Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why I still like cable, and ALL NIGHT LONG (1962) and a very short film: NOTHING PERSONAL (2009)

I find that I like the torrent of material cable television still brings us, if one gets a decent menu at all. As with traditional radio (even if delivered in a non-traditional way, through satellite broadcast or podcast...or cable), the fact that one can easily stumble across items that one hasn't pre-selected can be an interesting, even educational, experience. Certainly the cable channels I watch the most, such as Sundance Channel, or Turner Classic Movies, or the Adult Swim block of the Cartoon Network, and essentially all the "premium" cable channels...very much including the Encore/Starz and Flix and -Plex and Epix channels along with their older cousins in the HBO and CBS/Showtime groups...and the better broadcast material, including even Ion or MyNetworkTV occasionally along with the other large networks, is often eminently worth seeing. (I see Ion has become the most recent broadcast network to do wrasslin', the only original primetime programming they have on a regular basis aside from importing/co-funding Flashpoint, the Canadian series, but while I won't be watching the heirs of Hulk Hogan, I will catch a Flashpoint episode from time to time.)

And with the tardy addition of RetroTV and MeTV affiliates to the lineup for the Philadelphia area by Verizon, four of the five new broadcast networks devoted to a mix of repeats and films and odd bits from all over, rather like the independent commercial stations of the past (a rarer breed than they used to be); Verizon had already been offering ThisTV and AntennaTV to its customers, and only the Bounce network is currently being ignored, despite Bounce currently being on a digital feed of a local station whose primary feed is devoted to infomercials...Bounce is more African-American-focused than the other four, rather as are its cable cousins TVOne, BET and Centric; but all five of the new broadcast networks do offer pretty interesting slates to both cable customers and those who are still using only antennas (albeit needing new digital antennas, that pull in the less hardy digital signals)...and the schedule of the oldest of their ancestors, America One, is similar though even more low-budget (America One has some interesting bits, as well, such as running a no-doubt public domain print of Carnival in Flanders overnight at 2A ET this morning, after a Burns and Allen and before a Cisco Kid, typical of the kind of programming they offer when not running Canadian football or courtroom shows). As I've noted before, I first saw The White Bus on ThisTV in primetime, something that would be an unlikely programming choice even for smaller public stations these years; the other week, AntennaTV ran the Jean-Luc Godard film Contempt as part of its broadcast feed on a weekday morning (though it's a further sad commentary on how things go in the US that nearly a half-century after its release, the mild nudity in the film was fogged for broadcast, which wouldn't've happened in Canada or Western Europe, at least).

A number of the Christian networks and cable channels are trying beef up their appeal by running even such slightly unlikely programs as I Spy  and The Saint (well, they like that title) and/or slightly less unlikely sitcoms and westerns, and while I might take in one of those, I'm at least as likely to watch on a whim such items as the Canadian spy/crime drama Intelligence on the Canadian cable channel MavTV (which has since quit running the series) or a Hill Street Blues episode on nuvoTV,  a station devoted in part to programming for Hispanic-Americans who might not speak Spanish very much (and I was shaking my head over how it's been thirty years since the HSB episode was new).

And, of course, there's C-SPAN, and the fitfully interesting other channels supposedly devoted to news, including Current TV, the closest thing we have, after Link TV (not widely available on cable, but still a feature on both DirecTV and Dish Network, and getting a little late-night broadcast clearance by KCRB in the San Francisco area), to a leftist news-chat channel...even if such other efforts as the syndicated public broadcasting magazine Moyers and Company probably reach more viewers, and the not particularly leftist Dan Rather Reports (his very well-shot variation on 60 Minutes) probably does, too, on what used to be HDNet and and is now calling itself AXS TV. (MSNBC is not, sadly, leftist, even if Rachel Maddow is in the vicinity.)

Hell, I even like the occasional interesting repeat on such cable channels as Cloo and Chiller, the less-well-funded siblings of USA and the SiFi Channel, and Chiller's direct competitor in the horror/suspense market, FearNet. And USA, and its direct competitors BBC America, TNT, and A&E have all produced and/or imported worthwhile series over the last five years or so...and IFC has stopped being a direct competitor for the Sundance Channel, and started to be another direct competitor with the general-interest cable channels, while featuring such arguably "edgier" comedy as the charming video version of podcast Comedy Bang Bang and sitcoms with cult followings and  new productions with similar audiences. (Amusingly, films released theatrically by IFC are nowadays much more likely to appear on Sundance.)  Comedy Central still produces interesting work and rather bland work at the same time, and cancels nearly all of it quickly, but...The Daily Show and The Colbert Report continue to do what they do rather well. ABC Family occasionally takes a gamble on a potentially interesting series (such as the fine The Middleman...which they canceled quickly), though the most recent, Bunheads, has been both a little too much like and not quite as good as Gilmore Girls, the previous series from their mutual creator/producer Amy Sherman-Palladino. Ovation often picks up the slack in at least the kind of pop-arts programming that once was featured on the likes of Bravo and A&E (public broadcasting's shortform video feed Classic Arts Showcase, with the "bug" ARTS in the corner, can be a very pleasant if only sometimes compelling melange of older performing artforms).

So...while cable might well collapse or at least shift over the next five years to other sorts of delivery, the current mix of "linear feeds" and on-demand (sometimes very clumsy on-demand, from both Comcast and Verizon, at least) do provide a sort of service, that allows for interesting discoveries...in a way that is frequently less hit-or-miss than what one finds among web-video as a whole, as this next citation might suggest.

Nothing Personal: NSFW, to say the least, at very least in most workplaces.  It would be R-rated for female nudity and simulated sexual activity by the MPAA, probably would get an MA rating on US television. Posted on Vimeo; runs just under seven minutes.

I'm not sure if I like this or not, as it features Paz de la Huerta playing a role which might resemble rather too closely the actress in her private life, famously chaotic of late...as one of the commenters noted on the posting on the Vimeo page, this does feel a whole lot like a well-shot, boiled-down, less dull reworking of a Godard film...no less cliched but trying to push past the cliches, and arguably succeeding, at best, through the conviction everyone brings to it. An IMDb commenter compares it to Cronenberg's distancing work, and while he's generous, he's not essentially incorrect.

Not  the kind of drumsticks jazz musicians use.
All Night Long is a film I'd caught just the smallest piece of, in a previous run on ThisTV (which does have access to libraries of British and Sony-distributed films, perhaps the former as subset of the latter), and got to see fully (save possible trimming for commercial time) last night (TCM has also run it, and highlighted it in one of their discussion series; the Criterion folks offer it in an Eclipse box of director Basil Dearden's work). The next project of its UK creative team after the Dirk Bogarde film about blackmail over homosexuality, Victim, All Night Long for its part is a modern-day Othello set in the British jazz world of 1962, with an expatriate American jazz-musician couple, bandleader Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and retired singer Delia Lane (Marti Stevens), celebrating their first anniversary at a party thrown by friend Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough), featuring American guests Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck playing themselves among an array of British jazz stars as well, most famously Johnny Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, and Johnny Scott). Unfortunately, the drummer in Rex's band, Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan relishing every atom of his villainy, and doing very well by his percussion work as well for a non-pro) is ambitious, and wants to get a contract to record his own band, a prospect that will be ensured if he can cajole Lane back into performing with his new outfit. Thus incentive for his Iagoesque campaign to break up the couple over the course of the night. 

The reworking of the operatic drama isn't too much more subtle than the nomenclature, but it does stop short of completely recapitulating the play, and the performances, both dramatic and musical, are far more engaging than the script is, whether the performer in question is primarily actor or musician. Brubeck and Mingus improvised "Non-Sectarian Blues" on set (first released in its entirety on the Brubeck album Summit Sessions) and Brubeck and some of the UK folk (not the Brubeck Quartet) do a nice reading of Brubeck's then most recent single, "It's a Raggy Waltz":
It's both sad and grimly amusing that the film, which is as progressive as can be about "interracial" romance (and not just the central couple's), when one's story is based on Othello, was arranged and particularly advertised in such a way as to slight the African-American featured musician on hand:

 Now that I'm aware of the Criterion Eclipse box, I'll be buying it. A copy of the soundtrack album wouldn't be unwelcome, either (though it is odd it leaves off "Non-Sectarian Blues").


Randy Johnson said...

I find these days that I watch Turner Classic Films as much as anything film-wise. I have no premium channels and don't catch most new films except any occasional On-Demand. I do have an fondness for superhero movies(the kid still buried inside me) and good SF(again the kid), though I use good advisedly.

Todd Mason said...

There are both more and far fewer good sf films than some folks would have us believe, indeed.

Pearce said...

I like All Night Long, though I suspect it might have been even more interesting had Mingus's suggestion that the band take a more active role in the story had been followed.

Todd Mason said...

Any improvisational deviation from that script probably would've been an improvement. Well, that's not quite fair...but it's more a serviceable than actually good script, with a few good aspects.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

ALL NIGHT LONG is a pretty decent movie and I agree that McGoohan is sensational in it. I'm a big Brubeck fan too so have always been partial to this one even if it is not my favourite of the Dearden 'problem' pictures (VICTIM has to be the best I think) - cheers Todd.

Todd Mason said...

And, indeed, "Nothing Personal" is nothing if not a micro-problem film, albeit the music, while decent, isn't as impressive.