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Daily Reads: Why the Streaming Revolution Seasons Over Episodes, The Inherent Maleness of the American Coming-of-Age Story, and More

Daily Reads: Why the Streaming Revolution Seasons Over Episodes, The Inherent Maleness of the American Coming-of-Age Story, and More

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

1. The Revolution Will Be Streamed: The Paradigm Shift That Favors the Season Over the Episode.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s quite a bit of original programming featured on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. The Atlantic’s David Sims examines television’s paradigm shift that favors the season over the episode.

The television industry is currently in the middle of a radical paradigm shift, as streaming networks like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu look to create as much original content as possible. One of the most notable changes evident in the flood of new content is the total abandonment of the long-accepted idea that a show needs to hook a viewer in its first act, or at least its first episode. But streaming shows like “The Path,” “Bloodline,” “Hand of God,” “Love,” “Sense8,” and many others are taking this to extremes, seeming barely concerned with letting stories pay off until viewers have sat through a whole season. The “New York Times” critic James Poniewozik’s take on “The Path” was particularly apt (and telling): “I could see it having a strong second season.” That’s the new reality of the medium — it can take a whole year before a show even needs to be good, which has unfortunately led to pervasive issues with pacing and plotting that hurts the overall viewing experience for streaming audiences. Poniewozik has written more extensively on the topic, noting that streaming networks don’t have to worry about the situational strictures of broadcast television. A viewer can discover a show at her own pace and (more than likely) watch it all at once. A streaming network exists simply to offer a broad repository of content for subscribers to check in with, rather than a daily deluge of explosive plot twists and special guest stars to keep people tuning back in. Even comedies like Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” have this type of structure — one episode viewed in the abstract might be mildly funny, but watch the entire season in a short burst and it feels suddenly like a work of art.

2. Richard Linklater, Maleness, and the American Coming-of-Age Story.
Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” received mostly positive acclaim from critics for its plotless examination of masculinity within a group of college athletes in the 1980’s, but there are some who wonder why women don’t receive similar treatment from Hollywood. For Movie Mezzanine, Monica Castillo examines Linklater’s new film and why women don’t have coming-of-age stories of their own.

I can’t fault Linklater for making beautiful films about his youth, and hell, I enjoyed “Everybody” for reminding me of my summer living in an MIT frat. What frustrates me is how similar coming-of-age stories about women are not nearly given the same reach as a Linklater film. Our stories aren’t seen as universal; they’re labeled as “women’s pictures.” This then reaffirms the notion that an “All-American” tale is intrinsically a male one. It’s almost as if we need to leave the States to see stories that vaguely reflect our experiences. After watching the re-release of Isao Takahata’s “Only Yesterday,” I was shocked that an animated film steeped in the nostalgia of primary school would dare discuss menstruation and the trauma of boys teasing the protagonist. It was apparently too candid: Studio Ghibli’s former distributor Disney decided against importing “Only Yesterday” to American movie audiences. Last year, Academy audiences nominated Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang” for Best Foreign Language Film, a movie about sisters coming of age into their culture. Céline Sciamma’s “Girlhood” was also released stateside in 2015 — a film about female friendships among black French high-school girls. Is there an American companion to these movies? It doesn’t seem like many movies about girls surviving high school have made their way to the big screen post-“Mean Girls.” But some filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt are reclaiming the Americana mantle from its androcentrism. A contemporary of Linklater’s, Reichardt (finally) gained attention in the late 2000s with “Wendy and Lucy,” a film about a homeless young woman and her dog, and “Meek’s Cutoff,” her revolutionary look at women on the American frontier. Her upcoming film “Certain Women” follows three female characters in the American Midwest as they struggle with their relationships. Reichardt taps into Linklater’s Anywhere, USA feel, yet her style is radically different, preferring quiet characters over chatty ones, and inhospitable landscapes that are just as unwelcoming to women as American society. There are no rose-colored glasses here.

3. On Scandal, and/Or, and “American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson.”
Ryan Murphy’s true-crime mini-series “American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” ended last Tuesday with a predictable, but nonetheless stunning conclusion to the trial. There has been plenty of writing on the series’ depiction of race, gender, and the complicated relations between those two in the legal system. The L.A. Review of Books’ Lili Loofbourow and Phillip Maciak explore the series and its various dramatic victories.

This is living history in every possible sense of the word, and whenever anyone heard about this show, their first question was: which way would OJ Simpson be portrayed? Would he be innocent, or would he be guilty? Ryan Murphy could have milked that for tension and stakes. Instead, he dispensed with the question deftly and with remarkable confidence: Simpson is guilty. Schwimmer’s vomit after the verdict testifies to that just as much as Gooding’s tears did during the closing, but there was no real ambiguity, even earlier, about the show’s point of view. “PVOJ’s” heroes are unquestionably Brown’s Darden and Sarah Paulson’s transcendent Marcia Clark. Those are the weights, those are the parameters. Still, within that framework, the show helps us out of that stark dichotomy and refocuses our attention on the crosscurrents that develop in any closed system — which the Simpson case certainly was. In particular, it dramatizes Darden’s deep understanding of the racial battleground and his position within it, Clark’s power in court despite the ostracism and loneliness and fame, and Cochran’s spectacularly amoral approach to a moral cause to which he remains sincerely committed. (Cochran and Darden were electric onscreen as they fought explicitly over evidence and obliquely over “the community.” I love that Cochran’s offer to reintegrate Darden was made with both good intentions and extraordinary arrogance, and I love that Darden replied “I never left.” Those are not new conversations about race, but they are important new additions to the tired discursive loop race ran around this case.) Most importantly, perhaps, the show conceded OJ Simpson’s guilt without granting that concession the central ground it has implicitly occupied for so long in America. Here’s what I mean by that: despite essentially stipulating Simpson’s guilt, the show makes clear that there is much, much more to say, and its approach was even-handed and accretive: Simpson is guilty and the LAPD is racist against black men whose tennis courts they don’t use and whose autographs they don’t seek. Cochran’s larger cause was good and he made a difference and he was abusive and he was, for all intents and purposes, a bigamist. Barry Scheck exonerates prisoners through the Innocence Project largely through the use of DNA and he played a significant role in invalidating its evidentiary value in the Simpson case. The LAPD was incompetent and starstruck and it harbored racists and framed innocent men. OJ Simpson was a murderer and he was driven mad — temporarily — by grief. Mark Fuhrman was a racist and, on this occasion at least, did fine detective work. There is nothing timid about these once-incompatible assertions in “PVOJ”: Murphy dove deep into a national wound that still hasn’t scarred and substituted “ands” for the criminal justice system’s inexorable list of “ors.”

4. Fans Who Donated Money to Finish Orson Welles’ Last Film Wants Their Money Back. Shot in the 1970’s, Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” is the uncompleted last film of the legendary director. Though a crowd-funding campaign raised over $400,000, little progress has been made, and now Netflix has thrown its hat into the ring for the worldwide rights to the film. New York Post’s Lou Lumenick reports on the story.

Shot between 1970 and 1976, the film follows the last night in the life of a once-famous director (Welles’ friend John Huston) who is trying to restart his career with an edgy film called “The Other Side of the Wind.” The cast also includes Dennis Hopper and Croatian actress Oja Kodar. Kodar, who lived with Welles in his final years, holds part ownership of the film and apparently physical custody of the negatives. Previous efforts to complete the film — including one backed by Showtime a decade ago — supposedly foundered in part because of bad blood between Kodar and Beatrice Welles, the filmmaker’s daughter by his third wife and his other main heir. Another group of would-be restorers — including “Jurassic World” producer Frank Marshall, who worked on Welles’ film — announced in October 2014 they had reached an agreement with Kodar and that the film would be completed in time for a showing on the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth on May 6, 2015. Instead, a $2 million crowdfunding campaign was launched last May 7 on Indiegogo. After a disappointing start, the goal was cut to $1 million and the campaign was extended, eventually raising only $406,605 from 2,859 backers before it closed on July 6. A year later, donors lured by tickets to the film’s premiere — and perks like “commemorative terrycloth robes…just like Orson used to wear on the set” — have started getting restless at the seeming lack of progress in restoring the film, which the organizers said on the Indiegogo website “we hope to complete…in Orson’s centennial year.” “This is akin to organized fraud,” one irate donor identified as Jérôme Stavroguine wrote two months ago on the comments section of the campaign’s Indiegogo page. “More than 400,000 USD disappeared with the promises of finishing a masterpiece. What can we do in order to get a refund and report this fraud to Indiegogo and to the FBI?” An Indiegogo spokesman said the crowfunding platform, which serves only as a go-between, had received “only” five requests for refunds and referred them to the campaign’s organizers, who were given their $406,605 shortly after the campaign closed last summer. The spokesman said it was “our understanding the refunds are being paid to people who ask and that the organizers are confident they will finish the film.”

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