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Daily Reads: George R.R. Martin at the Ballpark, ‘True Detective’ and the Limits of TV Auteurism, and More

Daily Reads: George R.R. Martin at the Ballpark, 'True Detective' and the Limits of TV Auteurism, and More

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

1. George R.R. Martin Goes Out to the Ballgame. 
George R.R. Martin is best known for his popular “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series and its television adaptation “Game of Thrones.” However, Martin is also a big baseball fan and recently got to appear at a Staten Island Yankees game (re-named the Staten Island Direwolves in his honor) for a one-night only appearance as to raise money for New Mexico’s Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins reports the event and sees what happens when sports and fantasy literature come together.

“In the Venn diagram of people that go to Staten Island Yankees games, or minor league baseball games in general, versus ‘Game of Thrones,'” fan Ryan Neal said, “I think this is slanted very heavily towards the ‘Game of Thrones’ side.” One glance at the crowd’s clothes, which were way more likely to advertise affiliation with House Bolton or Hodor than to sport pinstripes, could tell you that. At one gate, a cop from Staten Island’s 120th Precinct chatted up a woman in the midriff-baring costume of a Dothraki handmaiden. At another, a Yorkshire terrier out for a walk growled at the white wolf from a safe distance. Inside, fans waited on enormous lines for their chance to meet Martin or pose on a replica Iron Throne made from baseball bats. A pair of cosplaying Khaleesis got more attention walking around than visiting Yankee star Hideki Matsui got in the dugout. But the players themselves took it all in stride. “Walking around outside, you saw two lines wrapped around the stadium,” Ethan Carnes, the Direwolves’ starting pitcher, said. “It’s pretty sweet to go out there and see a packed house. It’s almost like pitching in the big leagues.” If “Game of Thrones” put asses in seats, it didn’t matter if those asses were wearing chainmail.

2. “True Detective,” “Louie,” and the Limits of TV Auteurism. 
“True Detective” is the primary creation of Nic Pizzolatto, a writer who fashions himself the primary author on his TV show. In many ways, Pizzolatto is the logical conclusion of TV auteurism, a guy with a single-minded vision that ended up serving as his own noose, but he’s one in a long line of recent TV auteurs. Before he moves to his new job as the New York Times’ TV critic, James Poniewozik analyzes the limits of TV auteurism in the “Golden Age of Television.”

“True Detective” is the logical progression, and most conspicuous failure, of something that has in many ways been good for television: the auteur principle of TV, the idea that a great series can and should be the expression of a single artist’s vision, like an author’s or (after a similar idea took hold in film) a movie director’s. TV is historically a collaborative medium, because it has to be: there are too many moving parts and too many hours to fill for anyone to do it all. But the idea of the author-driven series has been growing in TV for decades, with network creators like Steven Bochco or David E. Kelley making series that – while they employed a lot of creative talent – spoke with a certain, distinctive voice. It grew in the late 1990s and 2000s, as writers like “The Sopranos'” David Chase and “Mad Men’s” Matthew Weiner became celebrated as artists, organizing their shows around a single vision and intention. But even they had teams of writers: there were only so many superwriters like Aaron Sorkin and David Milch who either wrote or significantly rewrote nearly every script. Pizzolatto, an author by background, was of that latter school, and that made season one of “True Detective” what it was, for better and worse. (Well, partly it did: you can’t underestimate the breathtaking directing of Cary Fukunaga.) That first season had definite weaknesses – it overdid the writerly monologues and suffered from flat characters, especially the women – but it sounded like nothing else, rich and haunting. Pizzolatto was using noir fiction the way detective writers did, as the greasy-spoon plate on which to serve an existentialist main course. But Pizzolatto had the classic songwriter’s problem: You have your whole life to make your first album, and a year to make your second. He didn’t do it entirely alone (the fourth episode was the series’ first to feature a co-writer), but he mostly did. And it showed. There were flashes of beauty – YMMV, but Ray’s final, unsent recording to his son was lovely – but a whole lot of notebook-emptying. Many of the season’s weaknesses might have been improved by an empowered room of writers to talk back, cut the fat, handle fundamentals like breaking a coherent story. Yes, that would diluting the voice, but the 180-proof Pizzolatto we got this year could have used it.

3. What Went Wrong With “True Detective”? 
“True Detective’s” second season ended last Sunday with a whimper and many, many critics, including Criticwire, lambasted it all the way down the line. But what exactly went wrong with the second season after an all-around fantastic first season? Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz explores “True Detective’s” second season as a whole and tries to diagnose the problem.

What went wrong? We’ll find out eventually, the internet being what it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the culprits weren’t ego and time: Too much ego, not enough time. In the aftermath of season one’s success (deserved, I’d say), Pizzolatto, a literary-fiction writer by trade, became an overnight wunderkind showrunner philosopher-king. He parted ways with season one’s sole director, Cary Fukunaga, and hired a bomber crew of guest directors (including Justin Lin, who helmed the first two*). In interviews like this one, he seemed to go out of his way to assert primary authorship — perhaps understandably, considering that most of the positive attention paid to season one had to do with the show’s direction, photography, music, and acting, while most of the complaints (including the ones about sexism) were about the writing. Pizzolatto committed to solo-writing season two fast enough to get it on HBO just 15 months after the season-one finale. Given all this, it’s not hugely surprising that the result feels like a first or maybe second draft rather than a polished final product. The break in the middle (after the shootout) makes the final four play like a redo, and there aren’t enough mirrored elements to make it seem as though it’s all part of some grand design, the intricacies of which will be revealed if you stare at the thing long enough. I’m not ready to write off Pizzolatto, though, because if this season was a failure, as I believe it was, at least it was a singular failure, a morose pastiche of neo-noir, the civic corruption story, James Ellroy’s crime fiction, and ham actor fantasies of “edginess.” (Cocaine! Knives! Molestation! Arson! Sex parties!) I wish Pizzolatto could have had another year to work on it, but only if he’d hired a writing staff experienced in untangling a spaghetti-blob of plot threads, and perhaps a powerful showrunner unafraid to tell him that he isn’t good at everything and that there’s no shame in moving over and letting other people drive sometimes.

4. A Biker Gang Takes Over the Drive-In. 
Gusmano Cesaretti’s new documentary “Take None Give None” follows the Chosen Few, an interracial biker gang. One day back in the ’80s, Cesaretti, a photographer and producer best known for his work with Michael Mann, discovered the gang on a freeway and began taking photos of them because he liked the way they looked. Twenty-five years later, he’s made a documentary about them and the gang attended a screening of the film at a drive-in. L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson profiles the Chosen Few gang at the drive-in screening of “Take None Give None.”

The Chosen Few was founded in 1959 by Lionel Ricks, aka “the Father.” Ricks was black, as were the gang’s first six recruits. The seventh, White Boy Art, was caucasian. 
“I broke the color barrier in South Central Los Angeles in 1960,” White Boy Art says with pride, hoisting his toddler grandson onto his bike. Since then, the gang has let in so many different colors of people that its fist logo is rainbow-striped. Its ballad, “The Saga of the Chosen Few,” hails the “Blacks, Whites, Asians & Hispanics/Chosen Few Blazing on Their Backs.” “It wasn’t a conscious idea we were gonna be an integrated club,” Ricks says in “Take None Give None.” (More conscious, Cesaretti notes, was that Ricks, an only child, wanted to “start his own family.”) Ricks just wanted rebels who could ride — and survive his tough tryouts for new prospects who want to upgrade their temporary black patch to the members-only red and white cross of cartoonish bones. “This man brought people of different color together with a motorcycle,” Cesaretti beams. “He did it in a very simple, beautiful, naive way.” The Chosen Few casually became the first integrated biker gang, and only later discovered what that required: choking honky bartenders who wouldn’t serve their black members, allowing white riders to use the n-word (“You can’t call somebody a brother and have stipulations”) and protectively escorting White Boy Art from their former clubhouse in South Central 30 miles to Azusa during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

5. William Friedkin Q&A: Revisiting a Golden Era With Tales of Glory and Reckless Ambition.
 William Friedkin is one of the best American directors of the 1970’s, directing three classics, “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” and “Sorcerer,” in a row. He’s also a fantastic interviewee with story upon story of working in the film industry during the auteur-boom of the 1970’s. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. interviews Friedkin about his storied and fascinating career.

: We were mostly influenced by the European films of the ’60s. The French New Wave. Italian neo-realism. Kurosawa and other Japanese filmmakers. We were inspired by them and not bound to any formula. “The French Connection,” for all its success, was a real departure for a cop film, which was why it took us two years to get it made. Every studio turned it down. Many of them turned it down two or three times over a two year period.


FRIEDKIN: They didn’t get it. The chase scene was never in a script. I created that chase scene, with the producer Philip D’Antoni. We just spit-balled ideas. We walked out of my apartment, headed South in Manhattan and we kept walking until we came up with that chase scene, letting the atmosphere of the city guide us. The steam coming off the street, and sound of the subway rumbling beneath our feet, the treacherous traffic on crowded streets. We didn’t have a lot of time, because Dick Zanuck, who had already turned it down, told us that he would make the film for a million and a half dollars if we could get it done right away, because he knew he was going to get fired. And he was right. That’s why we settled on Gene Hackman who was not our first choice. We walked 55 blocks and came up with a chase. Nobody ever asked to see a script. We went three hundred thousand over that million and a half dollar budget, and they wanted to kill me every day for that. Nobody spent the kind of money they do today. You had groups of guys running the studios who were afraid they might be out of touch, and young filmmakers who had fresh ideas that were more like what indie film is today than what fit the classic Hollywood movie, which was the musicals of the ’40s and the ’50s like “Singing in the Rain.” What prevails in American film today that didn’t then was, if a film succeeds and seems to represent a formula, it will be repeated over and over, with more and more computer-generated images. I can’t think of any superhero film that existed in the 70s. None come to mind. No formulas and the start was the fear of those executives back then that “Easy Rider” caused in the hearts of guys running the studios back then.

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