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Daily Reads: A Talk with Shonda Rhimes, ‘Lost’ Ten Years Later and More

Shonda Rhimes on the New York Times, Lost's 10th Anniversary

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. A Talk with Shonda Rhimes. Last Friday, Alessandra Stanley’s piece on Shonda Rhimes caused a stir for characterizing Rhimes and her black female heroes as “angry black women.” Coincidentally, NPR’s Linda Holmes had a talk with Rhimes scheduled that very night. There, they touched on a number of different subjects, including Stanley’s article.

She had learned a lot about herself, she deadpanned. She hadn’t realized she was an angry black woman. She’d thought she woke up a pretty happy black woman. She went on to address her frustration that characters created by women and people of color often cannot live as characters; they are always assumed to be defined entirely by race and gender — as when, because two black women are both black women, there is assumed to be a line of commonality that runs between them, whether it’s character-to-character or creator-to-character. (It’s important to distinguish this viewpoint from the oft-expressed one that if people would just stop talking about race and gender forever, everything would be fine and we could all enjoy our cleanly functioning meritocracy, which was not the point I understood her to be making.) Read more.

2. Netflix is the New Miramax. With the rise of Netflix original dramas “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” some have dubbed the streaming service the new HBO. But according to Vulture’s Adam Sternbergh, it’s a lot closer to being the new Miramax, a company that started a renaissance for new auteurs. 

Earlier this year, Yahoo commissioned two TV-style original comedies; Vimeo has acquired the critically acclaimed web series “High Maintenance;” and Amazon, having already unleashed the exceptional comedy “Transparent,” launched an additional five new pilots—including, tellingly, “The Cosmopolitans,” from ’90s indie auteur Whit Stillman. All of which is to say: The same swashbuckling energy that gave rise to the ­indie-film movement has migrated to TV programming online. By this analogy, Netflix is Miramax, Amazon is Fox Searchlight, and your laptop is the Sundance Festival—a clearinghouse for potential breakouts waiting to be discovered. No, Netflix, Amazon, and (Lord knows) Yahoo don’t know exactly what they’re doing yet—but that’s kind of the point. They have money, and they’re throwing it around basically to see what will stick, which is exactly the kind of environment that leads to a whole lot of misfires and a few genuine revelations. Read more.

3. The Holy Week Structure of “Calvary.” John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” has seen a number of interesting reactions from the faithful. The latest comes from Asher Gelzer-Govatos, who believes that the tale of a good priest threatened with death for the sins of an abusive priest not only takes on Christlike tones, but actively follows the structure of the Holy Week before Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday. As Holy Week begins with Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem, so “Calvary” begins with two important arrivals. First, of course, is the arrival of the would be killer to confession. His promise to murder Father James sets the priest on his weary march toward death. Though he does not resign himself to death, Father James faces the real possibility that he has only a week to live. This arrival of a death sentence shapes the rest of the week, and colors James’ interactions with others in the town. The other arrival, though, is just as important: James’ daughter Fiona comes to town. Her arrival is significant not only because she represents the relationship James most needs to resolve before his death, but also because she will be, by film’s end, the truest disciple he has. Read more.

4. David Bordwell and Film Archives. Film historian and theorist David Bordwell has spent decades going through film archives, but what do archives mean now that films are widely available online and on home video? To Bordwell, they’re still the ultimate historical preservation sites for film, still capable of filling in the cracks for those that haven’t received optimal home video release (or any at all).

For example, the DVD copy of an important film for my project, “Guest in the House” (1944), had an oddly abrupt opening sequence, not at all the same as that of the script on file in our archive. I was able to watch an original nitrate copy of the film at the Cinematek last summer, and I discovered that the copy commonly circulating was indeed missing a prologue and opening scene. I suspect that the DVD preserves a cut-down version that began showing on American television during the 1950s. During the same stay in Brussels, I was able to see two more films from the period that are not available on DVD or, as far as I know, on any other format. Such will always be the case, I suspect. With the arrival of Internet 2.0, some futurists predicted the arrival of the “Celestial Jukebox,” a repository of all music ever recorded, merely one click away. I doubt this will come. Even more strongly do I doubt that there will ever be a Celestial Cinémathèque. Too many films of interest to particular researchers will remain unscanned, especially given shrinking archive budgets. Read more.

5. J. Hoberman’s First Festival. In 1968 as a student at Harpur College (aka SUNY Binghamton), J. Hoberman claimed to be a reporter for a fake publication in order to get press credentials for NYFF. Over 45 years later, Hoberman found his notes, sent them to NYFF, and, at the suggestion of Film Comment’s editor Gavin Smith, posted it online. Here’s teenage J. Hoberman on Milos Forman’s entry at that year’s festival:

“The Fireman’s Ball” by Milos Forman (“Loves of a Blonde”) was the best of the Czex [sic] films shown. Working with even slighter material than Menzel–the various elements (stolen lottery prizes/reluctant beauty queens/status wars/& an unexpected fire) Forman has made an effective and ironic study of human behavior–universal and compassionate (tho not as good) as the work of his mentors, Chaplin & Renoir. Word got out after the press screening that the film was really a subtle political indictment of pre-Dubcek Czechoslovakia, which may be so (tho though it never occurred to me during the film) but it seems that in this case Forman is more concerned with the broader politics structuring every anecdote and any communal undertaking. Read more.

6.  “Lost” 10 Years Later. It started as a sensation and ended as one of the most divisive TV shows in the history of the medium. Ten years after its premiere, Noel Murray took a look back at “Lost” for Rolling Stone, taking stock of what worked, what didn’t, what worked better than people thought it did, and what the show’s lasting legacy is.

The irony of the web’s post-finale anti-“Lost” turn is that not since “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” had a TV show done so much to foster a virtual community. The popularity of the weekly episodic review/recap owes a lot to Lindelof and Cuse’s series, because the show’s fans would drive traffic from site to site after an episode ended, picking through the various clues, coincidences, and crazy-ass theories, speculating on the meaning of every prop and ambiguous line of dialogue. As annoying as social media can be for those who have to wait a day or two to catch up on a buzz show like “Mad Men,” Twitter and the like have brought back the days when large groups of people watch TV live, rather than time-shifting. We have “Lost” to thank for fostering that habit. Read more.

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