June 30, 2004

So what have you been watching on TV lately?

You may have noticed I haven't been saying much about television lately. American Idol ended, and Joe Schmo was too tedious to watch. (After they decided to tone things down to cool the suspicions of one of their dupes, what was the point? The dupes believe they are on a reality show, so what's funny if the actors are acting like regular contestants on a reality show--other than that, because it's on Spike TV, the games are more sexual?) I've even stopped watching The Daily Show, and I'd been a devotée ever since Jon Stewart took over, before the 2000 election. (I just got tired of him laughing at everything that seemed to be going badly in Iraq, acting like Bush is inherently a joke, and not bothering to disguise his hostility toward guests that attempt to take the other side--especially, recently, Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard). And Dennis Miller is irking me from the other direction. (Cheering over the video of L.A. police beating a man who had obviously surrendered was just disgusting.)

So what am I watching? I'm keeping up with the new season of "Six Feet Under." I think George is sending the boxes of excrement to himself. It's clearly not Arthur, who, as Television Without Pity notes, was off buying a suit when the new package of poo arrived. I think it's George because he has had the motive and opportunity. Also, he completely underreacts when a package of crap is opened a couple feet away from him. "Six Feet Under" has its longueurs. I don't find anything interesting in the relationship between David and Keith. Both characters are incredibly bland. I can't help liking Lauren Ambrose: did you see her when she was on the Isaac Mizrahi Show and sang "God Bless the Child"? It was unbelievably good. I like the Arthur character. And I like Rachel Griffiths. The Ruth character--I don't know, how many times can an older woman break out of her repression? After the second or third time, it ought to be ridiculous. But Frances Conroy is so good, the plot line can survive a few extra recyclings.

For some reason, I've been soaking up an excess of dead body material. In addition to "Six Feet Under," I've been watching the HBO "Autopsy" series (on HBO on demand). And the other day, we needed to agree on a movie, and we decided on the old 80s movie "River's Edge," which has a lot to do with a dead body lying on a river bank. "River's Edge" was a big deal in its time: it showed how American society was on the verge of collapse because all humanity had drained out of everyone (except perhaps one drop remaining in Keanu Reeves). But here it is 16 years later, so its predictive value is gone. (Yay! We didn't go straight to hell!) We were saying things like "This movie hates poor people" and "This movie hates young people" and "When are they going to stop just driving around?" and "Where the hell are they supposed to be going now?" and "Is this thing ever going to end?" But you should see the unique performance of Crispin Glover in his prime. And it's the perfect choice if you want to wallow in 80s-style sordidness. The sets are perfect expressions of woeful misery. And there are some memorable lines, like: "I quit being a mother. It's just not worth it!"

Last night I watched the movie I couldn't get agreement on the other night, "Russian Ark." Here the question becomes not "When are they going to stop just driving around?" but "When are they going to stop just floating around?" The film is largely a technical stunt, a single shot 90 minutes long, floating through the rooms and halls of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. We see a lot of art and costumery and try to absorb various references to Russian history. Is it arty enough? Could it be more arty? The word arty was invented for this sort of thing. My favorite movie is "My Dinner With André," which is testament to the fact that I don't need a story or any action, but I found it impossible to stave off boredom. Yes, there are some beautiful images, and the technical achievement can be marvelled at (how all the thousands of actors hit their marks and two orchestras played their pieces flawlessley--or at least appeared to), but my advice is to save this for a time when you want a purely dreamy experience. The term "moving picture" is unusually apt.

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