Scott Ellington's Blog

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The Santa Monica (Lewinsky) Address

Four score and seven versions ago, our content creators brought forth upon this continuum an old notion, conceived in equity and dedicated to the proposition that all media is Cultural currency.

Now we are engaged in a great war of civil definition, testing whether that original notion or any ulterior promotion of private, corporate or global ownership can long endure.

We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of our fortunes, our individual and collective attention, to the restoration of an old frontier.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But in a larger sense, we cannon dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground without inspiring others to engage, add or detract from our poor power to be dedicated here to the unfinishable work which they who endlessly fight here have, thusfar, so nobly advanced.

It is, rather, for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from postings, comments and critique we take increased devotion to that cause for which the minimum basic agreement acts as an open door (to the street); that we here highly resolve that this site shall not exist in vain; that this notion, to resist complicity with Power, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that entertainment of the people, by the people, for and about the people shall not perish beneath an avalanche of counterproductive corporate notes, but strive to find intrinsic values in the plural form of “is”.

29 Jul 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Brooklyn South

In the pilot episode’s commentary, David Milch mocks himself for the hubris that led to creating a better version of Hill Street Blues (my emphasis) in the midst of perpetuating NYPD Blue.  It’s a powerful, deadly-serious, self-inflicted attack on his character.  The remark stems very specifically from his contempt for the roll-call parody set piece, that characterized the earlier show (created by other people before he came aboard in season 3), but it ends with an underexpressed apology to the actors whose careers were not favorably impacted by a cancelled show that the actors loved.  He indicts himself for failing the creative enterprise of Brooklyn South by underestimating the demands of his very own process; Licalsi confessed to a crime ascribed to Giardella.  The series is eminently worthy of study for that reason alone — to provide insight into David Milch-overextended, heroically trying to provide just-in-time, custom-tailored inventory to two, unimaginably-demanding creative enterprises, simultaneously:  Inserting newly-minted, custom content too late for the meddling of bosses.

     Why is it still a lamentable truth that only the first four seasons of NYPD Blue are available on DVD?  I don’t know, but I entitle myself to the speculation that that series spiraled toward the toilet the moment the attention of David Milch became permanently divided between a wildly successful commercial property and a speculative spin-off (that was also a remake [from scratch]).  I’m just guessing that ABC’s vested interest in NYPD Blue frowned on the devotion of previously-contracted resources to CBS for the upstart Brooklyn South.  But then, I’m inclined to see monied people meddling in the affairs of artists, Culture and practically everything.  So let’s move on to the heart of the aborted series after noting that Brooklyn South had more than a little in common with a fabulously-rich mining camp (named Milchwood) that Power coveted.
     Yesterday, I bought a new copy of Brooklyn South from a guy in Georgia, via Amazon.  I was surprised to find it advertised as unexpurgated.  How exactly that term can be applied to a (Standards&Practices-inhibited) broadcast television show remains to be seen, but (speculating again) I figure the arcane language of smart, undereducated neighborhood tough guys (who grew up to become cops, skels and assholes) foreshadows the metatextual use of language in Deadwood, which will probably lead me to Mencken’s and Twain and Melville and London and McChesney and Mcluhan and God-knows-where-else, like a moth to a flame.  And maybe the seller in Georgia is simply bullshitting, precisely as Spielberg suckered me out of the box office price of CE3K, The Director’s Cut.  We’ll see.
     Brooklyn South is loaded with characters, storylines, conflicts, solutions and an extra-heaping helping of Bill Clark’s worldview and expertise in world viewing.  I’ve noticed (or imagined) that the emphasis on confessional exposition (that made NYPD Blue very different from the standard-cop-procedurals before and since) is amplified in BS to the extent that the action-motivating stuff people are thinking eventuates in “secret” conversations (later or immediately), and the subtextual mysteries in the pilot (for example) become spoken bonds of confidence between characters in episodes 2-12.  So I have to go back to see how Kersey might have had the opportunity to accidentally kick the life out of that maniac gun-thug in the pilot. The show encourages the audience to gain access to the VHS/DVD archive of the show to review the choreography of events that take place in a rigid chronology, yet are influenced in viewer perception by subsequent and/or future events that don’t unfold in time so much as they open our understanding of how stuff happens/happened; literally permitting present revelations to profoundly modify our perceptions of “factual” events that we thought we understood (well enough) when they happened in the past.
     This manner of structuring stories illustrates some of the most-repeated Milchisms, but it also sets up a kind of call&response between events and subsequent revelations, like pastor and congregation, like theme and variation, like virtuoso musicians jamming, like artists and audience in ecstatic collaboration.  Like David Milch teaching.  Like Bill Clark teaching him.  Like life.  Lifelike.
     I’ve got to go back now to explain that Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake is a 1947 screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novella.  Montgomery chose to provide the world with an almost-unique movie; shot from Philip Marlowe’s point of view.  That’s a very big deal because of its rarity, audacity and the enormity of its failure, unlike the first 25 minutes of Dark Passage, which did a little business despite its use of the same and similar photographic techniques).
     I know that Montgomery’s mistakes are interesting.  It’s a minority opinion.  Playing Marlowe, he’s the camera, so every move, every conversation, every reflective surface involves a technical problem in preserving the illusion that the lead actor, who we almost never see (who’s also the director of the film) is moving, conversing and being reflected as though a noisy, 1947 phonebooth/movie-camera were Philip Marlow/Robert Montgomery.  That’s a minefield of potential illusion-destroying errors that the film manages to escape.  BUT the aspect of the novel that made the story fascinating to readers was Marlowe’s inner voice revealed from line to line as Chandler describes factual reality filtered through the narrator’s perceptual faculties and his vastly cynical, sardonic experience that makes metaphors leap from the page in a way that Montgomery’s film absolutely didn’t.  So the movie is a remarkable experimental failure (that makes an adequate film noir) and never even approaches the super-enriched quality of telepathic audience-experience Chandler built into every breathing line in the book.
     David Milch in Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and especially in Brooklyn South —  found ways to make the viewer a reader by fashioning access to the thought processes of his characters connecting directly to the life experiences of his plural audiences (broadcast, archive, academic, disciples, detractors…)
The camera in Brooklyn South doesn’t call conspicuous attention to itself in the way that it did vehemently (ad [literal] nauseum) early and often in NYPD Blue (with Dektors and wobbles and jittering movement) nor by pulling a Montgomery.  How the camera facilitates storytelling is another reason I want to own a copy of the series.  I think the emphatic-yet-understated quality of mercy falls easily from the actors (not by means of camera trickery, but) because David Milch imparted to his cast/staff/crew the fundamental, overwhelming decency he found in the company of Bill Clark, and the ability Clark invested in Milch to see the world anew.  (In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who ARE those guys” (who are chasing us as though the cosmos depended upon their inevitable success and in our complete and utter destruction) is one hell of a wonderful question that Milch has been answering for a couple-three decades.  So his commentary barely mentions the myopia of fear-based network and studio executives who wanted to build on the unaccountable mystery of past success by casting young, attractive actors in place of the actors for whom the show was written.  And I entitle myself to speculate on who those uglier, older actors might have been, which permits me to guage performances (in the future, when I own a study-copy) of child actors struggling with parts designed to impart a more complex reality to the global audience.  Ed O’Neill.
     In True Blue, Milch is far from blind to the idiosyncracies and congential defects visible to him in Saint Bill ClarkKellySipowiczDoyleMcElwaineDonnovanMooneySwearengenBullock (and his legendarily-dysfunctional kind), but just as in Boomtown (Yost, 5 years later), the flaws in people lend majesty to the people-destroying enterprise of the invigoration of an infrastructural system that absolutely, desperately needs them to be effective (and needs them, in order to be effective and relevant to the dynamic needs of people) warts&all.  Saint Monster.
     Now, I don’t claim to follow the Milchian explanation of the cyclic battle of corruption&reform outlined in the enforcement of law as practiced in New York City from 1965-1997, but Serpico, Report to the Commissioner, both French Connection films and countless other narratives help to fill in the subtextual context that Brooklyn South builds upon to illustrate the regional recovery of either law or order from Lindsay to Giuliani.
I wrote the foregoing in a letter to a friend, a couple of days ago, after viewing only the first four episodes.  Now that I’ve seen all six discs of the lone 22-episode season, and cruised Stephen Bochco’s follow-up interview, I’d like to relate another layer of opinion.
     NYPD Blue is very different from Brooklyn South.  It’s different for the reasons I mentioned previously, and, as Bochco says, Blue is more cerebral and generally set after the criminal act as detectives reconstruct and intuit the forces that culminated in violence.  Additionally, however, Brooklyn South was set in the midst of the ongoing lives of the police subculture in the vibrant, unique community of Brooklyn; nested within an environment veined with interlocking vascular systems of pulsing dedication to honor, duty, loyalty, tradition and other words that aren’t just rhetorical expressions.  Brooklyn South is a good deal more visceral, funny, tragic and alive than NYPD Blue.  And it makes a significantly more human case for the career of community-policing than any experience, real or virtual, that I’ve enjoyed since riding around Northern and Park Districts in San Francisco one night shift in 1973 with Officer Ray Portue (a superb example of humankind), who, believe it or not, apologized to me because that ride-along was uneventful.
     For all you know, Ray Portue is a name I made up in order to tell a story.  The man was real, but I don’t know enough about him, nor storytelling, to do that convention justice.  The aim of this paragraph, however,  is to substantiate or re-explain my premise that for most narrative/entertainment purposes, people and stories are synonymous.  The fit of the other guy’s moccasins (kensho) still depends entirely on our most ancient technology, effective storytelling.
     By using the same actors in the stories he tells, David Milch makes it easy for someone like me to track similarities and differences in the Silas Adams identity that threads its way through the Deadwood saga which relates to Brooklyn South and Jack Lowry at least to the extent that Titus Welliver played both guys — and I infer that Jimmy Flynn in Big Apple somehow finds a complementary function to perform, a commonality.  It so happens that I cling to the sly suspicion that Milch continually casts Welliver as Saul on the road to Damascus, who emerges from a more-or-less catastrophic epiphany as Paul, the great evangelist for the vision of Cultural renaissance.  Also, Gary Basaraba, Garret Dillahunt, Gordon Clapp, Dayton Callie, Paul Ben-Victor, Bill Clark, Michael Harney, Jim Beaver, Stephen Tobolowsky, Paula Malcolmson and Kim Dickens.
     I just noticed that the practical impact of all men are created equal is ironic, and pathetic until it’s expressed in the voluntary diversity of women.
     I guess I just can’t stop myself from seeing David Milch as the jackpot-motherlode of modern transnarrative media.  No wonder Power never lets him complete any of these tales.  After all, he’s only a private citizen, and the sacred voice of public indignation.  Maybe I’ll defend that last statement some other time.
    The extremely thin, blue line between more-or-less organized crime and Internal Affairs probably enlivens the punchline of a million jokes about a cop, a wiseguy and a rat who walk into a bar.  I don’t know any.
     For Whom the Skell Rolls is the second episode of the second season of NYPD Blue.  It’s fascinating for lots of reasons, but (for the moment) the most fascinating of these for me is the vision of trial lawyers as duelling champion storytellers.  When Licalsi’s champion, Sinclair, sits down after delivering his mesmerizing summation, he does so with the exquisitely understated flare of Wild Bill Hickock’s well-earned reputation for chivalry and restraint.
     Paraphrasing Sinclair, “As you know, Detective Kelly, the witness stand and the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth have about as much in common as a frankfurter and a warm puppy.”
     Champions perform a function.  They execute the intents and agendas of a higher power.  Champions can be played as true believers in an heroic agenda (see Bryan Cranston in Brooklyn South) or as cynical virtuosos (see Daniel Benzali as James Sinclair, Esq. in For Whom the Skell Rolls) or as self-serving vermine (see Paul Ben-Victor as Stephen Ronald Richards), but I see David Milch as both a hero and a champion.  I also believe that the majority of screenwriters see him as I do, thus emulating the person and aspiring to incorporate the genius woven into the work.
     On the other hand, For Whom the Skell Rolls pointedly excludes the adult moment in which Andy Sipowicz thanks Mike Roberts for providing a scandalous videotape at a most propitious and flobotinous moment.  What’s more adult than the feeling of humble gratitude for the thoughtful act performed for you and yours by a toxic opportunist  who already knows how much you  loathe him?

26 Jul 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Value of Gold

Having just revisited the three seasons of Deadwood, it crossed my mind again that it’s difficult to determine which of many, many arbitrary certainties is A Lie Agreed Upon.  I’ve concluded that the first of these is the value of gold because rumors of the discovery of that rare and precious metal motivate dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people to leave wherever in the world they were, reorganing their life-priorities, to convene in an inhospitable place on the planet where all of the civil safeties and conveniences available to people in 1876 are profoundly undeveloped or simply don’t exist.

Gold is a heavy metal.  It’s chemically inert.  It’s yellow and maleable.  It’s so rare (according to Wikipedia) that all of the gold that’s ever been taken from the Earth would make a cube 60.4m tall.  Picture the length of a football field, squared.  Then cover that field with a pyramid of pure gold that sinks directly into the earth because of its tremendous weight, like a volcano in reverse.  Now picture the ring of a few billion people surrounding the square crater (where all the gold in the world went) — each one gnashing, rending, ranting and lamenting the individual loss.  Then what happens?  Lemminging?

The intrinsic properties of gold don’t just naturally make my mouth water, but I certainly see that it’s possible to find significant utility in a material that can be worked into an infinity of shapes, is very chemically stable (even when mixed with other materials) tends to remain shiny, yellow and heavy despite environmental variability over time:  Coin, currency, physical symbol of wealth, guarantee; a fundamental lie agreed upon.  Hey, it could have been Bay leaves.

Gold, more than most other physical materials, remains constant. 

It’s psychological counterpart?…seems like that would have to be…fixation…gold fever…a hunger for the color YELLOW.  Odd that that word applies, especially in the old west, to precious metal and worthless men.

“String her up!  She’s the coward Custer trusted.”  and other sentences that don’t reverberate through the well-worn pages of history, except with their absurdity.

Although I think there’s value in this line of reasoning, I’ve got several hundred pounds of obsolete telephone equipment to sell today.  More-or-less unfortunately, that too is a constant.

15 Jul 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

KaSSandrA Vizerskaya

I stumbled, last week at DeviantART, across several striking visual images (from a closed account) authored by a woman from Kiev:

and found her posted videos here:

While I still have web access, I think the right thing to do is share these discoveries, rather than regret (for an indeterminate period) not having done so.

14 Jul 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

In the past 5 weeks…

…I’ve lost the use of three hard disks, one internal, two external.  These losses in storage capability probably aren’t to dust, shock, abuse or my carelessness.  They’re probably the logical consequence of authorized, official updates to my operating system; MS Vista 64bit.

I have to say “probably” because dialogues and alerts provided by my operating system are remarkably misleading, and every potential remedy I’ve tried, instruction I’ve dutifully followed (where intelligibility and reason permit) since these problems began to arise has resulted only in a noteworty waste of time.

So, I’m soldiering on with work-around solutions, deprived of about half of my library, and contemplating ways to migrate my stuff to a new (and unaffordable) platform that might perform its fundamental functions up to and beyond the expiration of its goddamned warranty.

In brief, the cinematic highlight of the past five weeks has been Budd Boetticher, a name I learned a couple of years ago from Martin Scorsese’s The Century of Cinema.  Back then, I found The Tall T on VHS at Amazon, enjoyed it and planned to investigate the remainder of the Ranown cycle.  But life got in the way.  A random Henry Jenkins tweet reminded me last month of my Boetticher resolve, so I caught the remaining films via NetFlix, which also gave me access to a peek at Burt Kennedy’s films and some standard Randolph Scott, Peckinpah, Leone…for contrast. 

I like Boetticher’s themes, his attitude toward Hollywood (Fuck ’em) and I really like watching his influence spread far beyond the Western, the 60s, and Hollywood to exemplify clean, incredibly-efficient filmmaking rooted in character development in conjunction with a straight-forward plot.  I think most of the value I found in the Boetticher approach is reflected in Jeremiah Johnson, and the primary modern practioner of his filmmaking style appears in products made by Malpaso. 


Justified  didn’t intrigue me much, despite the praise Sam Ford (a reliable source of excellent information) sprinkled on it librally regarding its Eastern Kentucky setting.  (Sam’s a Western Kentuckian.)   The pilot episode turned me entirely around with sharp, intelligent dialogue, blistering pace, and a full-on creative environment that made Timothy Olyphant (who [I think] did not understand what Milch was getting at — at all) almost totally palatable.  It didn’t hurt to discover that Graham Yost (Speed [catch the commentary], Band of Brothers, Boomtown, From the Earth to the Moon, Raines) is the showrunner, with Keith Henderson (the son of a good friend who turned me on to Boomtown) working as editor on four (?) non-consecutive episodes, and Nick Searcy (From the Earth to the Moon, among other excellent things), Matt Craven (everything!), Earl Brown (great underplayed comedic/dramatic work on Deadwood).  But the major revelation for me in the first season of Justified is the complex and fascinating contribution of Walton Goggins.

John Christian Plummer (a name with which to reckon in future, mark my words) turned me on to the fact that David Milch’s pre-Deadwood series, Big Apple can be streamed (and downloaded) from YouTube.  And it’s far more than eminently worthy of that insignificant effort.

Like I said, brief.

None of the computer problems I’ve been having these past few weeks have prevented me from blithering in this blog, but “New&Improved technology” (that doesn’t fucking work anything like properly) provides powerful disincentives to use it as a means to a thought archive.

10 Jul 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 15 Comments