I don’t have too much to say before we start.
A few fun things I came across doing some homework for this week were this interview and collection of short videos and, in particular, this film essay (warning, it contains spoilers):
When I was growing up, for a long time we had this Sony TV in our living room that was silver and laminated with with brown fake wood, walnut I think. My dad had one it as some sort of award for hitting the highest sales numbers at his company.
The tv had 12 channels, one analog button for each channel, and a UHF antenna.
At some point we got a black plastic television and a cable box that we hooked up in the living room (with a remote control), and I put the old Sony TV in my room and hooked it up to my Super Nintendo console.
Although it was an older TV, I preferred having it in my room because I didn’t have a cable wire in my room, and with the antenna at least I could watch the basic channels: ABC (2), CBS (3), NBC (4), Fox (5), PBS, WPIX (11) – a local channel – and eventually TBS, a newer national channel.
I remember watching shows like Seinfeld, The Simpsons, In Living Color, and SNL on that TV, both when they initially aired and as re-runs, and in middle school being disappointed that I couldn’t get MTV over the antenna.
WPIX showed 80s action movies in the afternoon, things like Midnight Run, Die Hard, and Tango & Cash – there’s a great scene in this last movie where an 18 wheeler is barreling down the highway at Sly Stallone and he stands stalwart in the middle of the road, pulls out his hand gun, aims it at the truck, shoots, and take it out.
This is the stuff I grew up on.
I kept this same TV all throughout high school, and I’d leave it on late at night while I was doing homework, mostly reruns of Seinfeld or TBS Dinner and a Movie. The recipe when they showed Fargo was “Snow Coens.”
The catalog for Dinner and a Movie was not terribly deep, and I feel like they showed Fargo almost once per week.
But I would watch it whenever it was on air (just as I would with Dumb and Dumber, another movie that always seemed to be on). I’ve probably seen these two movies more than any others.
I always found Fargo somehow soothing, comforting – I’ve fallen asleep watching it many times. This is a bit odd considering how dark and violent the film is.
Looking back on these memories got me thinking about why that would be. I think now perhaps the film was a bit of an antidote to the 80s movies I spent my childhood watching.
Like the 80s action films it had ridiculous violence – the wood chipper scene in Fargo surely rivals the 18 wheeler scene from Tango & Cash. But Fargo also had a real-ness to it, small town people, desolate winter landscapes, people hustling and struggling to do their best, to make sense of things that 80s action flicks just didn’t.
I’ve heard people critique late disco music for being “all production” – the production quality is high, but when you strip it away, there is no substance underneath. This is exactly how I’d describe the majority of the film canon I grew up watching on my old UHF Sony TV.
It is interesting to recall all of these memories in the context of Fargo, which has a throwback aesthetic and is very much concerned with comparing our relationship to drama in media vs in ‘real’ life.
It’s full of shots of people staring at the television, engrossed, and then reacting without emotion to the drama of kidnapping and murder – the film essay I included above explores in great detail what the film has to say about media desensitization, so I won’t go into too much depth here.
Rather I’ll speak from personal experience and my own susceptibility to the melodrama of cinema. I rarely am moved to tears by the events in my own life, but often find myself overwhelmed by a film. Just this past weekend I saw a film at Sundance, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and found myself wiping my eyes at several points.
On the one hand, I love that film can evoke this depth of reaction. On the other hand, it makes me wonder about the depth of experience of my life. Is it a great privilege to live in such comfort that I am rarely moved to tears, rarely confronted by tragedy, rarely witness to beautiful self-sacrifice? Or does this entail that my life is a shallow retreat from a set of deep and important experiences?