Commentary: Film and Television

Film and Television History

Interview in Spain with regard to the proposed Abraham Lincoln Battalion project.

Asked some questions by Spanish journalist Toni Garcia, I replied in writing. Some respondents have replied to me with various translations of my answers that do not entirely comport with the language that I used or the facts I intended to convey.  I’m not suggesting any willful intent by Mr. Garcia to simplify or deconstruct my own words, only that perhaps translation is sometimes problematic. So to be clear I am going leave the entire text of my replies right here: —–Original Message—– From: Toni Garcia To: David Simon Sent: Mon, Apr 9, 2018 12:57 pm Subject: A few questions (and if there’s anything you wanna add) David! thanks a lot. You can’t imagine how it’s been with this news around here, people got crazy… I’d love to publish asap, so when you have a minute, tomorrow is also ok. Thanks! So, a few questions: 1) Anything you can reveal from the plot? I guess there is not a script yet. It will generally follow the...

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Admired Work Film and Television

What’s My Line?

I wrote this up some months ago, at the time that the “Show Me A Hero” miniseries was broadcast on HBO, but then held the essay back for the simple reason that viewers were still acquiring the narrative. After all, nothing is more distracting to the viewing of any edifice than to stumble through a side door and be confronted by all the interior scaffolding, if not evidence of an architect’s early mistakes and lesser intentions. But as the miniseries has now been airing for six months — and as the DVD release of “Show Me A Hero” is slated for tomorrow — I’m guessing that any little extra attention to detail can only be a good thing. And, oh yeah, SPOILERS: *            *            * Most of the time, writing for film or television – if the writer retains a producer’s title on the set – is a straight, simple negotiation: Here’s the page. Say the lines. Yes, like you mean them, as a good actor would. You’re a good actor, right? Of course...

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Admired Work Film and Television Music

Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)

I woke this empty morning to the sudden departure of a great and good man. There will be many better, more comprehensive tributes today from musicians, music lovers and New Orleanians who knew him well, so don’t stop here without going further to celebrate Allen Toussaint’s life.  I met him on only a handful occasions and then only in a professional setting; others can attest to so much more. But there are a couple of warm anecdotes that I treasure and that ought to be added to the day’s reflections on a gentle, giving soul and one of the finest composers who ever created American music. I had a few rare opportunities to share time and space with Mr. Toussaint during our four seasons of filming “Treme” in New Orleans, on those occasions when he allowed us to portray his person and his music as part of our fictional, post-Katrina narrative. Among other things, “Treme” was our attempt to depict the New Orleans music community as organically as...

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Drug War Film and Television On Television On the Drug War

The Wire and Baltimore

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation. Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself. Having been specifically...

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Film and Television

Shooting Michael B. Jordan

What follows is from this month’s GQ Magazine, which named actor Michael B. Jordan — who we first victimized in “The Wire” — for the breakout performance of 2013.  His fine work in “Fruitvale Station” is wholly deserving and the film is an important one.  I was honored when the magazine asked me to write something for the year-end issue, and it’s reposted here with the magazine’s kind permission.  Congratulations, Michael.  We knew you when. *    *    * Perversely, we are at the edge of creating a hard-and-fast rule of film narrative in which the one assured means by which we can get America to care about young men of color is to shoot Michael B. Jordan. Not Michael, to be fair. But any character portrayed by Michael. The drug war? Stop and frisk? Racial profiling? Black-on-black violence? Our separate Americas? All that is commentary. If you need white folks to actually feel something, it pays to aim a handgun at Michael B...

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Admired Work Film and Television

Slavery, a film narrative and the empty myth of original intent.

  I’m fresh out of a theater in Santa Monica, California where I’ve watched 12 Years A Slave for the second time, having seen it several days ago on a laptop screen through a dedicated download.  I’ll be honest.  I wanted to write something after absorbing the narrative and the imagery the first time, but I was so wrought that I didn’t trust myself. Had a film with American participation actually addressed the original sin of our nationhood so bluntly, so honestly?  Was the film really as careful and delicate and dispassionate with the historical reality?  Was the restraint that i felt in the telling really there, or had the punches been carefully loaded as Hollywood is so apt to do? On first viewing, I was simply startled by how genuinely fair the storytelling had been with the subject matter.  Sadism and soullessness was balanced by moments of regret and conscience on the part of white characters.  Accomodation and supplication on the part of Southern...

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Film and Television Treme

Why I don’t tweet. Example #47

So I am on the way to a nice dinner with wife and child and Mr. Bourdain emails me.  Seems someone named Andy Cohen, who is also involved in this sprawling and relentless medium of television in some important way, has gotten into a back-and-forth with Mr. Bourdain on Twitter.  And out of the blue, though I am minding my own business — which is something for which I rarely get any credit  — Mr. Cohen, defending himself on a matter of interest to himself and Mr. Bourdain, goes out of his way to shit on the HBO production of Treme. I don’t know Mr. Cohen.  I understand he is with the Bravo Network and he was defending their show, “Top Chef,” from some negative publicity that resulted from that production having bartered for some of the BP-oil spill restoration funds as an incentive for filming in Louisiana.   And in contending with Mr. Bourdain’s suggestion that he mitigate that negative publicity by making a charitable donation of the money, Mr...

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Film and Television

Entitlement and celebrity, and the work itself

There is much to admire in the talent that is on display in the American entertainment industry. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest actors, of standing on film sets as they use body and soul to turn pages into a careful approximation of the human condition. Some of these great talents I have come to admire, even love. And many have even managed to eschew the American fixation with celebrity and the culture of entitlement that the entertainment industry — and the ridiculous money that is layered over the industry — manages to nurture and exploit. Don’t think it doesn’t require professionalism and strength of character to stay true to yourself and to the work, when from every point on the compass, people are telling you how much more attention and cash and respect you deserve. But just when I am ready to give all credit to those who labor in front of the camera, I find myself on set and I catch a glimpse of the assistant directors directing...

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