Scott Ellington's Blog

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The Duchess of Duke Street

Good stories, well told; but the ninth episode in the series of fifteen is absolutely golden in that familiar and novel characters weave through fifty-two minutes of unpredictable attitudes, choices, actions and consequences while fabricating and embroidering upon an embedded treatise on the stratified quality of lives in early 20th Century London.  In one way or another, this episode’s central conflict revolves around concise definitions of the contrasts between the amateur and the professional — which generalizes quite meaningfully to explicit differences in class, talent, gender and avocation, and narrows brilliantly to focus precisely on profoundly moving matters of life and death, generativity and exploitation.

Whether one lives in order to work or works in order to live is beautifully illustrated in a deceptively simple tale of an inappropriate lodger in a posh hotel whose reason for being in the wrong place at this particular time opens the heart and enriches the mind like a forgotten key in the locked and callous disused imagination.

The Outsiders blew me away by restating (in an Edwardian context) a few of the most important problems confronting artists, audiences and presenters in the Age of Information.  Candor, magnanimity and an awareness of vital urgency are the signal virtues I plan to extract from this episode, and exercise in the remainder of my tomorrows.  (NetFlix, streamed.)

When I’d already invested ten or so years attempting (largely unsuccessfully) to teach myself to draw, I happened into a neighborhood bookstore, buying reference materials and how-to anatomy guides.  I fell into happy and casual conversation with a young female store employee who concisely explained that if I hadn’t sold any of my work I simply wasn’t an artist.  I spent yet another five years of my life rising at 04:30, crashing after midnight, and squeezing the pursuit of my chosen art into moments not spent earning a living.

The difference between the professional and the amateur is a nose for arrogant mediocrity.  It’s an acquired distaste.

25DEC2010 — The second season of The Duchess of Duke Street is more engaging than the first, despite the fact that the first two episodes emphatically define the titular character’s tendency toward the imperious arrogance of a martinet.  It’s Louisa Trotter’s innovative responses to the personal and historical topography of early-middle Twentieth Century that elevate the tale far above the standard bio-pic devoted to cultish personality, raising it to the level of a classic media document concerned with the lives and aspirations of humble people mortally imperiled by timeless global and universally-human torments.

On the other hand, the second season highlights a problem for sound designers miking accomplished stage actors whose dynamic range is absolutely confounding.  You’ll want to keep a finger on the volume button of your remote — which reminds me to whine about the design of remote controls (which really should be as well-balanced and ergonomically sensible as a .45 automatic, or a handcrafted Navy Colt).

26 Nov 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Robin Hood; the director’s cut

kicks ass eight ways from Sunday, including that of the theatrical version I saw last May, and every prior version.

21 Nov 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The West Wing

is a radio show that ran for seven seasons on television.  I know that because I’m listening to it again while playing computer solitaire, and noticing that I’m being bombarded by torrents of information that are delivered by a battery of distinctive voices that flow from a wide variety of rapidly-talking heads.

The first season of this masterpiece of exposition (because that’s all I’ve “seen” again thusfar at this writing) requires that I look at the screen approximately 5% of the time for mandatory visual cues that complement, extend and accentuate the raging rivers of information pouring in through my ears.

The signature walk&talks, the long takes, and sundry stylistic visual eccentricities associated with this series are comparatively insignificant aspects of the driving sound-based narrative that continues to be excellent without (and entirely in spite of) them.  This realization leads me to the provisional conclusion that the promise of cinema as a purely visual medium is not only emphatically not-realized in The West Wing, it’s actually utterly contravened by an extremely successful show that went exactly the opposite way, telling (rather than showing) the story in a manner that strongly resembles the struggle between Democrats and Republicans to wield the pen of history.  For now, that’s a minor irony (that probably figures prominently in the gradual, subliminal transition from a currency-based to the coming attention economy).

Try it.  Watch it.  Enjoy the show, but when (for example) Jed and Leo engage in a moving, confidential conversation in the Oval Office, ask yourself who you are to have this absurd window of opportunity to view that private, pivotal conversation.  And how else might these seven seasons of captivating, enthralling, inspiring entertainment be created if the point of view of the audience were not impossible, disembodied, discontinuous and absurd; the point of view of an angel.  Then make it.  I’ll watch.

20 Nov 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments


I’m confident this series isn’t worth the investment of time and attention it demands.

Having adjusted my audio volume level for

(the tons of rapid, mumbled fragments of frontloaded) exposition, I was totally unprepared for the unexpected

moment that comes 25½ minutes into the pilot episode:

Ed Bancroft calls “dead” David Haddas’ office phone to continue their longstanding chess competition and

Will Travers,

who is standing in David’s office

(in order to be) startled by a LOUD incoming call to a dead man.  Will is understandably slow to answer David’s phone,

(which) lets its deafening ring assault my ears three times before he picks up the Mitel/Inter-Tel Endpoint Executive deskphone handset.  That’s when I realized this showrunner has absolutely no problem annoyng the hell out of his audience — who will probably be kept confused and disoriented for as long as we persist in watching a successful series that absolutely depends upon misdirected self-contempt for the audience. 

Apparently, I don’t spell success like a television executive…so I’m prone to disappointment.

Other notable objections:

  • Rubicon’s pilot episode begins on Will’s birthday. April 8, and David Haddas dies the next morning, but it’s snowing lightly at David’s funeral in New York in the middle of April — which seems unlikely.
  • A phenomenal number of first names are flung at the viewer who is obligated to remember who’s who in order to make adequate sense of a story in which individuated, personal threads of narrative won’t come together (maybe ever) in the pattern of the first thirteen episodes unless the viewer studies the story repeatedly.  And repeated viewings greatly assist the viewer in grasping the foreshadowing and ironic implications latent in the significance of who’s talking about what, where to look in the frame for previously overlooked information that may help the viewer to piece together a puzzle-solution that can’t possibly justify the effort expended from my moment of choosing to watch the pilot through several seasons WAY down the road to a mythic, pie-in-the-sky narrative-payday for my attention’s ROI; and leading to the viewer conclusion that If I don’t get it, it’s my fault.  While I can’t pick up the obnoxiously loudly ringing telephone,  I can choose to hang up on this television show while turning to the Bourne (Maslowian) pyramid or Three Days of the Condor for a far greater sense guarantee of satisfactory closure.
  • The David Haddas character’s violent death is telegraphed to the viewer without actually showing the face of the actor who takes his seat in the best possible location for the camera to connect mayhem with an overcoat that only belongs to David Haddas in the mind of the viewer due to the dis/misinformative intent of the folks in charge of this show.

I don’t think I’ll play along with this sucker’s game, either.   This show pushes the river.

05 Nov 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments