Warner Bros. photo
BIG SCREEN VS. SMALL SCREEN: I’m spending the whole week covering the film festival here in Toronto, an annual ritual for almost half my life now. For most people, no matter their age, there’s still a strange pang of anxiety that comes with the first week of September, a shadow of the memory of school starting that can persist for decades after September became just a time to start putting away patio furniture and buy a new sweater.
For me, that anxiety has persisted, thanks to the almost certain knowledge that, come September, I’ll spend a week running from one hotel to another at the beck and call of a platoon of publicists and handlers, doing interviews and scurrying around the periphery of Toronto’s shameless, yearly bask in the skin-damaging glare of celebrity culture. I’m too busy taking pictures — my other job here at Metro — to see movies anymore, but when
I finally get around to seeing the white hot festival highlights and critical sensations as they arrive in theatres and on DVD over the next year, I’ve found myself asking just what the hell that was all about.
I found an echo of my feelings in a piece by Greg Stacy in the Orange Country (Calif.) Weekly last week, where he ponders Hollywood’s persistent but inevitably disastrous urge to make movies out of TV shows. There was once a time, he writes, where movies could aspire to art, while TV was mostly just diverting piffle, but that seems to have changed now, “as movies have gotten crappier and crappier, and TV has gotten better and better, (and) we’ve reached a point where most of the really good stuff is on the small screen.”
Whether remaking “classic” shows like Charlie’s Angels or The Dukes Of Hazzard, or spinning off a hit show to the big screen while the ardour of the fans is still hot (the X-Files film, or the upcoming 24 movie) or trying to give a cancelled cult hit a second lease on life (Serenity, Strangers With Candy), Stacy points out that movie versions of TV shows “tend to feel stretched and strange, like lost episodes of the TV show all plumped up with steroids.”
Today, there’s nothing that makes movie comedies intrinsically funnier than a sitcom firing on all cylinders, and thanks to improved image quality and production values, a good TV thriller is just as riveting as an action film, with added room for character and plot development that are supposed to be critical bonuses. Certainly, there’s no shortage of movie actors happy to take what was once a step down from the big to the small screen, grateful for the chance to really grow into a role.
Like someone you sleep with on vacation, most of a film festival’s hits seem inexplicable wrenched free of the thrill of the occasion, and isn’t there something retro and strained about dismissing television these days, especially considering the slim pickings in the theatres? “Sure, TV is mostly crap,” writes Stacy. “Books are mostly crap too. Movies are mostly crap. Your kids are mostly crap. If you walk around dismissing things because they’re mostly crap, there won’t be anything left. Life is mostly crap.”
Words to live by.