Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Small Screen Rules

Hurrah for television! Why is it that when I am asked to fill in surveys or self-profiles (and Google is no different) I am always asked about my favourite films. The trouble is: I don’t really have any. Sure, there are some films that I like but they are few and far between and what DVD has taught me is that I far prefer television, especially vintage television. And it’s so much cheaper – I can buy a whole season of most American series (22-odd episodes) for the cost of an overblown film or two.

I think there are several reasons for my preference for the small screen. One of them is to do with violence and language. On TV there are certain boundaries to be observed, given that the audience is largely unknown and language and violence is tempered accordingly. Having secured an ‘18’ certificate, a film has virtually no boundaries and can be filled with bad language and horrific violence; most of it entirely gratuitous, at the expense of important things, like plot, nuance and atmosphere. The current fury over the British censors giving Batman’s ‘The Dark Knight’ a 12a rating despite the film’s glorification of extreme sadism and knife crime just underscores the attitude towards film making. It is most clearly seen when a successful TV programme is transferred to the big screen. Suddenly the language deteriorates and the plot becomes seedier to the extent where the original premise is almost unrecognisable. Watch the Steptoe and Son or Rising Damp films to see how this works in practice.

I dread to think what a new ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ film would be like with Buffy swearing and cussing her way through 90 odd minutes of graphically gory slaying. Yet the scripts for the Buffy TV series are probably some of the most inventive to grace the small screen, full of energy, wit and unbridled language invention and for the very reason that they are confined by convention. It would be criminal to mess with them.

Another reason why I like TV is that there is an enforced budget constraint that doesn’t usually apply to films. Lack of budget equals invention of necessity and this means making the most of what you’ve got. Often this translates into better scripts and tighter plotting. You can’t wrap up a poor screenplay in bank-busting special effects in TV land; there just isn’t the money.

So until somebody can convince me that films are better, I shall be watching episodes of Buffy, Dr Who, Moonlighting, The World at War, Sherlock Holmes, The X Files, Bleak House, Morse, The Avengers, Sapphire & Steel, Thunderbirds, Upstairs Downstairs, Survivors, Waking the Dead, Star Trek…

Yeah, you can keep films.

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