Thursday, February 12, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

RHYS: As I said the other day, I've been having trouble sleeping, therefore I've been browsing through TV channels a lot more than I usually do. Am I wrong or is every second program a crime story? And not just a pleasant, uncomplicated whodunit with a Miss Marple or Inspector Alleyn at the helm, but the sort of dark, horrible CSI type of crime that one does not want to watch when falling asleep.

So I'm wondering why the world has suddenly become fascinated with darkness. God knows we are living in a dark enough time. The last depression in the thirties produced the big, glamorous Hollywood musicals--Esther Williams diving into a sparkling pool followed by a bevy of bathing beauties. Most of the stories were of the poor chorus girl who was plucked from the line and made anovernight star. It can happen to you, the messge was loud and clear. Yes, life is pretty grim at the moment but great and wonderful things can happen, and we can all be happy again soon. The sun will come out tomorrow.

Well, the situation isn't so different now. Plants closing, laid off workers not shopping,losing their homes, losing hope. And yet the fare on the screen is child abductions, warped serial killers, chainsaw masacres--both true crime and fictional. What is wrong with us? Can somebody tell me why darkness is appealing? Does it remind us that at least one person in the universe is worse off than we are?Does feeling scared remind us that we are still alive?
Interestingly enough the British crime scene has been all about darkness for some time now. Try and get a cozy mystery published in UK--it's not going to happen. And yet I read last week that the biggest grossing West End musical ever in London is Mama Mia--still playing to packed houses. It's as close to those old Hollywood movies as you can get--silly, light plot, everything is turned into a dance routine (and the movie has the added bonus of things that are easy on the eye--Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Greece)

Can we hope that this will be starting a trend and we'll see the public clamoring for more feel-good movies, plays and books? More silly tales about members of the royal family struggling to surive in the Great Depression, for example? One can hope.

JAN: Most likely, television content is a lagging indicator. All the dark, gritty crime stories are in still in response from the economic-boom now bust.I agree, although I write a fairly dark mystery and enjoy an occasioally dark, gritty thriller/movie, I can't imagine watching all those television mysteries. Both my kids used to watch CSA and Law and Order SVU so constantly that now when I inadvertently flip to one of those stations, I immediately switch. I know people who adore Dexter, which I'm sure is terrific given the cast, but its just a story I don't particularly want in my head. My agent yesterday told me serial-killer thrillers were hot. I told him I'd rather write real estate listings than write about serial killers.

RO: I was never an ABBA fan, but I went to see Mamma Mia with two high school friends and it was impossible to sit still. We were jumping around in our seats. I had no idea I knew all the words to those songs.Anyway...there's enough darkness around...I don't need to add to it.

HANK: Mamma Mia the movie? SO terrible, embarrassing, and I loved every second. (Jonathan during MM: Are you crying? Hank: (sobbing) Jonathan: (baffled)
We're addicted to The Wire on Netflix right now. And I think that really balances the ugly with the sweet.
But when it comes to scary dark stories--there's a TV news notion that people watch say, car accidents, because it reminds them that *they're* safe. Sort of-"my life is sometimes sad, but it's not as bad as *that* person's."

ROBERTA: That's the point I was going to make Hank. In these horrible dark books, the bad people run loose for a while, but then they're caught and justice prevails. When the world seems so out of control, maybe that's a comfort. My favorite books are very real--no serial killing but plenty of suspense, derived from real people with real problems. Jan, love your answer to your agent's suggestion!

HALLIE: Yes, I agree--those crime shows are so appealing today because (usually) everything is resolved at the end. We all crave the kind of “closure” that the real world rarely offers. I think the economic downturn is just beginning, and what we’ll see in the pipeline is exactly what Rhys is talking about, music and laughs, stories to escape into. Though I can’t see cinematic opulence making a comeback. I wonder how the studios could afford to make those extravaganzas in the Depression?

RHYS: Maybe we'll have to leave that kind of movie to Bollywood. Didn't you think that Mama Mia had a Bollywood feel. You're right, Hallie, it really was bad. Pierce Brosnan trying to sing,Colin Firth trying to dance and those middle aged sex kittens seducing young boys--and yet it was fun and I loved it enough to go out and buy it!So I'm hoping we are right and that trends will swing away from darkness to fun and hope (this is especially true for those of us who write on the cozy side)And maybe the public will finally tire of reality shows and we can go back to a good drama or two!


  1. Ho-kay. Since I go to sleep every night watching TruTV, I guess I truly am as warped as I think I am. I guess because I've "been there, done that," the shows are mindless white noise so my brain turns them off and I sleep. Then again, my husband and I were eating spaghetti the other night in the den, watching BONES. There was an autopsy going on at the time. We glanced at each other and burst out laughing, the irony (and hilarity) striking us simultaneously.

    I think crime shows are so popular for the reasons stated--people want to believe there is some justice in the world; that the bad guys get theirs and the good guys win. I remember watching westerns when growing up and the good guys always wore white hats. That's not always the case now. Look how wildly popular 24 is.

    In movies, I'm looking for heroes (of both sexes). I want to see DEFIANCE, for instance, though the subject is dark and sad. I also want fantasy. And comedy. I want to escape and know that the good guys win and the bad guys get theirs; that people can live and love and life goes on.

    I'll have to catch MAMA MIA one of these days. Just to say I've seen it. I'd rather pull a DVD out of my collection and catch SINGING IN THE RAIN, or LORD OF THE DANCE. SOUTH PACIFIC, anyone?

  2. Me, too,
    I really love those old silly happy-ending musicals of the 40s and 50s. I especially love Singing in the Rain and Gigi. I've been wary of Mama Mia because I just can't stand Abba. But I'm usually game for anything upbeat -- even silly teenager movies.

  3. Just last night while we were watching CSI, I turned to my husband and said, "this is just too much, I'm done." I took my book and went upstairs to read.I guess when all of the news all of the time is grim, I can't face gritty TV too. Also, because there are smany of those type shows on, they seem to try to outdo each other.
    Musicals? We try to go as often as possible to The Muny, an ourdoor summer theater here that does old musicals, and to The Fox for the travelling shows. The last couple of years though due to the economy and job uncertainty, we haven't.
    Mama Mia?
    I was an ABBA fan when ABBA was still singing and so I love Mama Mia the musical, the movie, the whole thing. I bought the DVD of the movie, put it on and turn it up to do housework, exercise whatever. I think the nonsinging actors singing and the nondancing actors dancing added to the charm.

  4. Hey Caryn:

    I'm with you. And ridiculously? When there are gory or violent scenes, I now close my eyes and plug my ears.
    I never used to.

    I love 24. I love Prison Break. Thrillers and mysteries, bring em on.

    But now I have some feeling that I just don't want violent images to get imbedded in my brain.

    Think about it--how we feel when we see Mamma Mia, for example. We walk out smiling and singing. And full of positive vibes. (or whatever they're called these days.)

    So why wouldn't the dark side of the same thing happen when we watch something negative?

  5. Ah, yes, hold the images that get stuck in the head. The eels in the horse's head in The Tin Drum...surprisingly, even more disturbing in the book than in the movie.

    But what scares me is that I also don't so much want to watch news programs with bad news, or nature programs about endangered beasts and their habitats. I hope I'm not turning into an ostrich who only wants to hear pleasant truths.

    YES, Singing in the Rain
    And add to that Funny Face and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Annie Hall, The Princess Bride. Excellent sleeping pills all.

  6. The absolute best show to fall asleep to is PBS's The American Experience. Something about the rhythms and soothing narration...
    works every time.

  7. The absolute WORST scariest ever, in my opinon, is the movie The Vanishing. The real one, directed by Paul Verhoeven.

    It's so disturbing, and so scary, and so chilling, I honestly wish I hadn't seen it.

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  9. PBS just ran a series on big production musicals. They claim there were 550 produced during the WWII years. They didn't specify dates though. Quite an amazing number.

    When the news becomes so dire, then dark stuff is less appealing. I mean who needs dark fiction - the reality is unsettling enough.

    I had seen the musical Mama Mia live in Detroit a few years back and then saw it on the programming guide on my plane ride back from Istanbul. So, I took the plunge and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I read an interview with Meryl Streep after that was hilarious. She said she loved embarassing her kids!!

    Actually, I was quite amazed by her singing and dancing. For a dramatic actress I thought she did a great job.

    Her acting with Clint Eastwood in the "Bridges of Madison County" was astounding. So, to see her take on something like this was great.

    I loved the upbeat tone of the whole production. The story line was a little shaky her and there - but that's what amazed me - I still loved it!!

    Hank - I agree totally with you in terms of dark stuff. It's a free will zone - You can put your attention ANYWHERE you want. Why would I want to focus it on something dark?????

    In fact, I would argue that it is essential to shift away from these things.

    Jan - The success of Abba always amazed me... The Dancing Queen??? Remember that lyrics Blog?? Still - there is an aliveness there that I found fun!

    Yeah, much is changing and we need to keep our heads and spirits clear to set the postive directions we chose to go in. Musicals will definitely assist in that.


  10. I loved Mama Mia--It was ridiculous and silly and it was a blast to see it with my daughter, who loves ABBA.

    I, too, love those joyful films of the 1930s. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, the Thin Man films with Dick Powell and Myrna Loy. The Wizard of Oz, itself. Shirley Temple. So many....

    But I've always had the feeling that many of the films produced in that period had a forced jollity to them, that the studio system produced them specifically to give people an escape.

    So much of the art produced during the 1930s reflected the harsh realities of the extended world--the photographs of Dorothea Lange, the writings of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Pearl S. Buck. I think we need both: reflection and escape.

    Um, this doesn't mean I'm comparing CSI to Hemingway! Today's media violence--fact and fiction--is mind-numbingly over-the-top.

    Personally, I'm a total wimp. I even hid my eyes during this week's episode of Psych!