Re-watching The Social Network (2010) I was struck most of all by the moment when douchey, fearless Facebook ‘founder’ Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg) declares they are moving their quick-growing entity from the hallowed internet connections of Harvard to Yale and Columbia. “And Stanford,” advises his C.F.O. Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). “Why Stanford?” wonders Zuckerberg. The next scene is in a sunlit bedroom between a guy (Justin Timberlake) and a girl (Dakota Johnson) we don’t yet know. Now, we could assume the movie has been moved to the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, but we don’t know for certain, do we? Not until the girl climbs out of bed, strolls to the shower and we realize the red underoos covering her fetching derriere is emboldened with the words ‘Stanford.’ I laughed out loud. THAT’S how you expose information, wannabe screenwriters of L.A!
Of the many debates ceaselessly raging in cinematic and/or entertainment circles, one that has been afforded much face time in recent years is this: Is TV Better Than The Movies? Film writer extraordinaire Mark Harris, on a recent podcast, confirmed “TV is the dominant cultural force.” The esteemed A.O. Scott of the esteemed New York Times wondered if movies were that bad or if TV was just better in September of 2010. Devin Gordon of The Daily Beast declared over 5 years ago, in February 2007, “television is running circles around the movies.” But wait! Bruce Fretts of Entertainment Weekly declared in 1995 - 1995!!! – TV was already better than the movies. How, oh how, are movies even still being made then nearly 20 years later?! Shouldn’t the war already be over?
Allow me to be clear, I am not here to argue for or against. I’m not here to declare that TV is definitively better than the Movies nor am I here to declare that Movies are definitively better than TV. Such a stance would be folly. As evidenced, these arguments are more eternal than we typically realize and the ebb and flow of moving image entertainment is non-stop. What I will say is that I infinitely prefer movies to TV, whether or not we are in a so-called Golden Age Of Television. Even if this is a Golden Age for the small screen, I am actually watching less television than I have at any point in my life. I have access to so many movies in so many ways and I live in Chicago where cool movies – big, little, or medium – are almost always opening every weekend that every time someone tells me “Dude, you have to watch (insert name of TV show here)” I just sigh and say something like, “I could lie to you and say I will, but I won’t.” For every TV show you tell me I have to watch, there are three movies I would rather watch instead.
Not that I’m completely against TV. I’m an enormous fan of Justified, I still get a kick out of 30 Rock and I am a devotee of Parks and Recreation. And because it would not be fair to discuss the two mediums by comparing, say, Citizen Kane to Real Housewives Of Greensboro, North Carolina nor by comparing Transformers: Optimus Prime At The Gates Of Dawn to The Sopranos, let’s pit two of my favorites against one another. The argument is that because TV is not adherent to a strict 90-120 minute run time it has hours and hours, years and years, to weave its varying tapestries.
Writing for Indiewire, Oliver Lyttleton states: “TV is able to focus on rich, complex characters and spider-web plotting because it has the time to do so: two hours of storytelling real-estate will rarely be able to achieve as much as, say, the 70-odd hours of The Wire.” Justified spent its second season examining the roots and the latter day bad blood between three families in Harlan, Kentucky. Aside from all the, you know, gunfire and bluegrass accents, it’s not unlike The Descendants which examines not only Matt King and family but envelopes the family of the man with whom Matt’s wife was having an affair.
And while Justified was afforded 13 episodes at about 42 minutes an episode which leads to roughly 546 minutes for exploration, The Descendants had just two hours. Yet consider the sequence in The Descendants in which Matt enters the hospital room where his wife lays in a coma just after he’s learned of her affair and unleashes a tirade which is followed by his oldest daughter Alex entering to unleash a tirade of her own on her mother which leads to Matt scolding her for unleashing a tirade which leads to his youngest daughter Scottie entering and unleashing a few curse words beyond her age which leads to Matt wondering where she learned such language which leads to Scottie pointing at Alex. This is, what, three minutes of screen time? And yet it demonstrates the fingerprints of a family – how they got from Point A to Point B to Point C – just as clearly and dramatically – more so, even – as anything in all of Justified’s second season.
Let’s consider Aaron Sorkin, a man who has dabbled in both forms. In his critically acclaimed The West Wing, Sorkin, in the course of the first two seasons, employed a grand total of 44 episodes to encapsulate the first four years of President Jed Bartlett’s term. In The Social Network he (and director David Fincher) managed to encapsulate the four plus years of the launch of Facebook and the ensuing lawsuits it triggered in just a hair over two hours. Not only that, but while The West Wing serves up a Presidential Election and Syrian airstrikes and multiple sclerosis and an India/Pakistan showdown and an assassination attempt, etc., The Social Network gets by on the start-up of an internet site and people sitting around and discussing the start-up of an internet site. I don’t mean to suggest The Social Network is undoubtedly “better” than The West Wing or any such thing – no, I merely mean to state officially for the record that to my way of thinking (I speak for no one else), The Social Network is far, far and away the more impressive accomplishment. If The West Wing had filmed a special episode on the campus of Stanford University where President Bartlett was giving a commencement speech, they would have taken great lengths to establish where they were and how they got there. In The Social Network, it just takes a pair of underoos, and that just so happens to be a particular brand of craft closer to my heart.
But my preference for film goes far beyond mere technicalities, and I realized this when I happened upon The Social Network on Encore, fully intending to just watch that blistering opening sequence (which, by the way, charts a break-up and what led to a break-up all while also establishing the film’s theme and setting up events for later in 300 seconds while in 1638-plus minutes Justified still hasn’t decided if Timothy Olyphant and Natalie Zea will or won’t) and then finding myself immersed and not able to turn it off or walk away. Film offers an emotional involvement that cannot be duplicated by the television. You go down into a cinematic submarine and only re-surface when the credits roll, while TV is a stopping, starting, internet message boarding affair. Yes, one could argue that there are times when you go into a TV submarine and watch 6, 7, 8 episodes of a show in a row on DVD but those marathons always leave me feeling exhausted and bleary-eyed, as opposed to a great film leaving me exhilarated and astonished.
For a long time I was under the impression this was on account of what I like to call The Glorious Darkness Of The Movie Theater. The lights go down, the ‘projector’ fires up and you’re off to never-never land. Except my TV rewatching of Social Network clarified that never-never land can appear with my old-school HDTV and Encore, too. Maybe this throws a bit of unfortunate dirt on my belief in the theater experience, but it simultaneously re-enforces my belief in the movies in general. I have watched every episode of Justified on that same TV but none of them has affected me like that second go-around with The Social Network.
I watch TV. I experience movies.
YOUR TURN! MOVIES? TV? AND WHY? SOUND OFF BELOW!