Friday, December 10, 2010

Empire Records

One thing that struck me over and over watching the first brilliant season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire was the music. Not the Brian Jonestown Massacre tune used in the opening title sequence (which is gorgeous and epic in and of itself), but the use of music within the show.

Boardwalk Empire is a fictionalized exploration of prohibition era Atlantic City based on the lives of some of the real people who controlled and affected that world. Music was everywhere in the initial 12 episodes, and it was tied to the period. This brought two thoughts to mind repeatedly throughout the season: First, I know nothing about hot 1920s jazz, vaudeville, and nickelodeons. Second, it was a challenge to get my head around the idea that modern music – rock and roll – simply didn’t exist at the time.

The music of the period is gorgeous, and completely foreign to me. But the up-side to a show like this on a guy like me is that I willingly search and explore. And now I know who Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor were, and am beginning to appreciate their impact on popular culture. Credit HBO for including music credits for each episode on their site, giving the curious a starting point for digging deeper into the musical archeology of the early 20th century.

As engrossing as the show itself is, when the music stepped to the fore (and music is most definitely a character in and of itself in this show!) I often found myself stopping and thinking how amazing it is that rock and roll as I know it was decades away from even beginning to grow. I love music. Modern music. The result of fifty years of evolution and experimentation. And to conceive of a world where that music doesn’t exist is mind-boggling to me.

And these two notions come crashing in on one another when I realize that the music of the speakeasies was the modern music of the era, the pop music of a generation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Value of Original Art

My friend Andy posed this question earlier today:
Should artists sell their original art? Should it be more precious, or it’s just ink and paper, dude?
Andy’s question seems to imply that the act of selling original works devalues its status as art, its “precious”-ness.

I’m sure the reasons artists decide to sell or not to sell their original art is as varied as the artists themselves. Some may feel it’s a personal connection between themselves and the creation, where others may feel it’s simply a job they got paid for. The artist has every right to decide whether or not they sell their original art. Am I disappointed when I discover a favorite artist of mine doesn’t sell his original art? Sure, but I certainly can’t be upset about it. That’s the artist’s prerogative.

On the other end of that transaction, as someone who purchases original art (and has purchased original art from Andy), I would argue that selling it doesn’t inherently negate its value as art. I wouldn’t purchase a piece of original art if it didn’t h
ave value to me – value that warrants me seeking out the art, paying for it, and displaying it.

I may be reading too much into Andy’s question, but I think what he’s truly struggling with is a something only he can answer. And, like much of life, it’s not simply black or white, elevated art or crass commerce. I think Andy's real question to himself is “Can I sell my original art and still feel like both the piece and I still have value beyond the dollar amount attached to it, dude?”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Short Season Shows

This week we watched the season finales of both HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and AMC’s The Walking Dead. Both were short-season shows – Boardwalk Empire at 12 episodes and The Walking Dead at just six.

There is still a delta between premium cable and basic cable channels. Boardwalk
Empire was sweeping and lush. Similar to Deadwood (a show I am admittedly biased about because I consider it the best television show ever produced), Boardwalk Empire takes historical figures and plays with them a bit, providing a fictionalized version of them and their world. Steve Buscemi is genius in his main character role, surrounded by a brilliant cast and held up by an engaging story. Although spread over a dozen episodes, they still wrought tension from every episode… not a clunker in the bunch.

The Walking Dead, from the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, was ambitious from the beginning. To bring a zombie tale to the small screen and do it justice is a challenge. The Walking Dead comic series is one of my all-time favorites (and that of a lot of other comic fans I know). It is incredibly well-written and perfectly presented. Just basing a show on this series was enough to get me to watch.

Tracy enjoyed the first six episodes, and I’ve heard the same from others who have no familiarity with the comics. I am able to divorce myself from the source material (particularly comic books) and just enjoy a television show or movie if well done. They are different animals with different audiences and sensibilities. But it was surprising just how far The Walking Dead show chose to depart from the source. It wasn’t that deviation so much as the general meandering of the story that seemed to detract for me. The first season seemed to shamble along like of the undead walkers the protagonists are trying to avoid. The characters didn’t really develop much outside of some rather broad strokes, but I’m willing to give this another season (perhaps the gutting of the writing staff for the second season will help with things?) and see where it goes.