The Year in Screen

The Internet is more full than ever of Spokies, television shows and hackers. Plus, Charlie Sheen (like we could avoid him).

The Year in Screen
Felt High, from Spokane to your laptop screen in 2012 (hopefully)

Spokane-Shot Films Screened Hither and Yon

Two Spokane-shot films, one indie by Hollywood standards and the other ultra-indie by anyone’s standards, earned plaudits and gained screenings across the region and the country. The lower budget of the two, Spokanarchy (working title, F---ed Forever), is a documentary focusing on Spokane’s punk scene in the ’80s. Many of the denizens of that scene would go on to have productive artistic lives elsewhere, while many stuck around here. Single-engagement screenings in Spokane, Seattle and Portland have met with good press and warm feelings for a scene that felt like it was the only thing going in “the world’s largest hick town.”

The second film, Norman, a small-budget Hollywood indie filmed in Spokane by NxNW three years ago, finally got a limited release this fall, showing in a handful of big film towns (and Spokane), drawing warm critical praise from Roger Ebert, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and Variety, among others. (Luke Baumgarten)

Louis CK Wins the Internet

When the bards sing songs of the democratization of our eyeballs, they will sing that it was Louis CK who first and most solidly gained perch on the peak of televisual self-determination. In December, the belovedly thoughtful, profane comedian released an hour-long comedy special — not on contract with a production company, not broadcast on cable — but to the internets, via his own website and for only $5. The only safeguard against piracy was the relatively low price and an ethical plea from CK to just not be an asshole. The video was in an easily copyable format and contained no DRM. Netizens had simultaneous orgasms over the freedom, honesty and guilelessness of the gesture, and made their pleasure known. The production cost Louis nearly $200,000, which ain’t chump change, but he made it back quickly, selling over $500,000 within the first three days. (LB)

Felt High Looks for Backers

The shit end of the web democratization stick — as evidenced by Spokane startup Purple Crayon Pictures — is that the internets don’t just give money like manna. You need leverage (Louis CK’s was his popularity and in-built fan base). In September, Purple Crayon began a Kickstarter campaign for a web-series entitled Felt High, wherein a group of angsty, teenage, muppet-like puppets drink and smoke and fornicate their way through secondary school. A great concept, pulled off relatively well in promotional videos, the crew was looking for $40,000 for post-production work on an entire season of the show. The first Kickstarter only got about $2,500. A second Kickstarter attempt in November got slightly less. So it’s back to “other methods” of fundraising, which probably involves the more traditional rich people/companies-with-deep-pockets approach. Purple Crayon principal Adam Boyd tells The Inlander that, despite the cash-flow issues, they’ll have Episode One complete soon, proving that you can’t keep a profane puppet show down. (LB)

Soaps Dropped

For decades, the only constant in TV was the immortality of the soap opera. They were life’s persistent little reminder that melodrama attracts stay-at-home parents like moths to flames. Following CBS’s cancellation of As the World Turns last year, ABC killed All My Children and One Life to Live. The Internet, working women, cable TV and the infamous daytime interruptions of the O.J. Simpson trial have all chipped away at soap opera’s power over the years — and most have been canceled.

Of course, like any good soap opera character, killing off the genre doesn’t mean it will stay dead. It has practically already been resurrected, albeit with a bit of amnesia, plastic surgery and sometimes speaking a different language. It’s hard not to call ABC’s primetime dramas like Revenge and Grey’s Anatomy soaps, and the Spanish-language telenovelas, which are going like gangbusters, wouldn’t want you to think of them as anything else. (Daniel Walters)

“Original” Screenplays

At the beginning of Robert Altman’s film The Player, a series of writers present pitches to a studio exec. “It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman,” explains one woman about her script. Another guy describes another script as “Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate.” Michael Tolkin’s script for The Player nailed the general malaise Hollywood had, and still has, for originality. Ironically, The Player was an adaptation of Tolkin’s own novel. It wasn’t even an original script.

Neither are most of the movies being made today. Just look at your local listings: The Adventures of Tintin, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Breaking Dawn, We Bought a Zoo. They’re all adaptations. Oh, there were a few good original scripts this year: Source Code, The Artist, Midnight in Paris, Crazy Stupid Love. But those were the minority.

Hollywood has never been fond of taking chances, probably since Citizen Kane (original script) flopped. Today, they’re far less fond. This is without even getting into Hollywood’s penchant for sequels upon sequels. Better yet, don’t get me started. (Ed Symkus)

Non-TV Networks Produce TV Shows

Online viewing methods like Hulu and Netflix are destroying television, say you. Nay, says I. The likes of Hulu and Netflix are saving television. Hulu bought the exclusive rights to bring British TV show Misfits to America and announced that Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock would produce a six-episode TV series for the web channel. Netflix, reeling from consumer revolt over their price hike, decided to play Make-A-Wish to TV nerds, resurrecting fan-favorite Arrested Development. A completely original series, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, will follow. Meanwhile, satellite provider DirecTV has extended the run of the Emmy-winning drama Damages, purely on DirecTV.

All this is to say that, even as viewership of the old fogey networks on the dusty picture box fades, original content will spring up from all sorts of places. The TV set may go extinct, eventually, but TV shows will persist. (DW)

All-American Ad-Yanking

Just in time for Christmas: bigotry! Small-mindedness is alive and well in America, as is corporate spinelessness. All-American Muslim — an innocuous, even boring, reality show following five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich. — proved very popular (1.7 million viewers in its November debut) for TLC, a network that mostly airs programming about people who eat strange things (Comet, couch cushions).

The Florida Family Association quickly sent letters to the show’s advertisers with various anti-Muslim complaints. On Dec. 5, Lowe’s, the national hardware chain, balked, pulling their ads. Later, they said, uh, we totally were already going to pull our ads. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons bought up the dropped ad blocks and called for a boycott of Lowe’s.

Mia Farrow and Kal Penn — neither of which represents Lowe’s core customer — did the same. Last week, an interfaith group delivered 200,000 signatures to Lowe’s pro testing the decision and asking them to reconsider. The retailer grew a spine then, standing behind their decision to not advertise during Muslim-focused programming. Way to stick to your (nail) guns, guys. (LB)

Epic Fail

I was traveling when I first heard the news — from a BBC report. It wasn’t like Sony emailed to say that, oops, little mix up, we accidentally gave someone else access to your credit card. No, I had to hear the report from a foreign newscast before the American media caught up, which was long before Sony bothered to say anything about their epic fail: The PlayStation Network was hacked, along with personal and financial records for 77 million PlayStation Network accounts. And so I remember that trip for trying to track my bank account’s transactions, verifying that my identity information was secure, and hearing about the shutdown of the PlayStation Network. And then I realized that nobody I actually knew lost any money. And on top of that, Sony decided to give out free games. As one friend of mine said later, “If Sony hadn’t f---ed up, I wouldn’t have gotten inFamous.” I guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (Marty Demarest)

Charlie Sheen ...

As Spiderman and the Dark Knight taught us, the only thing we like more than a hero is seeing the hero become a villain. Replace hero with “celebrity” and villain with “massive public embarrassment” and you’ve got Charlie Sheen. The Two and a Half Men actor’s increasingly furious whirlwind of misogyny, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and finally, inflammatory remarks about his own show, got him fired. The following hyperactive stream of consciousness — something about “tiger blood?” — gave him a surge of popularity of the laughing-at-you variety. Two and a Half Men offed Sheen’s character in a horrific offscreen metro train collision, and then gave the same lazy jokes to Ashton Kutcher. It ended up working for them. Kutcher’s Men boasted ratings 22 percent higher through 2011 than Sheen’s last season.

But Sheen’s not out.

FX picked up a new sitcom from the star, showing that, just like his character for most of Two and a Half Men, Sheen never suffers consequences for his bad behavior that won’t be washed away by the next episode. (DW)

Expo '74: Films from the Vault @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8
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Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.