Christmas will sparkle with glamor after tech disrupts Hollywood

(Evening Standard)

Life finds a way, says Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, in the Jurassic Park movies. And creativity too. You never know where artistic genius will go and where it will thrive. But it’s as irrepressible as DNA.

Look at it this way: for movie fanatics like me, these are anxious times. In September, the world’s second largest cinema chain, Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy. Global box office receipts this year are still at least 20% below the 2017-2019 average. Fewer films are being released, tickets are overpriced, and the pipeline of avant-garde, arthouse and indie films has rarely seemed more precarious as studios increasingly invest most of their money in franchises, superhero “cinematic universes,” and the safe bet of the masthead sequel rather than the quirky director or chamber-film gem.

This is the disturbing news. The good news is that while artistic innovation struggles in one area, it flourishes positively in another. Just look at the line-up of television geniuses available this Christmas: David Tennant in Litvinenko (ITVX); both seasons of The White Lotus (Sky Atlantic and NOW); the dazzling new historical drama from the BBC Marie Antoinette and the brilliant adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Mayflies; on Netflix, Glass Onion (the wonderful sequel to Knives Out), and Noah Baumbach’s superb rendition of Don DeLillo’s so-called unfilmable White Noise; on All 4, the complete season five of The Handmaid’s Tale (after last night’s biting finale). And more. Truly, we live in the golden age of television – or, more specifically, streaming. As the world of traditional cinema grows more cautious, the ultra-competitive world of high-quality small-screen drama becomes ever more creative and dynamic.

The revolution that began on American cable channels is now firmly entrenched in a sweeping second phase on an ever-proliferating list of streaming services: Paramount+ launched in June, ITVX this month, with HBO Max on the way.

As American writer David Milch – the true father of modern “prestige television”, who created such landmark shows as NYPD Blue and Deadwood – puts it in his terrific new memoir, Life’s Work, a medium that has been so widely dismissed as infantilizing and stupid. turns be much more than that. Working in the medium “requires an exotic combination of bravery and imagination”. And neither is lacking in the industry right now. Extraordinarily, even the glory days of I, Claudius, Alec Guinness in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People, and Brideshead Revisited pale in comparison.

The surest sign of structural change is the direction in which talent is migrating. Take Elisabeth Moss, arguably the finest movie actress of her generation, who developed an entirely new form of on-screen superstardom – in three of the greatest television shows ever made (as Zoey Bartlet in The West Wing, Peggy Olson in Mad Men and June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale), as well as other premier league series such as Top of the Lake and Shining Girls. Instead of pursuing a conventional movie career, Moss was positively drawn to long-running, high-quality streaming dramas.

Then watch 1923, the latest spinoff spawned from Taylor Sheridan’s hit modern western series, Yellowstone (Paramount+). Why did Harrison Ford wait until he was 80 to dive into television in several episodes, playing the character of Jacob Dutton, the patriarch of the Yellowstone ranch? Because this particular milestone is now big enough, exciting enough, and lucrative enough for a movie star of his eminence.

Also on Paramount: Sylvester Stallone, cruelly rejected five decades ago when auditioning to be an extra on The Godfather, will finally play a mob capo, Dwight Manfredi, in the superior crime comedy-drama, Tulsa King. Again, Stallone, now 76 and a two-time Academy Award nominee as an actor, has been waiting a long time to make the leap from the big screen to the small screen. Like Ford, he is experienced enough to know where the energy is moving.

No revolution is linear or predictable and there are sure to be market corrections ahead: these will test the economic conditions for all subscription streaming services, and not all will survive.

But, for now, enjoy the glimmer of an unexpected artistic phenomenon that undermines the simplistic claim that technology invariably destroys creativity. In this case, the opposite is true. Sit down with a minced pie and savor it. Merry Christmas.

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