|Michael Douglas IS Liberace. It was the first time|
Douglas ever portrayed a non-fictional character
in a movie-- and he nailed it.
There is something very unusual going in at HBO. The mysterious Powers That Be seem to have a fixation-- one that pokes right through the films and shows they approve, fund and broadcast like broken glass in a paper bag. I'm going to paint the idée fixe these executives seem to be obsessed with a sweeping, and ridiculously simple, comparison of two of their most recent cable films:
• Behind the Candelabra: A Steven Soderbergh HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (Liberace) who made life sheer hell for everyone around him.
• Phil Spector: A David Mamet HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (Phil Spector) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.
Lowry's article expands on this weird parallelism of these films-- wealthy decadent jaded men who channel their desires onto the lesser people in their orbit and force them, again through their power, to suffer for them as well. (BTW: Candelabra was an amazing movie; Phil Spector is talky and dull.) He concludes that HBO execs actually understand and sympathize with the moral universe these men inhabit. Phil Spector may or may not have shot Lana Clarkson; Liberace may or may not have screwed over Scott Thorson in the palimony settlement. It's not much of a stretch to believe cable execs live in the same world as the troubled men portrayed in these movies, a sympathy that may have tweaked the characterizations a bit.
|Enoch "Nucky" Thompson|
(Steve Buscemi). What he lacks in
brawn he makes up for in menace.
• "Game of Thrones:" An HBO series about wealthy, powerful white men (Joffrey Baratheon, Jaime Lannister, Tywin Lannister, etc.) who make life sheer hell for everyone around them.
• "True Blood:" An HBO series about wealthy, powerful white men (Bill Compton, Eric Northman, various vampire royalty) who make life sheer hell for everyone around them.
• "Boardwalk Empire:" An HBO series about a wealthy, powerful white man (Nucky Thompson) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.
• "Deadwood:" An HBO series about a wealthy, powerful white man (Al Swearengen) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.
• "Curb Your Enthusiasm:" An HBO series about a wealthy, (sort of) powerful white man (Larry David) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.
• Game Change: An HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (John McCain) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him--by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. I'm not being partisan here: Much of the film focuses on the very real suffering of the staffers charged with getting Palin ready to campaign.
• The Girl: An HBO movie about a wealthy, powerful white man (Alfred Hitchcock) who makes life sheer hell for Tippi Hedren.
All of these shows are the puzzling evidence that points to a simpler explanation of HBO's thing about powerful white guys screwing over their financial and social inferiors. I believe it all started here:
|Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in his natural|
environment: checkered tablecloth, Pellegrini water.
It is difficult even now to fully illustrate what a profound effect David Chase's epic mob series had on American broadcasting. It redefined HBO from a movie channel to a prestigious destination, appointment television in the days before DVRs and binge-watching. It launched the style of hyper-serial series storytelling that is now the norm on cable and broadcast. "The Sopranos" was also soaked in gore-- bloodletting became an expected dramatic feature, spreading from premium to basic cable and now even to broadcast ("Hannibal" is as bloody a show as I've ever seen, and it's on NBC). It was The Show That Changed Everything.
Most importantly: "The Sopranos" dispensed entirely with a central character viewers could comfortably identify with. Tony Soprano was a cold-blooded mob boss, a man who was defined by his shrink Dr. Melfi as a sociopath. He killed without remorse. He was also affable and he loved those in his circle-- but his actions invariable led to the suffering of those in that circle. It was an absolutely fascinating push-pull with the audience, something David Chase admitted he struggled with: He wanted the audience to love Tony, so he made him charming-- but he made sure this charm was countered by frequent glimpses into his repugnant, immoral soul. Tony Soprano was lovable, chummy, loyal, repellent, unknowable and sick. This push and pull made for irresistible television.
|Found this online. Makes my case perfectly.|
In short: which executive would NOT want to emulate such success? So as a result we still see David Chase's story and character dynamics all over the airwaves. Tony Soprano's basic character traits can be found in all of the above-outlined shows-- in Dexter Morgan and Walter White and Don Draper as well. Weathy, famous television executives may very well feel sympatico with the wealthy and famous, but their primary concern is attracting eyeballs-- and thus keeping the jobs that made them that way.
Of course HBO does offer a counterbalance to this hegemony of Caucasian Male One Percenters. Most of their miniseries-- from Band of Brothers to John Adams to Mildred Pierce-- do not share these values at all. No, there's not much of a counterbalance to all that privilege, and it may or may not be the right or even fair sort of answer to this trend. It can be embodied thus:
• "Girls:" An HBO series about penniless, struggling white women who make life sheer hell mostly for themselves.