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Daily Reads: TV’s Last Difficult Man, Scientology is Bad at Social Media and More

Daily Reads: TV's Last Difficult Man, Scientology is Bad at Social Media and More

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

1. TV’s Last Difficult Man. Mad Men” is ending, and with it goes Don Draper, who GQ’s Brett Martin calls TV’s last difficult man:

Walter White is gone, dead amidst his beloved lab equipment. Tony Soprano is…let’s just say gone. So is “Deadwood’s” Al Swearengen and “The Wire’s” Jimmy McNulty and “The Shield’s” Vic Mackey—all those raging, broken, lovable, despicable men who formed the sharp edge of the plow pushing television out of its boob-tube past and into the Golden Age. That battle has been won, more quickly and definitively than even the men and women who orchestrated it could have imagined. The idea that art can flourish on TV is now a given. We no longer need the Trojan horse of genre—Mob show, cop show, period piece, Western—to sneak quality onto the small screen, and we no longer need the glib formulation of the antihero to keep it there. A TV series can exist just to tell stories now—all kinds of stories, from all kinds of perspectives. Some, sure, are likely to include male characters who are both charismatic and deeply flawed, who are endlessly contradictory and essentially unknowable—even, or especially, to themselves. But in that way, “antiheroic” was always just a way of saying “real.” Read more.

2. The Essential “Mad Men.” Before that end, however, comes an appreciation of the best of one of the decade’s best shows so far. Meredith Blake of The Los Angeles Times picks the 18 best “Mad Men” episodes:

“The Suitcase” — Warning: You may find yourself weeping softly and listening to “Bleecker Street” on repeat after watching this bottle episode featuring Don and Peggy, a strong contender for the best the show has ever done. Read more.

3. “The Jinx”: Bad Art vs. Bad Journalism. HBO’s miniseries “The Jinx” is one of the most popular documentaries in recent memory, but not everyone was impressed. Robert Greene of Sight & Sound writes that it “explores the ponderous boundary between bad art and bad journalism.”

The problem comes when one actually watches “The Jinx.” The series is so manipulative, so plodding, so pointlessly morbid, so self-congratulatory, so obviously geared to deliver one, single news-making/ratings-grabbing moment that it casts a pall over these essential questions. In the last episode we find the filmmakers grandstanding on camera that their “number-one priority” is to deliver “justice” after discovering a previously unseen letter that basically nails Durst. Jarecki’s nervous exuberance for his pending gotcha confrontation with his subject is barely contained behind a mask of documentary sobriety. We haven’t seen such thinly veiled glee since the “Catfish guys “discovered” the twist on camera in their “search for the truth.” (By coincidence, Jarecki and Smerling were two of that film’s producers.) That he peppers the final episode with pleas for justice by the interview subjects most affected by Durst’s continued, improbable freedom is self-congratulation to the extreme. Read more.

4. Scientology is Bad at Social Media. The Church of Scientology’s campaign against “Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief” has been laughably terrible, and Scott Tobias of The Dissolve wrote about how that reinforces the film’s points:

The fundamental problem with the Freedom Media Ethics campaign is that the Church seems to believe the tactics that worked in the private sphere will work in the public one as well—that flooding the zone with vindictive language, cheap smears, and character assassination will put people in their place. This kind of harassment—often in the form of lawsuits, and sometimes in the form of invasive personal smears—has made it extremely difficult for ex-members or critics to speak out against the Church without suffering the consequences. On Twitter, however, it’s called trolling. In fact, with fewer than 500 followers and a constant stream of invective, there’s little separating Freedom Media Ethics from the average generic-egg-avatar GamerGate mouth-breather. And for an organization that believes itself entitled to the respect given other world religions, that’s an awfully undignified place for it to be. Read more.

5. Watching Films in Pan-and-Scan. Reverse Shot’s latest symposium is on the concept of “the frame,” and Mark Asch writes about the infamous pan-and-scan process and how it affected the viewing process, using Michael Winterbottom’s “The Claim” as an example:

When I rewatched the 2001 VHS of “The Claim” for this article, I should say right away, I found the differences from the theatrical and DVD versions to be subtler than I expected. Winterbottom’s quick cutting and zeroed-in, if hectic, framings, meant that most scenes played essentially the same in both versions. He prefers to group figures closely within a frame, whether packed with background activity or emptied of it, rather than distribute them across its width; and you’ll rarely see two actors in profile holding down opposite ends of a symmetrical two-shot. For that reason, I didn’t detect any added cuts in this edition of “The Claim”—no shot-reverse shot patterns made from the telecine operator cutting between two sides of the same frame. Added cuts are one of the two less frequent, more assertive “stylistic” interventions common to pan-and-scan; the other is added camera movement, in which the captured 4:3 window moves across the surface of the original image to track movement. Though the full-frame VHS edition of “The Claim” is not “center-cut”—choices are made about positioning of the smaller frame within the larger one, and vary from shot to shot—the mobility and responsiveness of Winterbottom’s own camera, as well as his tail-chasing editing rhythms, minimize the need for added camera movements. There are, however, moments when Winterbottom blocks movement to take advantage of the full width of his frame, and the accompanying choices made on the VHS are revealing. Read more.

6. A Dark “Pretty Woman?” It turned out to be a popular romantic-comedy and the star-making vehicle for Julia Roberts, but “Pretty Woman” was almost a much darker movie. Kate Erbland of Vanity Fair speaks with screenwriter J.F. Lawton for the film’s 25th anniversary.

Lawton’s original script still contains many of the classic beats and scenes that people remember from the final film, including a trip to the opera, a series of bad shopping experiences, and that fancy dinner with the kind-hearted businessman whose company he is trying to raid. The characters are mostly the same, even Vivian’s best friend Kit, while the character who would become Jason Alexander’s Stuckey is simply known as William. But the tone and ending are completely different, and it’s mostly a relief when Vivian and Edward don’t end up together, even though the story ends on a decidedly down note. “3,000″ ends with Kit and Vivian on a bus bound for Disneyland—that the film would eventually be produced by Disney is yet another odd bit to a complicated story—with Kit anticipating a fun day financed by Vivian’s week with Edward, as Vivian “stares out emptily ahead.” That’s it. That’s all. Read more.

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