April 23, 2015 | by Matt Siegel
Vince Gilligan borrows from the Baroque.
The eldest character in Better Call Saul isn’t Mike Ehrmantraut, Tuco’s unsuspecting abuelita, or any of the nursing-home residents shakily spooning gelatin from attorney-branded dessert cups. It’s the show’s sixteenth-century lighting scheme, which has better lines than even Bob Odenkirk himself—they’re just in the form of shadows rather than wry legalese.
In fact, while Saul’s setting derives from the blue crystal “artwork” of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, much of its symbolism draws from the black brushstrokes of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Saul’s creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have already confessed a soft spot for symbolism; they used a hot-and-cold color palette to divide the wardrobes of criminals and law-abiding citizens, with Jimmy bridging both worlds as he fights the temptation to break bad. These biblical undertones extend far past the fiery brimstone of Tuco’s shirt and the heavenly hues of “Hamlin Blue”—they go all the way back to the Baroque era of painting. Read More »
October 9, 2013 | by Sam Sweet
Once called the “friend of every insomniac in Southern California,” Cal Worthington haunted the nether regions of broadcast programming for more than sixty years. Judging by the frequency of his appearances, their consistency, and their longevity, Worthington might have been the biggest television star in the history of the West. That makes him as much a deity as anything California culture has seen in its short history. But he wasn’t an actor or a journalist or a politician. His church was a chain of car dealerships and his prophesies a series of madcap advertisements. For better or worse, everyone who lived in Southern California had to reckon with him.
Worthington’s long-running series of self-produced spots never deviated from a formula. The slender cowboy—six foot four in beaver-skin Stetsons and a custom Nudie suit—always preceded his hyperactive sales pitch with a gambol through the lot of his Dodge dealership, accompanied by an escalating succession of exotic animals. Originally it was an ape, then a tiger, an elephant, a black bear, and, finally, Shamu, the killer whale from SeaWorld—each of which was invariably introduced as Cal’s dog, Spot. Not once did he appear with a canine. The banjo-propelled jingle (set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) exhorted listeners to “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal,” a catchphrase that became the basis for the most infamous mondegreen in Golden State history. To this day, Pussycow remains a nostalgic code word exchanged among Californians who came of age in the era before emissions standards. Read More »
December 21, 2012 | by Dave Tompkins
What’s Christmas without some ancient demons embedded in the chimney? On the evening of December 25, 1972, BBC viewers celebrated the birth of Christ by being scared to death. They learned that their homes could be resonating with discarnate traumas absorbed over centuries, that the limestone walls have been listening, recording, and screaming—and that the ghost of Christmas past had been using their minds as its personal VCR. Scripted by Nigel Kneale, The Stone Tape is about a British electronics company who’s in a race to beat Japan to a super washing machine and a groundbreaking recording medium based on the “magnetic susceptibility” of certain minerals and their capacity to retain terrible memories. Holed up in a Victorian mansion, the team of bickering scientists working for Ryan Electronics would discover that haunting was a new form of playback. Merry Christmas.
Kneale had grown up on the Isle of Man, home to a mongoose named Gef who could prove his own existence in six different languages, including Russian and Arabic. Kneale’s imagination flourished in television, a medium with a reputation for killing souls. His teleplays seemed intent on trying to out-weird each other: a taxidermist gets stuffed by a pond of vengeful toads; a man is choked to death by his own bike wreckage; a porn cinema is haunted by dolphins. He also gave us titles like “Vegetable Village,” “Clog-Dance for a Dead Farce,” and “The Big Big Giggle.” One of my favorite Kneale shows involves a frumpy supermarket cashier who enlists the store mascot—a woodchuck called Briteway Billy—to wage telekinetic war against her tyrant boss, pummeling him to death with nonperishable canned goods. How many soup cans can a supermarket woodchuck ghost hurl?
July 16, 2012 | by Andi Teran
There’s a moment when thunderclouds smother the sunset and the chile ristras begin to sway, when bits of smoldering earth intertwine with invisible rain, and you’re tangled in tumbleweed magic. Everything is burnt orange and cactus green, clay-tinged and warm. There’s mystery disguised as menace, comfort in spite of storm, and the sky gives off a phantom light that makes the concrete seem cinematic. This is the desert Southwest, my homeland, also known as Breaking Bad country.
If you’ve made the television journey with Walter White—from tightey-whitey chemistry teacher to hairless drug kingpin—you’re already familiar with the show’s desert setting of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It acts as a silent character that, to me, is also its most important.Read More »
June 22, 2012 | by Carmen Maria Machado
Warning: explicit images after the jump.
Now that Game of Thrones has aired its second season, there has been no shortage of commentary about the amount of skin and sex on the Emmy-winning HBO drama. Viewers have taken notice of the gratuitous nudity and graphic fucking, which are sometimes necessary, and sometimes incidental, to the plot. I’ve noticed something else, something more specific: from rape within an arranged marriage to sibling fucking, it seems like the sexual beings of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros speak two primary languages, fellatio and doggy style.
Why do I care? Besides being an obsequious and social consumer of television (I host Game of Thrones night weekly at my house), I’m a writer of short fiction who has also published erotica under the pseudonym Olivia Glass. My story “Drought” was published in the (sadly now defunct) women’s sex magazine Filament and was selected by Violet Blue to appear in Best Women’s Erotica 2012, from Cleis Press. I’m always interested in sex as it is presented to us—in literature, film, and art—in that it is both a reflection of what we think, and a reflection of what we think those consuming the art want to see.
So what’s happening in Game of Thrones? What does it mean that the primary sexual positions in a highly sexualized show are those of domination?
And, more specifically, what’s up with doggy style?
June 20, 2012 | by Adam Wilson
Sunday. Father’s Day. It was a lovely day, high sixties and sunshine, the last spring wind before summer stills the air and AC units plug windows, dripping dirty water on my sunburnt, hairless head. I was at the King Suite at the hotel 6 Columbus on Fifty-eighth street, a comfortable and accommodating establishment decorated in a 1960s mod style. Zebra-patterned throw pillows and four-hundred-thread-count sheets. A Guy Bourdin print was hanging over my bed. The bathroom mirror was circular, haloed by a curved fluorescent bulb that adds a golden aura to my cheeks and shiny head. The bathroom walls were blue tile. The curtains looked like textile cutouts from old issues of Vogue. The bed was large and soft and sexy. The ceiling high and airy. I was here to channel you, Don, to gauge the world through your big brown eyes. I wanted to feel the tidal pull of a room without a past, a bed whose every morning comes complete with clean, new sheets.
That day, through my window, I could see the Columbus Circle fountain, and Central Park beyond it: fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, fathers and dogs and wives and husbands, all out for postbrunch strolls. Families skipped light-footed in the sunlight, smiling and carrying shopping bags. The fathers had received gifts that morning: new ties, new socks, new oversized grill spatulas. Their bellies were swollen with bacon and Bloody Marys. Their faces flushed rosy. They wore sunglasses and stupid shorts; their shirts were thickly pinstriped, overly pocketed, Hawaiian even; all varieties of dad-dork style. These are the new American men: nonsmokers, light drinkers, carb cutters. Boy did they look happy. It was their day.
And where were you that morning, Don? Last we saw, you’d dressed your wife as a Disney princess, and then abandoned her on set so you could drink up at the bar. Megan was lovely, G-ratedly grinning for the cameras. It made you sick to your stomach, didn’t it, the way she gave up her ideals for a little taste of fame? There was something unabashedly babyish in her joy, like a little girl playing dress up. And you were her jaded daddy. You’re the blunt realist who’s seen the gears that turn the wheels of capitalism. You work those gears, pull the levers, propagate the charade. But to buy into it like Megan did? To hang her star on an ad for Butler shoes?