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December 2004, Week 1

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Subject:
From:
Carol Vernallis <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Mon, 6 Dec 2004 05:57:09 +0000
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Dear All,

What about instances of the romantic struggling artist in music video?
There are so many examples:  hip-hop videos often show performers with their
newly acquired status symbols - they rap about the trials of getting to
where they presently are, or they are shown stuck "in the street"; rock
stars suddenly fill stage arenas, touched by talent and a happy break;
singer/songwriters struggle to compose on their instruments or to make it on
the road.  On its own, a setting can suggest an artist's travails.  An
upper- or lower-class environment can make us wonder where the artist has
been and where she would like to go.  I've been working on music video
directors. Strong directors often have personal ways of representing
artistic struggle and genius. For example, Dave Meyers's stars are so
imposing they could be national monuments.  They're bewitching.  The
supporting characters, on the other hand, resemble stunted versions of the
stars; they have failed to climb the social ladder.  One could argue that
the representations of artistry and "making it" in music video share
something with the tropes found in the musical, so well described by Jane
Feuer and Rick Altman.

Carol Vernallis

>From: Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
>Reply-To: Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: [SCREEN-L] The Romantic Artist on Television:  Compilation, Part I
>Date: Fri, 3 Dec 2004 10:30:52 -0600
>
>It appears I struck a nerve with my question about the (lack of the)
>Romantic/Byronic artist on television.  I received a couple dozen responses
>to my query.
>
>Thus far, no one has come up with a "pure" example of a TV series with a
>Romantic protagonist(s), but several very interesting/intriguing points
>were made about how television transforms the Romantic artist into other
>guises--ranging from television writers (e.g., THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and
>CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) to vampire slayers (BUFFY)!
>
>And Susan McLeland offers this insight:
>
>"Perhaps the reason you're having trouble finding these characters is that
>you're only looking at leads and continuing characters. I can think of
>dozens of examples where romantic artist-types have been brought in for
>guest shots on popular series--particularly comedy series, where their
>moodiness and highfalutin rhetoric is inevitably punctured by the "regular
>folks" of the recurring cast."
>
>Perhaps Lord Byron and his tormented brothers and sisters do not "belong"
>on television.  For one thing, their inevitable death/dementia/doom does
>not fit the repeatable narrative structure of series television.  How could
>a show continue the following week of its protagonist has died/gone
>crazy/met his/her doom?
>
>I've collated all the responses I got and include them below.  Thanks,
>everyone, for some very thought-provoking and entertaining comments!
>
>--Jeremy
>
>***************************************************
>
>Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 15:03:08 -0600
>From: James Schwoch <[log in to unmask]>
>
>While I agree with what you say or imply below--author on TV is a rather
>backwater terrain--I'm willing to churn my mind for 15 minutes...there is a
>case, I suppose, for Rod Serling and the whole author-as-p[roducer thing
>but I know that's not really what you have in mind, although perhaps
>individual episodes ot Twilight Zone might reveal something....a TV series
>I am sorry to admit I remember starred William Windom as a James
>Thurber-like-cartoonist (?!?) and I think that was called My World and
>Welcome To It...on Cheers, the bubbly blonde whose character and stage name
>I cannot remember was sometimes portrayed as a frustrated author, I think
>(I rarely watched the show)...but American TV series I think mainly turns
>authorial types such as you have in mind into--of course--people who work
>at ad agencies or in public relations. That transformation leads to lots of
>examples, and of course eliminates the angst, because everyone on TV who
>works at an ad agency is, of course, always happy--but I mention this
>transformation into the ad agency as a possible point you could think about
>as part of explaining why authors like the ones you have in mind are in
>relatively short supply in American TV series....I'd have to think about
>this more, but I think it could be developped into an argument, anyway,
>best of luck and good wishes on the new edition.....jim
>
>***************************************************
>
>Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 21:11:21 -0600
>From: Patrick Leary <[log in to unmask]>
>
>    I'll be interested to hear what you get from the SCREEN-L folk about
>this.  But how can you overlook Rob Petrie, the head writer of the Alan
>Brady show?  Makes an interesting example, too, because that show had a lot
>of fun satirizing the elitism of the Byronic model of the auteur/author,
>such as the Pollock-like painter (played by Carl Reiner, of course) who had
>once painted Laura as a nude figure, or the folksy Sandburgesque poet
>surrounded by sycophantic snobs who turns out to be a big fan of the Brady
>show, or Reiner's Alan Brady himself, the epitome of the performer as
>temperamental artist.  Whereas of course the constant lesson of the show,
>beginning with the first flashback sequence about the hiring of Rob, is
>that writing is a collaborative, cumulative process.   This TV-industry
>model of creativity is explicitly set against the traditional auteurist
>vision at every opportunity.  Rob Petrie is the anti-auteur.
>
>   Other TV artist/writers/performers that spring to mind...the protagonist
>of MURDER SHE WROTE; Oscar and Felix are, respectively, writer and
>photographer; Ann Marie of THAT GIRL, struggling actress; the entire
>PARTRIDGE FAMILY.  Nothing Byronic about any of these, though.
>
>P.
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: <[log in to unmask]>
>
>How about "The Singing Detective"?  The lead character is in a hospital,
>hallucinating about his childhood as well as experiencing ideas for future
>novels.  His previous work as a novelist also converges with present
>hallucinations-very interesting stuff.    I haven't seen the film starring
>Robert Downey, Jr., but the British television series (from the 1980's, I
>believe) is on DVD.
>
>Good luck,
>Matt Cohen
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Tim Anderson <[log in to unmask]>
>
>While not "about" an artist, Six Feet Under has a running thread of Claire
>who "becomes" an artist over the last four seasons. Plus it hs Billy
>Chenoweth who is the ultimate tormented artist (as is Rico in another
>fashion).
>
>Good luck, If I think of others, I will send them off
>
>Tim Anderson
>
>Denison University
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Michele Hilmes <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Seizing this opportunity to stop grading exams and do something
>interesting....I will give your actual question more thought, but it
>strikes me that the one type of creative cultural endeavor that you do see
>represented on TV is the tormented, zany producer/writer of
>radio/television shows.  From Jack Benny through Fred Allen to Dick Van
>Dyke, Murphy Brown, Frasier, WKRP, News Night, etc. etc. it's a carryover
>of that self-reflexive, "show about putting on a show" aesthetic so
>characteristic of network radio in its formative period.  I believe it
>carries over from vaudeville onto radio and thence TV.
>
>Not exactly the Romantic artist -- but perhaps a pointed comment on that
>whole concept?  The poor man/ lowbrow's equivalent?
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Chuck Kleinhans <[log in to unmask]>
>
>I think that Buffy might qualify--alienated loner etc.
>
>Most superheores have that element--spiderman, etc, but in the tv
>incarnations its just adventure, not psychology
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Chad Dell <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Two artists come to mind for me, though in the broader sense of the term.
>Musician Chris Isack' series on Showtime might qualify. But I think you
>could also make the argument that Murphy Brown was an "artist" as a
>broadcast journalist. She certainly was tormented throughout the series,
>and constantly struggled for her "art".
>
>Then there was Murder She Wrote, which depicts the life of a writer. Still,
>she was only tormented in the sense that she had dead bodies flung at her
>from all corners.
>
>I hope these help.
>
>Cheers,
>
>Chad Dell
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: "Dennis Broe" <[log in to unmask]>
>
>there are the whole group of reflexive series about the entertainment
>business, but these really counter the romantic vision, and poke holes in
>it--
>the larry sanders show, the amazing teddy z, its garry shandling's
>show--garry is a comedian--
>then of course talk radio, murhphy brown etc--in a way these are
>artists--but commercial artists--
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Stephen Tropiano <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Jeremy,
>For what it's worth, here are some more TV artist characters:
>ELGIN, the house painter on MURPHY BROWN, is really a struggling artist
>JOAN'S MOTHER (MARY STEENBURGEN) on JOAN OF ARCADIA is an art
>teacher
>I believe there was also a character on OZ...(one of the inmates).
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: horace newcomb <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Great question, Jeremy.
>
>My own sense is that the Byronic impulse shows up not in artists, but in
>the good-guy gunfighters in the Westerns and, perhaps even more, in Tod and
>Buzz on "Route 66."   They're all tormented, though perhaps not demented,
>and their heroism is always tinged with despair.  Still, I'm racking my
>memory trying to think of "real" artists.
>
>Horace
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: [log in to unmask]
>
>There was the short-lived NBC sitcom about the horror writer, a la Stephen
>King,
>starring Tony Shalhoub and Neil Patrick Harris called STARK RAVING MAD.  It
>was
>a kind of "Odd Couple" spinoff where Shalhoub was "the crazy author" and
>Harris
>was the editor assigned to babysit/live with him....  The show was beyond
>terrible, but you're right, I can't really think of many others --
>intriguing....
>
>Best,
>Hollis Griffin
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Vicki Mayer <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Would Curb your Enthusiasm count? It's a pretty pathetic picture of a
>sitcom
>writer as he goes through life. For that matter, would reality shows that
>show
>the pathetic lives of Ozzy or Anna Nicole?  I'm no expert on Byronic heroes
>or
>artists but those just come to mind.
>
>Vicki
>
>***************************************************
>
>From: Karen Orr Vered <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Jeremy,
>
>It would seem to me that American TV's characters are not often beyond the
>ideological boundaries of TV itself in that, the preference or dominance is
>for
>  everyday life and what we might call "low" culture.  The "artists" of TV
>series are representatives of commercial culture, comedians like Seinfeld,
>writers who are mainly journalists, models, or interior designers like
>Grace,
>or housewives who paint or do flower arranging.  I do recall, however, a
>show
>from the late 60s or early 70s about a cartoonist.  I think it was called
>something like My Life.  It opened with the character drawing his family
>home
>and then it dissolved into live action but there were transitions when the
>cartoon mode would reappear.  It would seem the point was to give the
>patriarch
>a job where he worked from home and thus the whole window on the domestic
>is
>accessed through a male rather than a female character.  More a device than
>an
>emphasis on the artist.
>
>That said, we now have a show in Australia called Cooks.  It's about a
>group of
>thirty-something chefs and restaurant workers who open restaurants across
>the
>road from one another, they have personal love histories with each other.
>It's
>not much different from any other work-based faux family premise but being
>a
>chef is certainly more artistic than being a doctor or cop.  I see it as
>following on the success of cooking shows and the recently completed
>reality
>series, My Restaurant Rules, but fictional.
>
>Other shows about artists that I can recall are more in the vein of mini
>series
>and the artists are what we might call craft persons, like the Elliot
>Sisters
>who were fashion designers in the 20s or 30s London.
>
>Hope this was of interest.  I like the question.
>
>***************************************************
>
>From:         Laurie Stras <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Johnny Staccato and Pete Kelly's Blues (both 1959) both featured a moody
>musician-turned-PI. Over here in the UK, Rock Follies (1976) and the sequel
>Rock Follies of '77 dramatised a Labelle-like girl group's fortunes -
>something I'm looking at at the moment. Would The Singing Detective and/or
>Pennies From Heaven count? I hesitate to mention The Partridge Family....
>Although I'd quite like to toy with the conceit of David Cassidy as a
>tormented soul.
>
>***************************************************
>
>From:         Dennis Bingham <[log in to unmask]>
>
>There was MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT, which lasted a year, I believe,
>around 1973 or so. It starred William Windom as a James Thurber-like
>author- cartoonist and used animation based on Thurber's drawings. It had
>first been a movie, entitled THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN (1972), starring
>Jack Lemmon. In PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (c. 1966), based on the
>bestselling Jean Kerr novel (and the Doris Day movie), Patricia Crowley
>plays a housewife who writes about her housewifely-cum-published-author
>life. It's telling that the heroine's theatre critic-husband, played by the
>debonair David Niven in the 1960 film and based on Kerr's husband, Walter,
>had in the series become a Ward Cleaver-like all-American type (I don't
>remember the actor who played him). Both of these are in the warm-and-wry
>comedy-of-daily-life category. Of course, there's MURDER SHE WROTE. . . I
>agree with Jeremy that TV gravitates more to the zany comedy writer/
>journalist vein (Oscar Madison the sportswriter in THE ODD COUPLE would be
>another example). It's not exactly Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh but who can
>imagine that as a weekly series, with ear slashings in between commercials?
>Then again, who would want to? Dennis Bingham
>
>***************************************************
>
>
>
>Jeremy Butler
>[log in to unmask]
>========================================================
>Resources for film/TV educators and students:
>www.ScreenSite.org
>Television: Critical Methods and Applications:
>www.TVCrit.com
>
>----
>Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
>University of Alabama: http://www.tcf.ua.edu

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