Reading the News Lately Entry: HBO’s The Corner

Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m anything other than a white woman who watches a lot of TV and movies. But as an American, Baltimore’s strife kills me for a lot of reasons; I know that I live in a different America than a lot of people, I know that I am privileged. I am also struggling to understand both sides of a conflict that has made a lot of bodies and broken a lot of lives. In thinking about it, I remembered I had watched this amazing show and wondered how many other people were aware of it.

Watching a television show won’t make someone understand what’s going on in Baltimore, but The Corner introduced me to a conversation going on in this country that I wasn’t previously aware of, and helped me find an orientation to that conversation. Hopefully it can do the same for others.

The Corner.jpg

I love The Wire. It was one of the most important shows on American television and yet all it garnered was critical acclaim, and a few awards. You always know when someone has seen it, because we can’t stop ourselves from talking about it. David Simon, the creator, has talked about what’s going on in Baltimore because as a resident of the city he has long been privy to its inner workings.

A lot of people are probably looking to The Wire or recommending it to others who don’t understand what’s going on in Baltimore right now. And rightfully so, as it is one of the few television shows of the last twenty years that addressed some of those very problems. But The Wire was still required to be a commercial property, and so the stories were sometimes hampered by the need for some kind of cohesive narrative to draw the (white, middle/upperclass) audience in. It was thought-provoking, it was hard-hitting, but at the end of the day it still had to be entertainment.

The Corner paints a much more interesting picture, of the city in particular and America in general, and was made by many of the same people. Short of going to Baltimore and living there for a few years, it’s the closest some of us watching the news can get to understanding what’s going on.

Directed by Charles S. Dutton, The Corner is a dramatization of the nonfiction book The Corner: A Year In the Life of An Inner City Neighborhood. Many of its actors are recognizable from The Wire and elsewhere, and all of them give knockout performances.

As the title indicates, the six-episode miniseries shows a year in the life of a neighborhood that has fallen apart for a variety of reasons. Drugs, economic disparity, civic corruption, it’s all there on display. No punches are pulled by Dutton’s direction or the writing of the show- the grim realities are all exhibited without agenda other than ‘this really happened.’

For example: Francine, a drug addict and mother to one of the main characters, decides to get clean. She goes to a nearby center where she’s been told she can do so. However, the program has a limited number of beds, and sees people eager to turn over new leaves every day slide right back into addiction. She’s told to come back and apply again for four Tuesdays in a row so that they know she’s serious about getting clean. Basically, another month on the street.

It seems simple enough to us, who are reading this article or watching the show in our comfortable living rooms, with smartphones we can program to remind us where to be on certain days at certain times. Or even if we’ve been trained by parents or school programs about time management and basic organizational skills, being somewhere four times in a row sounds easy! We have cars we can use to get around, or means to check the bus schedule fare to get us there.

Francine has none of that. Her ‘normal’ doesn’t require her to know what day it is, or be anywhere at a certain time. As an addict, her internal clock is timed to her next fix, not “Humpday Happy Hour” or “Casual Friday” or anything that might help her get to the center at the right time on the right day. And a month in Bunchie’s neighborhood is a very, VERY long time frame in which a lot of things can happen. The show does not belabor the point, just makes it and steps back.

Another powerful thing about the series was getting to see so many actors I recognize from other shows display such range. Many of the people from the Wire play characters diametrically opposed to their characters in The Corner. Maria Broom, known as Lt. Daniels’ politically-savvy wife Marla in the Wire, is totally torn down as Bunchie, an unemployed addict who sits on her stoop all day. Likewise Clarke Peters, who played natty and understated badass Lester Freamon plays Fat Curt, so named because of the grotesque swelling in his hands and feet that years of drug use have caused. Seeing people of color displaying their range in such a way was a huge eye-opener; I started really thinking about how few roles there are for people of color in American entertainment, and how limited those roles usually are.

Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m anything other than a white woman who watches a lot of TV and movies. But as an American, Baltimore’s strife kills me for a lot of reasons; I know that I live in a different America than a lot of people, I know that I am privileged. I am also struggling to understand both sides of a conflict that has made a lot of bodies and broken a lot of lives. In thinking about it, I remembered I had watched this amazing show and wondered how many other people were aware of it.

Watching a television show won’t make someone understand what’s going on in Baltimore, but The Corner introduced me to a conversation going on in this country that I wasn’t previously aware of, and helped me find an orientation to that conversation. Hopefully it can do the same for others.

The Corner is not available on Instant Watch, but is available through Netflix Disc service and HBO GO or NOW.

What This Blog Be, and Be Not

Woo, quite a little ratings bump the last few days! Hi Y’all, welcome to the blog.

I thought with all these new visitors, I might post a little clarification about what this blog is, and isn’t. I’m not out to draw a line in the sand, unless it’s to help people see where the quicksand is.

What’s Going On?

1. I avoid spoilers on movies less than 10 years old, but anything more than 10 years old is more than likely going to be spoiled. It’s nothing vicious, it’s just because I want to be able to discuss some things without worrying about ruining the endings. I love films, I want other people to experience the thrills of twists and turns, but let’s face it–the chances of some folks checking out the movies I review are kind of slim, especially the older films. The older reviews are in the hopes that someone, somewhere is Googling a movie title in search of interesting commentary and comes across this blog.

This should catch you up on the last 50 years or so.

2. I am a dirty socialist liberal scumbag. I tend to look at movies through the lens of my socioeconomic background, and my politics. I have a liberal worldview but a very working class background–my mom cleaned houses and my dad worked as a lineman for a power company for 37 years, and was a Union man through and through. I take pains to expand my worldview as I can, but there are limits. I think our President is awesome, the war was for the wrong reasons but can’t be abandoned, green initiatives are great, organized religion is okay when it isn’t telling people how to vote or telling people to tell other people how to run their lives, and socialism isn’t that bad. Film is not an objective medium, so my film criticism is not objective, either.

Hot men? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. A movie to base your history paper on? Only if you already gave up on passing the class.

3. My understanding of film theory is kind of superficial– I’ve studied some film theory, but nothing MA-level. I want to be entertained, but I don’t want my intelligence insulted, either. I don’t think an entertaining movie should require me to ‘turn off my mind.’ I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but I doubt I’ll see the sequels. I apply more literary criticism to film than film criticism — I don’t believe that films are made just for other filmmakers, in short.

4. I don’t read a lot of other film blogs–I read The Onion and Roger Ebert, and that’s about it. I don’t even check Rotten Tomatoes before I see a film, most of the time. After I’ve seen a movie, I read Wikipedia and IMDB, and check on the background of the film. The reason is because I don’t want my opinions colored by too many other peoples’. I may read more blogs as time goes on, I just don’t come across that many.

5. I’m pretty weird and contrary. I liked Transformers but loath Michael Bay. I hate fluff but don’t subject myself to a lot of ‘hard’ movies–I bitch about how much I hate the Sex and the City franchise but I’ll never see ‘Irreversible.’ I try to explore and understand these contradictions as I encounter them.  Even if I hate something, I try to understand why, and tend not to use unhelpful hyperbole like ‘This sucked so bad’ or ‘This movie can go to hell.’

Except this movie. This movie can go to hell.

6. I don’t like movies with lots of rape or an inordinate amount of domestic violence in them. I don’t like seeing animals or people tortured. I can take a lot of weird, even horrible stuff, but it depends on how it’s handled. A lot of horror has let me down recently in this regard.

7. Beauty Standards: I has them, and they are strange. I think the current trend towards tiny waifs and diamond-cut pretty boys is deplorable. It’s all style over substance, and it means there are amazing actors and actresses being passed over for roles because there’s something unique about them–meaning our world of escape is being populated by bland, flawless automatons. I would trade 10 Sam Worthingtons for 1 vintage Nicholas Cage, or 100 Jennifer Garners for 1 Bette Davis. It’s less because I have something against Sam Worthington (although I do-I will never forgive him for Clash of the Titans–EVER) or Jennifer Garner than I wish they would just be famous underwear models or something. They’re pretty people who can say lines–and that’s about it.

Jane Russell and her two costars.

8. Please don’t insult my intelligence. I like to think of myself and the majority of humanity of smart (although many people don’t think of themselves or others as intelligent, I have eternal hope for mankind) so I hate seeing movies where my intelligence is treated as an impediment rather than an asset. In short, it shouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for some director/writer to have a production assistant make a pit stop on the old Information Superhighway to figure out whether something is plausible or not. I use the internet to figure out whether or not my cat’s behavior is normal, and millions of dollars are not riding on the outcome, no matter what he’s up to.

9. I don’t like mean-spirited comedy. Seriously. South Park makes me laugh, and Zoolander, and other things, but I hate Jackass, I hate comedies where everyone is a smarmy asshole out to use or degrade other smarmy assholes, and I am not a huge fan of Norbit-type humor. I like witty, I like slapstick, I like humor where everyone is in on the joke. I might just do a write up of my favorite ‘adult’ comedies–think ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Monty Python’ and the like. I’m not above dick jokes or dumb comedies –I love the Harold and Kumar movies, but again, I’m weird and contrary and some things rub me the wrong way.

So I hope that helps clarify for folks what this blog is, and isn’t about, and more importantly, the kind of things you can expect to find here in the future. I’ve been a little lax the last few weeks with posts, got a lot going on, but I’ll do my best to get back on the ball.

And to the new folks coming over from Twitter or being linked from other people’s blogs, welcome!