The Tube: About a year ago, I wrote about Mildred Pierce, the five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet and directed by Todd Haynes for HBO, which had just finished airing at that time. It was another in a series of benchmarks that had established the cable network as a major outlet for high-level creative work by serious filmmaking talent, hoisting original television programming up to a level at which its “cinematic” merits could be legitimately evaluated. That run of artistic success has continued with new series like “Enlightened” and “Girls,” and the network hopes to have another popular and critical hit on its hands when Aaron Sorkin and Scott Rudin’s “The Newsroom” premieres later this month.
HBO has also invested quite a lot in its parallel run of original feature films, which has been given renewed attention of late with the May 28 airing of its most recent installment, the Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen blockbuster epic Hemingway & Gellhorn, directed by Philip Kaufman. It’s terrific, for the record, with sensational performances by both stars (especially Kidman, a great actress in a role she clearly relishes) and highly attentive direction from Kaufman, whose signature touch is a near-constant variation of the image’s color and grain. The frequent transitionsâ€”from widescreen full color to a scratchy “newsreel” look and back again, then to solemn sepia or blown-out Super 8â€”could have been gimmicky and annoyingly obvious. But Kaufman uses the technique to provide a sort of personal commentary on the storyâ€”and, importantly, the historyâ€”he’s telling, giving adjacent moments distinct tints, as it were, often within continuous scenes and shots, and pointing toward questions about memory and myth, not to mention media, whose process of becoming their ubiquitous vehicle coincided with the period being depicted. It’s surprisingly affecting, and makes the film more than it would otherwise have been.
The willingness of HBO management to support eccentric stylistic choices like that one by Kaufman, and, reportedly, to offer directors an unusual level of creative freedom across the board is nothing to sneeze at. But it may be overstating the case to credit the network with being a wide-open haven where adventurous filmmakers can get personal projects made with a minimum of interference. For all their quality, HBO’s feature films and film-like miniseries tend overwhelmingly to follow basic templates that have long been established for TV movies: remakes and adaptations (Angels in America; Grey Gardens; Mildred Pierce; Cinema Verite), biopics (Temple Grandin; You Don’t Know Jack; Hemingway & Gellhorn) and topical docudramas (Recount; Too Big to Fail; Game Change). Oddly but without a doubt, the area in which the network is most sincerely committed to mold-breaking is its TV shows, not its feature films. Lena Dunham seems to be getting free rein with “Girls”; it’s hard to imagine HBO even bringing Tiny Furniture to the gate.
Summer Series Starting: As promised, CinÃ© is going to keep the repertory programming coming, the idea being that an art house audience should expect a regular stream of classic film offerings. This year’s first two repertory series, the Film Noir and For the Love of Cinema, which commemorated CinÃ©’s fifth anniversary, were both terrific, and the summer holds more riches. Starting in July is the six-part Comedy Classics Series, which will bring 35mm prints of City Lights, The Philadelphia Story and Caddyshack, among others. And this weekend marks the beginning of the Family Classics Series, which opens Friday with The Princess Bride and continues June 22 with The Muppet Movie. Family Classics will be shown in 2 p.m. matinees Friday through Sunday for each of the next seven weeks, culminating in a July 27 screening of The Wizard of Oz. See www.athenscine.com for more on both summer series.
More CinÃ© Bits: Bad Movie Night picks up where it left off with a very special double feature Tuesday, June 19: the angel dust hysteria shocker Death Drug (starring Philip Michael Thomas!) and the sensational Christian cautionary tale Second Glanceâ€¦ The AthFest FilmFest runs June 20â€“24, including a program from V.H.S.: Videographer’s Hella-Big Show and a new lineup of Rock Docs. The latter hasn’t been finalized yet, but it will include the locally produced Georgia Theatre documentary Athens Burning. (Of course, the other major AthFest film event is the Sprockets Music Video Competitionâ€¦ Mark your calendars for June 26, when filmmakers (and UGA alums) Mark and Mitchell Jarrett will present a sneak preview screening of their brand new feature The Taiwan Oyster, which was a hit at South by Southwest this year. More on that next week.
One More Series: The Georgia Museum of Art is in the midst of a summer film series in conjunction with its exhibition of the work of painter and photographer John Baeder; each film in the series “investigates an aspect of Southern culture or the American roadside diner experience.” June 14 is Waitress, Adrienne Shelly’s charming 2007 comedy-drama starring Keri Russell. Next on June 21 is Phil Morrison’s excellent family drama Junebug, which featured a breakout performance by Amy Adams. The screenings, Thursdays at 7 p.m in the M. Smith Griffin Auditorium, are free and open to the public. Go to www.georgiamuseum.org for more details.
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