004) included an episode in which Monica and Chandler, en route to their honeymoon, are detained by TSA agents after Chandler mocks a TSA sign forbidding jokes about bombs. By the time the episode aired on October 11, 2001, however, the scene had been excised, its humor nullified in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The scene’s later resurrection as bonus material for a DVD box set—and, inevitably, on video and social-media platforms—reflects the sort of time-sensitive relationship between comedy and context that Philip Scepanski explores in Tragedy Plus Time: National Trauma and Television Comedy.
In her latest book, Realist Cinema as World Cinema: Non-Cinema, Intermedial Passages, Total Cinema, Lúcia Nagib suggests that the integrity with which The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and anonymous, 2012) presents its subjects—as performers, producers, and spectators of their own reenactments—directly affects their reality.
Page Views editor Bruno Guaraná interviews Jaimie Baron about her new book, Reuse, Misuse, Abuse: The Ethics of Audiovisual Appropriation in the Digital Era.
A Black man wearing a noose around his neck, filmed from a low angle. This brief, cryptic shot opens Haile Gerima’s short film Hour Glass (1971). A cut, and the character is reintroduced as a college basketball player, first at practice, then in a game, surrounded by other Black athletes. They work the ball while, as Umar Bin Hassan—member of the legendary Harlem collective the Last Poets—recites on the soundtrack, “The white man is cuttin’ off their balls.” Glancing toward the white spectators in the bleachers, the ballplayer seems to experience an epiphany, comprehending his objectification and commodification as an athlete.
If you had happened to attend the December 8, 1929, screening of Fox Movietone Follies (David Butler and Marcel Silver, 1929) at the opening of the Moulin Rouge cinema in Paris, you would certainly remember the raucous audience that surrounded you. If reports are to be believed, you might have been among the patrons outraged by the poorly written French subtitles—“deplorable” French, really. You may have joined others that night or the following weekend in vandalizing chairs and throwing pieces of furniture at the screen, with shouts of “Shut up” or “In French!” But maybe you were there for a romantic rendezvous, in which case the film and the music and the subtitles mattered a lot less than having your evening marred by unhappy, snobbish viewers. Whatever the hypothetical situation, imagining yourself as a willing participant in Parisian film culture from the era of early sound cinema to around 1950 is nearly inevitable while reading Eric Smoodin’s Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950.
In Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980), Filipina star Nora Aunor plays the titular character, who grows infatuated with Gardo (Phillip Salvador), a B-movie actor and stuntman. Bona gives up the comfort of her middle-class home, leaving behind her family and boyfriend, to live with Gardo in a Manila slum. She dedicates her life to serving Gardo full-time, in spite of the many abuses to which he subjects her. Illustrating the imbalance of their relationship, Bona bathes her lover every night, ensuring the water is always warm enough for his liking, even after he brings other women home for his sexual adventures. At the end of the film, after being told by Gardo that she should leave his home, Bona gives him one more bath—this time with boiling water. Bona watches her lover scream in agony as she carries out her vengeance with the same serenity with which she had formerly carried out his bidding. Balancing highly emotional scenes with a quasi-documentary depiction of decaying Manila streets, Brocka reconfigures film melodrama into a defiant political act.
On the morning of August 20, 2019, a man hijacked a bus with thirty-five passengers in Rio de Janeiro, causing a standoff with the police on the bridge that connects that city with its neighbor to the east, Niterói. As the hijacker threatened to burn down the bus with gasoline, helicopters hovered over the scene, and news channels recorded every move they could capture from both parties. A few hostages had been released by the time the hijacker was shot—and killed—by a sniper in the police force.
The tropics really pop in Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), the first film to be shot in Technicolor in India. The film’s photographic depiction of a wet, verdant Bengal prompted Rumer Godden, author of the novel on which Renoir’s film is based, to complain that the film’s backgrounds had “swamped” its narrative with an “overabundance of Indian life and color.”1 In his memoirs, Renoir refers to scouting locations along the banks of the Hugli with his production designer, Eugène Lourié. There, Lourié discovered a palace that belonged to the maharaja of Gwalior, but its grounds were deemed insufficiently green. The lawn, yellowed somewhat by the summer sun, was torn out and a new one sown. Yet even the freshly grown grass wasn’t green enough for Renoir: on the day of filming, Claude Renoir (the director of photography and the director’s nephew) could be seen splashing the grass with green paint.
Paramount was so nervous about the on-location production of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1956) that dailies filmed in the South of France were flown first to London for processing at the Technicolor lab and then to Los Angeles. After executives had reviewed the footage, a cable was dispatched back to France: Hitchcock’s shallow-focus closeups were playing to the weaknesses, rather than the strengths, of the studio’s new and expensive wide-screen format, VistaVision. It fell to the local production manager, C. O. “Doc” Erickson, to mediate the request for wider shots and sharper focus, which would also allow the camera to take in more of what they were all there for: the sunlit French Riviera.