Christmas will sparkle with glamor after technology has turned Hollywood upside down

(evening standard)

Life finds a way, says Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park movies. And so is creativity. You never know where artistic brilliance will end up and where it will flourish. But it’s as irrepressible as DNA.

Look at it this way: For movie geeks like me, these are anxious times. In September, the world’s second-largest cinema chain, Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy. Global box office returns this year are still at least 20% below the 2017-19 average. Fewer movies are being released, tickets are too expensive, and the pipeline of avant-garde, arthouse, and independent films has rarely looked more precarious, as studios increasingly sink the bulk of their money into franchises, “cinematic universes” of superheroes and the safe bet of the tentpole sequel rather than the quirky up-and-coming filmmaker or chamber-film jewel.

This is the worrying news. The great news is that while artistic innovation struggles in one arena, it’s blossoming positively in another. Just look at the line-up of television brilliance available this Christmas: David Tennant in Litvinenko (ITVX); both seasons of The White Lotus (Sky Atlantic and NOW); the BBC’s dazzling new historical drama Marie Antoinette and Andrew O’Hagan’s brilliant adaptation of the novel Mayflies; on Netflix, Glass Onion (the wonderful sequel to Knives Out) and Noah Baumbach’s superb performance in Don DeLillo’s supposedly unfilmable White Noise; on All 4, the complete fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale (after last night’s nail-biting finale). And much more. In truth, we are living in a golden age of television or, more accurately, streaming. As the world of mainstream cinema grows more cautious, the ultra-competitive world of high-quality small-screen drama becomes ever more creative and dynamic.

The revolution that began on US cable channels is now firmly entrenched in a radical second phase on an ever-proliferating roster of streaming services: Paramount+ launched in June, ITVX this month, with HBO Max on the way.

As American writer David Milch – the very father of modern “prestige television,” who created such seminal shows as NYPD Blue and Deadwood – says in his fantastic new memoir, Life’s Work, a medium that has been so widely dismissed as childish and stupid. out to be so much more than that. Working in the medium “requires an exotic combination of courage and imagination”. And there’s no shortage of either in the industry right now. Remarkably, even the glorious era of I, Claudius, Alec Guinness in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People and Brideshead Revisited pales in comparison.

The surest sign of structural change is the direction in which talent is migrating. Take Elisabeth Moss, arguably the finest film actress of her generation, who developed a whole new form of cinematic super-stardom – in three of the greatest television shows ever made (such as Zoey Bartlet in The West Wing, Peggy Olson in Mad Men and June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale), as well as other Premier League series such as Top of the Lake and Shining Girls. Instead of pursuing a conventional film career, Moss was positively drawn to long-form, high-quality streaming drama.

Then watch 1923, the latest spin-off spawned from Taylor Sheridan’s smash hit modern western series, Yellowstone (Paramount+). Why did Harrison Ford wait until age 80 to immerse himself in multi-part television, playing the character of Jacob Dutton, the patriarch of the Yellowstone ranch? Because that particular stage is now big enough, exciting enough, and lucrative enough for a screen star of his eminence.

Also on Paramount: Sylvester Stallone, cruelly rejected five decades ago when auditioning to be an extra in The Godfather, is finally playing a mob boss, Dwight Manfredi, in the superior crime comedy, Tulsa King. Once again, Stallone, now 76 and a two-time Academy Award nominee as an actor, has been waiting a long time to make the leap from the big screen to the small screen. Like Ford, he has enough experience to know where the energy is going.

No revolution is linear or predictable, and there are certainly market corrections ahead – these will test the economic times for all subscription-based streaming services, and not all will survive.

But, for now, bask in the glow of an unexpected artistic phenomenon that undermines the simplistic claim that technology invariably destroys creativity. In this case, the opposite is true. Sit down with a mince pie and enjoy. Happy Christmas.

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