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Alfonso Cuarón Tells Indiewire Why TV Trumps Cinema at ‘Gravity’ Reception

Alfonso Cuarón Tells Indiewire Why TV Trumps Cinema at 'Gravity' Reception

Alfonso Cuarón shook up The Hollywood Reporter’s Directors Roundtable a week back (and drew a baffled look from Steve McQueen) when he said that television is more interesting than mainstream cinema nowadays — this coming from the man whose “Gravity” is arguably the most audaciously cinematic studio effort of the year.

“I enjoyed the directors talk,” Cuarón told Indiewire this morning at a “Gravity” reception hosted by Warner Bros. in New York. “There’s not enough time to get into real disagreements. I disagree with them about TV vs. mainstream cinema, but I was not going to get into it because it would have turned into a thing.”

Still, for anyone following Cuarón closely, his viewpoint shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As his follow-up to “Gravity,” Cuaron is heading to the small screen with “Believe,” the NBC supernatural drama that he co-created with executive producer (and fellow star warrior) J.J. Abrams. The show is set for a mid-season premiere in 2014 with a pilot Cuarón directed himself.

“I enjoyed doing it,” Cuarón said of shooting the pilot (you can watch the trailer here). “After doing people floating in space, everything seemed easy. So I had a blast.”

Given Cuarón was cut short from discussing in detail why he feels TV trumps mainstream film at the moment during the THR discussion, Indiewire asked him to elaborate.

“I feel that mainstream TV offers better variety than most mainstream
cinema,” he said. “Cinema is a cinematic experience, there’s no question about
that, but it’s a small percentage compared to TV.  TV offers you
narrative; better narrative than cinema. Some shows they even have good
cinematic moments, like ‘Breaking Bad.’ But it’s not the norm.”

Citing “Broadchurch” and “Mad Men” as two other shows he admires, he went on to stress that TV is where the good dramas are. “There’s a complexity to the characters; you miss that in most mainstream cinema.

“Sometimes my kids get upset when I say this. I’m not putting cinema down. But the thematics you can explore in mainstream TV, film studios don’t dare touch.”

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First of all, he never says television "trumps" cinema.

Cuaron's point is — and it is very clear and you guys made an effort to convolute it for a provocative HuffPo style headline — is that the capacity to tell complex DRAMATIC stories is greater in television than it is in MAINSTREAM movies. And he is correct.

Because of the season- and multi-season arcs that define television, TV drama lends itself to the serialized form that is television. This in no way equates to the statement "television trumps cinema".

What he does not say explicitly, but is absolutely implicit in his comments, is that a picture like "Gravity" or any number of great, classic films would not be effective as television, but are in fact UNIQUELY CINEMATIC THEATRICAL experiences.

To name a few: "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Citizen Kane," "Vertigo," "Singin In The Rain," "E.T. The Extra-Terresstrial," "Manhattan," "Pulp Fiction," "The Graduate," "Lost In Translation," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Rocky," and on and on and on. This is not to say the stories can't also work on television, but that the grandness of the cinema is part of what made/makes these movies great. This is because the best films are about singular life moments and big character turns, and NOT ongoing dramatic twists and complications.

The problem with contemporary cinema, in part, is that it TRIES to tell stories as complicated (and this does not mean "complex") as television, and that is why so many mainstream movies fail, or are unsatisfying.


No one is objective…a boatload of money from NBC would probably change my mind too…lol


His admiration for TV is so disheartening due to the fact that the films he's made would've been butchered if they were ever shot using a television format of visual storytelling. They wouldn't be the classics they are. It's really short sighted, as well, to think Breaking Bad touches issues that film won't, even if he is just referring to mainstream cinema. Where are these 50 to 70 year old directors getting the gall to say this type of shit? Soderbergh, Scorcese, all these people. At least Spike Lee hasn't surrendered his view of film's integrity.

Sure, you can expand a 2 hour story in cinema towards a whole show. It's just elongating the story. That's not special. That doesn't mean it's good storytelling. Cinema is challenging in the sense that you have that allotted time. You're forced to be creative which is why film directors get the recognition they deserve.

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