The new DVD set of Boardwalk Empire provides a chance for the HBO-less (like me) to finally see if Steve Buscemi can really pull off being a mob kingpin mayor; he can't. Didn't anyone try and direct him? He looks and acts like a hermit crab bewildered at the loss of his shell. The real Nucky was presumably tough on some level, look at his shark eye stare in pic below. There's only one or two actors in the series who seem genuinely menacing, who could ever convincingly threaten. Naturally they're the unknown youths: Stephen Graham, a terrifying but adorable Al Capone; Vincent Piazza, a poison breeze as Lucky Luciano; Michael Stuhlbarg grows larger with every inhale as Arnold Rothstein ("ever since Rothstein 'cough' fixed the world series...")
|the 'real' Nucky|
Ah Margaret, and of course her husband beats her, as he must, for all saintly mothers are beaten by their drunk Irish laborer husbands in these sagas, and a whore gets cut up because Michael Pitt is sleeping with her as always, and we're forced to behold Nucky wheezing his way through doggy style sex with La Huerta. There are endless elaborate adult themed strip shows in old theaters and talk of whores when whores are not present.
This is the kind of show HBO specializes in, delivering sudden tableaux of rough sex and domestic violence in attractive period settings, all but daring us not to wince in embarrassment as women are all either naked floppy breasted whores or floppy hat wearing saints. Sure maybe that's how it was, in the post-code movies anyway, but these people's lives have lots of incidents they can pick from--why not go the Mad Men season one route and really get into the nuts and bolts of the business side of things? There is some of that, but when you unwind the fancy ribbons the non-sex incidents have no purpose other than to build up to brutal demeaning violence or more rear guard rutting. If we meet a black bootlegger and see his operation, it's only so he can be killed or tortured, his still burned down, in the next scene.
And of course, Marty Scorsese directs the first episode like he's still trying to capture that old Goodfella's momentum, but as usual of late he gets bogged down in period detail and his insecure streak manifests in not one but TWO suspense-deadening multiple violent scene crosscut climaxes, the sort that were kind of new and weird in the first two Godfather films, but have grown awfully trite. Even if Scorsese scores these murders and gunfights to a vaudeville comedy routine replete with drum rolls or a tacky 20s novelty song instead of 60s rock it's still old and overdone and doesn't work, just like it hasn't worked as far back as Coppola's wretched The Cotton Club.
Now, I only watched five episodes so far, but how much is enough? I stopped because I hated freaking Margaret Schroder's smug decision to rat out the St. Patrick's green beer keg stash to the feds in E5. I subscribe to the Over the Edge credo that a kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid, and so she should have been the one who should have got cut up, not that sweet-ass ho. And then there's the Buscemi aspect. He can be mildly impressive, but when he has to deliver lines like "I could have you killed!" he sounds like even he doesn't believe it, like he just learned of this ability that morning in the newspaper, or found out he has an STD.
In other HBO News, confirming my dark fears, Game of Thrones is just like Boardwalk Empire and Rome before it, existing in the murky realm where all the violent sexual ravishings that have occurred off camera in every costume period movie made prior to 1970 finally explode from under their shaggy peat moss burial and into their doggy style medium shots. The g0-to position in all these series (and Spartacus too, probably, I've not seen any of it) is doggy style, for maximum rutting shock-erotic value; the strong survive and the strong don't woo, they bend their bride over and let fly. God knows how these women ever managed to become lubricated. And as Leonard Maltin notes of Watchmen: "deliberately extreme violence and sexuality seems pointless in this stylized but overly long comic book saga." That could surely apply to every show HBO ever made.
Plus, the HBO modus operandi for delivering these sex scenes is the genuinely ingenious use of 'uncanny Oedipal shock'. Instead of the long, tedious build-up to softcore action set to smooth, slow soulful muzak like we used to get in late night Cinemax, these HBO sex scenes start in the middle, from jarring angles or in the background of a shot, so it takes a second or two for our objectifying voyeur defenses to activate. The effect is jarring, like accidentally walking in on your parents, or looking for the bathroom at a party and accidentally opening the door on a massive coke-fueled orgy in all it's ugly practicality and hairy geometrics, or being suddenly sexually groped on a bus stop, where it takes a few seconds to realize even what just happened and for the shame and fury to come roaring up by which the perv is long gone.
I don't mean to sound too militant feminist, but this raunchy HBO sudden shock sex stuff poses a problem for me because it is so well acted, so artfully and so skillfully rendered. What on the page is a lewd fantasy imagined in a bored in study hall teenage mind becomes a traumatizing 'adult' reality. It's not 'real' in a novel. The Thrones, like the violations in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo probably come off much less traumatic and degrading in the privacy of the printed page. The French know these things and as Acidemic's French correspondent Severine Benzimra writes:
Sexual scenes aren't supposed to, on this side of the ocean, attract the audience. They represent a part of the life of the character that it is necessary to represent. They aren't meant to excite. Sexual excitation is linked to imagination to be provided by all-audience movies (meaning not the audience of pornographic/erotic movies) if it can be provided by a movie, an idea on which French people wildly discuss and disagree. Most French people would tell you that the image neutralizes the imagination in this field and suggest you to read, or ask someone to read you erotic littérature.
I feel these kind of things should always be poorly acted, or narrated in an affectless tone by one woman to another in the privacy of a Fårö boudoir. Writ in vivid blu-ray they are simultaneously indulgent and a reprisal against indulgence. They are where the consumerism's frenzied promise of bling and commodified sex and indentured bitches sippin' cristal go to not die but see the ugly traumatic exterior of their macho fantasy.
This is why a good moral center is so essential for sports teams. We only have to look at the whole Paterno situation to see how the command hierarchy of a team can obliterate the feeling of responsibility to the larger society, that's why I'm glad Eli Manning is such a good boy!
Some things are better as dreams --this we know, we decadent shaggy artists. We know because we tried it all, and even when it led us nowhere but depression and despair we kept doing it, til the wheels fell off. And then, finally, we realized art was the only thing that didn't hurt someone else and leave us feeling skeevy at the end of the day despite believing it's only social conditioning that made us feel that way. Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire (and even Mad Men) point to a deep-set oral fixation in our country... we're looking back into the deep-set past for our lost sexual freedoms, because we sure can't find them in today...
Now if a girl likes these sex/rape scenes that's fine, let them be turned on. They're allowed to. But I scoff at the argument that it's not sexist since later the girl gets even or rapes back or learns to control her lusty mate to win a kingdom. And we who haven't read the books or seen more than one episode have a right to our response despite the opposition. I liked this response from Carla DiOrio James on Think Progress:
Rather, holding the subject in a deeply personal space, I worry what good these images can do in the collective subconscious of American males. Since the spike in sexually violent images of our Hollywood culture in the 1980's, date rape has spiked accordingly. This spike has not been proven as dramatically in any other country as it has in the US, where male sexuality has become increasingly linked to hyper-violent images.On the printed page, or in some crappy Jess Franco movie, rape and sadistic torture can be titillating mainly because they are fake-looking; the whip bounces harmlessly off a girl's back leaving a slight trace of pinkish food coloring. They are liberating, even joyous, because the trauma isn't 'real', and therefore a sense of play coheres. As the great Joseph A. Ziemba of Bleeding Skull wrote in his review of The Possessed: "Blood and mean-spirited torment become instantly hilarious when the torturer can’t keep his wig on." But etched so vivid by the expert and well-funded HBO craftsmen and acted by solid professionals giving it their all, the rough trade rutting and demeaning sexual servitude of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones are just sad signs that HBO has finally exhausted the stash of sleazy taboos it looted from its now destitute grindhouse neighbor, and it still / hasn't found / what it's looking for. God knows what it will overdo next. What else is even left, outside of being real, real gentle?