A Lie Agreed Upon

A Lie Agreed Upon – David Milch’s Deadwood

The other day I mentioned that I was watching the David Milch created Luck.  While reading more interviews with Milch I came upon this fascinating article.  There is a mini-documntary here that you can watch about Milch’s Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time.  You can also read the script for the documentary below if you don’t feel like watching it.  It’s truly fascinating not only for the information about the show, but the ideas inherent in the show and therefore the documentary as well dealing with our country.  The title above has to do with the idea that history is a, “lie agreed upon.”  I found the following passage really interesting and a good sample of the kind of ideas inherent in the show and article:

He said, “An agreement that creates a community is an agreement upon an illusion, an agreement upon an intoxicant.  Our founding document jumps off from, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ which to me means a frank agreement upon illusion – not that these are self-evident truths, but that we agree upon an illusion that these are fucking truths.”

Michael Mann and David Milch Interview

David Milch and Michael Mann Interview For Luck

Lately I’ve been diving back into the world of Michael Mann, culminating in his masterpiece Heat.  I want to comment on that film at some point, but I’m still collecting ideas, putting my thoughts together.  I have also been watching the show Luck, which was on HBO a couple years back.  It’s a show that centers around a racetrack and the personalities that surround are a part of that world.  Mann was a producer and director of the pilot.  The show was created by David Milch who is one of the most interesting minds and greatest writers in television.  Deadwood, a show he created, is one of the high-water marks of television for me.  It is as close to Shakespeare as we are likely to see in our time.  I think anyone that wants to understand our country should visit that show.  Anyway, while looking up information on Luck, I found this interview with both Milch and Mann.  It is short but fascinating.

The Process of True Detective Writer Nic Pizzolatto

Vanity Fair recently put out a long form article on True Detective writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto.   If you are interested in the show the article deals with his writing process and the background of how the show to be.  I found it interesting that unlike a lot of TV series there is no writers room, that he doesn’t seem to like writing by consensus, and that he wrote the entire first season by himself.  I was also happy to see that he is influenced by David Milch, whose series Deadwood, in my opinion, is the greatest TV series ever.

How Actors Memorize Their Lines

deadwood460

As I’ve been reading Behan plays, I started to think about the challenge that actors must have learning dialog, especially if they are playing a large part in something.  The way that my mind works I have trouble remember song lyrics, especially to cover songs, so I can’t imagine the work that must go into learning the dialog for an entire play.  I also was thinking of the TV show Deadwood, where they often would get pages of dialog the day of a shoot, due to creator David Milch writing dialog often up until the very last minute.  (Deadwood is one of my favorite shows ever.  The dialog is really complex.  At times it is like Shakespeare with swearing.  Actor Ian McShane, in particular, would have to give whole speeches, soliloquies sometimes, that he had only gotten the morning of the shoot.)  So I decided to google what actors do, in hopes of learning tricks to make learning song lyrics easier for myself.  Out of the articles I read, I found the one that follows the most interesting, not only because it interviewed stage actors in Chicago, but also by total coincidence it talked about Deadwood and how those actors dealt with Milch’s writing style.  Here is the article:

How Actors Memorize Their Lines

Dreaming the Wrong Dream

Contains a small spoiler for the latest episode of Mad Men.

It’s been raining the last few days in Austin.  My writing production has been slow.  Ideas can only be dispersed if you are busy collecting them.  Prepare to be inspired as David Milch says.  Last night I had one of those rare nights where you watch TV all night and everything is inspiring.  I watched The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Werner Herzog’s batshit insane My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, and the latest episode of Mad Men.  I have been slowly picking my way through the book version of Under the Skin and James Joyce’s Dubliners.  Musically I have surprised even myself by becoming obsessed with Kanye West, especially his new album Yeezus.

Although I’m not far along enough in Dubliners to comment upon it, many of these works deal with the idea that the modern world creates the wrong kind of dreams in one way or another.  We are searching for a connection all while being told by the dominant society to crave material things that bring us no lasting happiness.  The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology dealt directly with these themes.  Mad Men and the work of Kanye West both explicitly deal, in different ways, with the world of the material, but also both show its shortcomings.  The Herzog movie dealt with a character who searches constantly for something to cling to only to finally be driven to complete insanity.

If you are a fan of Mad Men than this review of this week’s episode over at Salon is really good:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/26/mad_men_finale_recap_the_moon_belongs_to_everyone/

I’ll leave you with lyrics from Mad Men’s Bert Cooper’s strangely delivered farewell song.  On one hand they can be seen as too sentimental.  However, in the overreaching story of the show they seemed powerful to me:

“The moon belongs to everyone.
The best things in life are free.
The stars belong to everyone.
They gleam there for you and me.
The flowers in spring, the robins that sing.
The sunbeams that shine, they’re yours they’re mine.
And love can come to everyone. The best things in life are free.”

The Gift of Inspiration

I’m bereft of ideas today.  That is why I put up the Chuck D quote and the George Carlin transcript.  Since August of last year I have put up over 500 posts.  Maybe there is nothing less interesting than the topic of lack of inspiration.  However, I will try my best.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is George Orwell’s, “A man that gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”  I have used that before and probably will again.  From the outside one may view putting up 500 posts on a blog as a serious work ethic.  Perception is everything though.  I’m sure there are people who have put up more.  And I know the truth: I can only post when I feel inspired.  Without feeling some kind of energized inspiration I simply cannot write anything.  It comes and goes like the wind.  If I do occasionally write something without that inspiration it is muddled and I would kindly call it dogshit.

Wouldn’t the person with the serious work ethic push on without that light bulb going off over their head?  Sometimes it strikes me as laziness when I sit around waiting for that idea to formulate.  Where does inspiration come from?  Is some form of inner chemical stimulus?  Is the long hard grind of gathering information and waiting till your mind can tie the disparate ideas together?  Is it some kind of divine gift that is given to you at the whims of the muse?

The writer of Deadwood, David Milch, talks about how one has to be, “prepared to be inspired.”  He means that you have to do all the homework, but that when you sit down to write you need to let the inspiration take over.  Although we can do all the work in the world, reading books, listening to records, taking long walks, listening to albums, going to an art museum, in some ways, no matter what actually causes it, we are at the mercy of the muse.

I’m not knocking hard work, but to some degree we should be humble for inspiration is a gift.  Two people could do the exact same amount of work and only one of them would end up with the inspiration to create something of value.  Those that think they are great for creating something are either deluded or lying.  They got lucky.  Inspiration touches some people on the shoulder in the same way that a sword touches someone that is being knighted.  Sure they might have done some things to get there, but they were also shaped by outside forces.  They were born with the right mind or face, at the right time or place.

White Slavery, Flag Waving, and Money

http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

The above link is to the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930.  This was also known as the Hays Code and I mentioned it in the previous blog.  The first two things it says are: “If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind

A Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. Formulated and formally adopted by The Association of Motion Picture Producers, Inc. and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. in March 1930.”

I think it is funny that the code talks about how, “White slavery should not be treated,” and that, “The use of the flag shall be continuously respectful.”  So I’m guessing that you could show black slavery, but you dare not show any disrespect towards the nation’s flag while that slavery is underway.

There are all kinds of absurdities in this document.  Again, this was 1930 so the times have of course changed.  Most of the things that were discouraged in motion pictures back then are now pumped into peoples’ homes on a daily basis.

David Milch, which I alluded to in the last blog, talked once about how the idea of the western hero, the man of few words, was created because of this code.  I’m going to paraphrase a good bit here.  Basically what he talks about is how the heroes in westerns were prevented from talking like they often would in lawless towns of the 1800’s.  In the movies they couldn’t swear or say many other things that are and were part of regular everyday dialogue.  So in order to have them not speaking in clean and unmanly terms, the filmmakers of that era just decided to not have them speak much at all.  That is how a sort of mythic American hero came to be.  He didn’t come out of history, but out of a set of rules governing pictures during a time when a lot of the templates for films were being created.  Again, this is largely me paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

I’m against censorship of any kind.  Just like with this code, often you will get absurdities in what gets censored and what does not.  We often see this now on TV where swearing is censored on mainstream television (less and less all the time of course), but someone can kill a hundred people in an action film and no one will bat an eye.   Often what is censored depends on who is in power.

That being said it is perfectly legitimate to have a conversation about what is worthwhile viewing and what damages the culture at large.  I see a great deal of reality TV as promoting casual cruelty and meaningless consumerism.  Basically things that make the world go round.  I would never want to see any of this stuff censored, but I feel that it is ok to talk about how this kind of programming debases the humanity of the people participating in a lot of these shows and also desensitizes the viewer to absurd behavior.

It’s easy to get angry at the participants of these shows.  But most of the people in these shows are just trying to survive by making a quick buck and aren’t very smart to begin with.  It’s really the TV executives and people that prosper far greater than the participants that make sure that even when one of these shows fail that there is another one to replace it.  They are cheaper to produce than a lot of other programming and make too much money when they are successful.  They also function much like the modern day versions of the Roman Coliseum.  Give the people bread and circuses and they will be entertained enough so that they can escape the drudgery of their daily lives.  There is less likely to be rioting in the streets this way.

I’d be lying if I said that some of these shows aren’t entertaining on a base level and that I never watch them.  It’s all too easy to occasionally get pulled downstream by a fast current.  However, I do try to keep that thing to a minimum.  I don’t do this because I have any kind of intellectual or moral superiority over anyone, it’s just that I know that I’m as susceptible to giving thumbs up or down in the entertainment coliseum as anyone, so I try to keep my distance.  I’d probably get addicted to cocaine if I ever tried it, so I just don’t.

Meanwhile a show like Deadwood, which features a great amount of swearing,nudity, and violence, can only be shown on pay cable.  However, I would argue a show like this could teach someone more about American history than many of the shows on the History Channel.  It deals with how a society structures itself.  It also deals with the powerful forces that shaped American culture.  This show was cancled after three seasons, but American Idol goes on.

Although many people on the right and left disagree about what is causing it, most agree that there is some kind of decline in our culture that is going on.  Although there are some things that can’t be shown in mainstream TV, or said on the radio because of decency standards, there isn’t much anymore.  This is because the only thing that seems to really matter anymore is what makes money and what doesn’t.  The right wing religious people and the PC left can rage all they want, but if something makes a buck it will eventually make its way onto the airwaves in one way or another.  Until we decide as a country that money isn’t the thing that matters most, the floodgates will remain open.  The only vote that counts anymore is one that is made with the almighty dollar.