We Have Seen the Enemy, and It Is Television

We Have Seen the Enemy, and It Is Television

CINEMA hates television. In The Theory of the Novel, Georg Lukacs posits that there are true novels and fake novels—books labeled “a novel” that are really just narratives created to move mass units of recycled stereotypes and tired tropes. Visual depictions of small screens inside cinematic worlds in the 1970s and 1980s suggest cinema felt the same about television: that the “idiot box” is a fraudulent, socially corrosive form of visual storytelling—a cheap, fake version of cinema.

It is popular to claim that we are currently in a golden age of television, and that television is now every bit as artistic and daring as stories told on the big screen. The United States also elected a reality television actor to its highest office.

Above: Selections from the Eurythmics’ score to “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” almost entirely unused in the film’s theatrical release.


I just learned the lines for that day and did them the way I was feeling. It wasn't that far off. I actually was feeling as alienated as that character was. It was a pretty natural performance. ... a good exhibition of somebody literally falling apart in front of you. I was totally insecure with about 10 grams a day in me. I was stoned out of my mind from beginning to end.

—David Bowie

 

 

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Candy Clark in  The Man Who Fell to Earth  (1976)

Candy Clark in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)


Candy Clark in  The Man Who Fell to Earth  (1976). Stacked televisions—here watched by David Bowie’s character—quickly became an oft-used visual metaphor for overconsumption.

Candy Clark in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Stacked televisions—here watched by David Bowie’s character—quickly became an oft-used visual metaphor for overconsumption.

 

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

When a band or a person becomes an idol, it can have to do with the success that that person manifests, not the quality of work he produces. You don't become a fanatic because somebody’s work is good, you become a fanatic to be touched vicariously by their glamour and fame.

—Roger Waters

 

Pink Floyd: The Wall  (1982)

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

Pink Floyd: The Wall  (1982). Locked in a hotel room, Pink stares at a television while having a breakdown. Director Alan Parker described making the film as “one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life.”

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982). Locked in a hotel room, Pink stares at a television while having a breakdown. Director Alan Parker described making the film as “one of the most miserable experiences of my creative life.”

Technology is us. There is no separation. It’s a pure expression of human creative will. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the universe. I’m rather sure of that.

—David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome  (1983)

Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome  (1983)

Videodrome (1983)

Although Orwell invented the concept of the telescreen, he had no idea of its power. He knew television was the new thing, but he underestimated its power. In his mind telescreens were kind of like gigantic radios with pictures. When we put them on the set—and some were 20ft high—the effect they had on people just blew everything else away. Nobody looked at the posters or listened to the radio, the telescreen just dominated everything.

—Michael Radford

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)


John Hurt in  Nineteen Eighty-Four  (1984). According to director Michael Radford, Hurt “was just perfect for the part. He was the person who had to play Winston Smith. He was so scrawny in those days and so unhealthy looking. At the same time, he had that sort of desperate look in his eyes.”

John Hurt in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). According to director Michael Radford, Hurt “was just perfect for the part. He was the person who had to play Winston Smith. He was so scrawny in those days and so unhealthy looking. At the same time, he had that sort of desperate look in his eyes.”

Richard Burton and John Hurt in  Nineteen Eighty-Four  (1984). Of Burton, Radford said, “He really didn’t have any psychological input into his characters, he just had this fantastic voice, which he could modulate. He could read a telephone directory and make it sound like Shakespeare.”

Richard Burton and John Hurt in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). Of Burton, Radford said, “He really didn’t have any psychological input into his characters, he just had this fantastic voice, which he could modulate. He could read a telephone directory and make it sound like Shakespeare.”

Brazil came specifically from the time, from the approaching of 1984. It was looming. In fact, the original title of Brazil was 1984 ½. Fellini was one of my great gods and it was 1984, so let’s put them together. Unfortunately, that bastard Michael Radford did a version of 1984 and he called it 1984, so I was blown.

—Terry Gilliam

Brazil (1985)

 
Brazil  (1985)

Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985). “Gilliam understood that all futuristic films end up quaintly evoking the naïve past in which they were made, and turned the principle into a coherent comic aesthetic,” critic Michael Atkinson wrote.

Brazil (1985). “Gilliam understood that all futuristic films end up quaintly evoking the naïve past in which they were made, and turned the principle into a coherent comic aesthetic,” critic Michael Atkinson wrote.

Brazil  (1985). When Universal re-cut the film’s ending, Gilliam took out a full-page ad in  Variety  imploring the studio to release his version, and began hosting private screenings of the film for critics.

Brazil (1985). When Universal re-cut the film’s ending, Gilliam took out a full-page ad in Variety imploring the studio to release his version, and began hosting private screenings of the film for critics.

Bob Geldof in  Pink Floyd: The Wall  (1982). Director Alan Parker said of the film’s premiere at Cannes, “I remember seeing Terry Semel there, who at the time was head of Warner Brothers, sitting next to Steven Spielberg. They were only five rows ahead of me and I'm sure I saw Steven Spielberg mouthing to him at the end when the lights came up, ‘What the fuck was that?’ And Semel turned to me and then bowed respectfully. ‘What the fuck was that?,’ indeed.”

Bob Geldof in Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982). Director Alan Parker said of the film’s premiere at Cannes, “I remember seeing Terry Semel there, who at the time was head of Warner Brothers, sitting next to Steven Spielberg. They were only five rows ahead of me and I'm sure I saw Steven Spielberg mouthing to him at the end when the lights came up, ‘What the fuck was that?’ And Semel turned to me and then bowed respectfully. ‘What the fuck was that?,’ indeed.”

Bourgeois Shares "Devil" Talk on The Steer

Bourgeois Shares "Devil" Talk on The Steer

The Devil Says Maybe at Happy House

The Devil Says Maybe at Happy House

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