Gilbey on Film: From big screen to small

Actors and directors are turning from film to TV.

Perusing the Best Director nominations in last Sunday's Emmy awards, you would be forgiven for thinking that there had been a mix-up with the paperwork from the Oscars: Martin Scorsese, Todd Haynes, Neil Jordan, Curtis Hanson (with the French director Olivier Assayas also nominated for Carlos, which received a cinema release in the UK). Would it have been such a shock if one of these film-makers had begun an acceptance speech by mistakenly thanking the Academy?

It is well known by now that US television has been receiving a transfusion of film acting talent for some time -- Kate Winslet, who won Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her lead role in Mildred Pierce, was only the most tearfully effusive example. Not too long ago, this would have looked like a knock-out cast list for a mid-budget, grown-up Hollywood movie: Glenn Close, Alec Baldwin, Forest Whitaker, Kelly Macdonald, Steve Buscemi, James Woods, Guy Pearce, Michael Pitt, Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, Minnie Driver . . . Now, it represents a cursory roll-call of US television.

The Emmy's directing categories show that the exodus has come from behind the camera, too. Are all the best directors heading to TV? I'm not suggesting there would be any shame in it -- how can there be, when the quality of so much television, especially cable shows, remains so dazzling? Besides, any snob who feels like railing against film directors who "defect" to television can be swiftly silenced with two words: Berlin Alexanderplatz (the 14-part, 941-minute TV series directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the 1970s).

But it's a sea change worth noting. The Wire incorporated into its roster a fair amount of directors who had made their name in cinema (Ernest Dickerson, Agnieszka Holland, Brad Anderson, Peter Medak). The Sopranos, too (cast member Peter Bogdanovich, as well as Mike Figgis and Lee Tamahori). Six Feet Under is probably the show that accommodated the largest number of movie directors (among them Rose Troche, Migeul Arteta, Nicole Holofcener, Lisa Cholodenko, Jim McBride). Walter Hill directed the pilot of Deadwood and acted as the show's consulting producer. Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, the first two X-Men films) and the screenwriter Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco) have both had executive-producer credits on the hit medical drama House since the show started. The list goes on.

Happening upon an interesting New York Times article on the phenomenon of film directors developing pilot TV shows, I found this quote from Allison Anders, whose movies include Gas Food Lodging and Grace of My Heart: "'My friends told me, if I could get past the vanity of having a theatrical release, so many more people would see this movie on television than they would in a theatre." Of course -- I hadn't considered that the immense and immediate audience would be such a draw. "'I was, like, 'If I have another movie come out and die in the theatres in two weeks, I am going to die' . . . Five million people saw [Things Behind the Sun, her film about a rape survivor for the Showtime network] on the first night that it aired . . . I've never had five million people see one of my films in the theatres."

I called Anders to discuss the subject; she is now a fully fledged TV baby, having directed episodes of Sex and the City, The L Word and Southland among others, though she still makes cinema features, too. She told me she thinks the influx of heavyweight movie directors into TV is a mixed blessing:

"It's a little scary. In the Directors' Guild, if you want to have something nominated that you directed for episodic television, you have to actually nominate it yourself -- you have to physically send it in to be considered. I was so proud of an episode of Southland which I directed that I sent it in. Then it occurred to me: 'Oh, this'll be interesting, I'll be putting myself up against Martin Scorsese and God only knows who else. Maybe Steven Spielberg will be in there too!' I was laughing about it but if I were exclusively a TV director, you know, a TV journeyman, I'd be so pissed at having to compete with Oscar-winning directors.

"But I know why people like Martin wanna do TV. It's the same reason I do -- you get to develop these characters; and if you're a character-based film-maker, you wanna develop them over long period of time. And since none of us can make money off movies any more, TV is, in many ways, more reliable: if you have a hit TV show, well, you've got a nice life. The size of the audience is the amazing thing -- the people you can reach. And that's where movies have become a bit heartbreaking if you're someone who wants to say something to an audience. We don't make these things in a vacuum. You want people to see your stuff, and that's tough."

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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The new Tate Modern building is perfectly designed for the Instagram generation

Almost every three minutes a photograph of The Switch House is uploaded to Instagram tagged with the Tate Modern Switch House location.

It's a Tuesday morning in the Tate Modern Switch House”s “Living Cities” display.  A group of teenage girls charge around the room, phones in hand, paused on the camera screen, hunting down a potential Instagram post or Snapchat story. A young man is capturing shots of Mark Bradford”s 2004 “Los Moscos”,  a violent collage made from the materials found on the floor of his Los Angeles Studio. Ten minutes later the same man remains looking at his screen, observing the images he has taken on his iPhone camera. A group of tourists are posing for a photo on Marwan Rechmaouis”s “Beirut Caoutchouc”.  A young girl tells her Dad “that”s a really good photo that you took”. Kader Attia's “Untitled (Gharrdaia)” is surrounded by lenses of Canon cameras attached to bodies.

You can't miss it. The camera is literally everywhere: in every hand, in every room, in front of every painting.  

Downstairs, in the room “Between Object and Architecture” Yayoi Kusaama”s “The Passing Winter” (2005) seems to be a hotspot for the perfect Instagram post. People crowd around the cube, placing not their heads, but their iPhone cameras through the inviting holes. I too am part of this. Standing just outside the grey tape boundary, I take a picture of myself in the mirrored cube. Add a Clarendon filter, adjust the brightness and contrast, and tap post. By the time I've left the room, three friends have liked it.

But why do we insist of photographing the art around us? And what are the consequences of doing so?  A common criticism of social media is that it discourages us from living “in the moment”. As we constantly view the world from behind a digital screen, the tech-sceptics say, we neglect details of life at that very second. But there are even greater ramifications for the clicking, capturing and photographing of visual art for the sake of your Instagram feed. As you take a picture of Louise Bourgeois  À L”Infini (2008) and adjust the brightness, contrast, structure, warmth and saturation, then apply a filter of your choice:  Gingham, Juno, Crema Sierra, Nashville or Sutro, you become an artist with your own digital palette, transgressing the intentions of Bourgeois in terms of colour, tone and texture. While the intricate effects of Bourgeois's own work may be lost in the snapshot, your Instagram feed gains. It becomes a mini gallery, holding these appropriated and transformed works.

As you pose in the cube mirrors of Robert Morris”s “Untitled” (1965), or next to Andy Warhol”s iconic “Marilyn Diptych” (1962), it becomes clear that the gallery is an ideal space for capturing the art via selfies. If you'd like to convey to your followers just how “cultured” and “artistically engaged” you really are (just look at the Tumblr “Tinder Guys Posing with Art”), this space allows you to promote your own self-image with ease.

I ask the woman beside me viewing (or rather capturing) Lorna Simpson”s “Photo Booth” (2008), exhibited in the “Artist and Society” display of the Boiler House, why it is she is taking images of the work. She tells me she herself is an artist, and so sees this work as inspiration, capturing photos as a record for herself.  Art is photographed as a means of preservation. The content of a gallery is simultaneously static and fleeting. If you come back to the Tate Modern tomorrow, or a week later, chances are Lorna Simpson's “Twenty Questions (A Sampler)” (1986) will not have moved from that same space. You stand and observe the image, take it in, maybe read the detailed text beside it, and then move on to something that catches your eye in the next room.

The camera, however, offers a chance to capture the art forever. Will you ever come back to it? Perhaps not, but the image is stored away among your photos of a summer holiday, preserved as evidence of a piece of work that made you feel something. The camera provides a sense of security. It is a reassurance that you won't forget the image, just yet.

“But also”, the woman goes on to tell me “I think it”s really nice to share images. If I take a photo of this art, I can share it with my friends”. In his Ways of Seeing, John Berger talks of how the camera has changed the way we interact and engage with art. “The camera enables us to see something that isn”t precisely there in front of us”, he states, “allowing appearances to travel across the world in seconds”. I take a picture of a Gerhard Ritcher and Snapchat it to a friend with the caption: “Your fave!” A few seconds later, he opens the image and replies.

Indeed, in the corner of a display in the Boiler House, is a digital screen provided by the Tate that encourages an exchange of images between the gallery space and home. “When do you feel most creative? Post your photo on Instagram using #tatestudio and it may appear here”, it says. Alongside photographs of the studios of Claude Monet and Eva Hesse are square framed, edited images of the work spaces of @paulaclyde, @magpieethel and @rayofmelbourne. Social media, it seems, has become central to the identity of the Tate. Just look at its own Instagram feed, updated daily with times lapse videos and images of the art work in its collection. Access to free Wifi throughout the Tate Modern only epitomises the pertinence of social media to the art gallery experience.

When searching for “Tate Modern Switch House” in the Instagram search engine, you are presented with 194 posts with the hashtag #tatemodernswitchhouse, and a photograph almost every three minutes tagged with the Tate Modern Switch House location. The most popular shots on Instagram, among Louise Bourgeois”s dresses and Marwan Rechmaouis”s immersive floor installation “Beirut Caoutchouc” are images of the concrete twisting staircases of the building and the newly expanded viewing gallery. This landscape of London, offering at various views as you walk around the external of the building, is perhaps one of the most photographed pieces of “art” to exist amongst the gallery space. There is a sense in which the Switch House has been built to be photographed.  And if you don”t bring your camera, you”re missing out.