Or how to use a camera as a medium of consciousness
A camera is a tool that functions as a buffer between the one who's seeing and the person who sees, making film one of the exacting mediums to record reality with. The camera assumes the personality of the person behind it which is often diluted because of the dramatized domains the art form occupies. Rare exceptions are found when the camera becomes a tool of localizing and meditation, giving the viewer depth and context to the nature of things around them.
The HBO show “How to with John Wilson” tackles this meditative approach to film, setting it the bizarre confined of New York City where the director John Wilson introduces specific thematic elements juxtaposed to the everyday goings in New York. It's a show that eludes a genre-specific identity, it is part comedy, part cringe, part poetry, and documentary. Set to the childlike voice-over of the director, each short episode focuses on the issues that irk us as adults but for which no one has a specific answer. John Wilson brings curiosity to find answers to problems like how to split one's check or how to be spontaneous, juxtaposing B-roll footage to great comic effect. It explores parts of the human psyche that are assumed to be functioning properly but in reality, it puts most of us in a state of anxiety. Splitting a check or choosing a bottle of wine seems like the biggest mystery of modern life, what is appropriate behavior in these circumstances? Does one go for the second cheapest bottle of wine or risk a more expensive to a Portuguese wine shop at the end of the street? Though homo economicus might be a good thought temperament to imbibe, mental accounting hasn't yet reached the inner sanctum of our behavior. John Wilson helps us understand this division through his anxiety-prone view of life, making things awkward by overthinking and exhibiting this overthinking through the multitudes of human life in and around New York, with a couple of episodes exploring the same questions in Las Vegas and New Orleans.
How to with John Wilson is at its heart a passion project funded by HBO, giving wings to ideas that otherwise would remain as thoughts. The show exposes the conundrums between the reality of our experience vs. the reality of our thoughts, not a small feat for a 30 minute TV show.
As I was watching episode four of the Italian series Inspector Montalbano, “The Mystery of the Terracotta Dog”, I had to remind myself that it was a whodunit revolving around an Inspector and his motley crew set in Sicily. The episode was 1 hour 45 minutes long, enough to drain the patience of an average TV watcher but still, it managed to demand my rasp attention as the narratives veered from the mafia, interpersonal relationships, and in the end a terrific love story based around a Quranic legend. Other tracks in the series have involved Montalbano falling in love with a dog, almost adopting a son and his love for croquettes.
It is in this respect that Inspector Montalbano stands apart from Columbo, Poirot, or Beck for the angelic pursuit of his trade. During his many investigations, he lets the small-time thieves, prostitutes, and illegal immigrants free, even protecting them from the nefariousness of Sicilian politics. Given the fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Italian right-wing, Montalbano comes as an agent of the State both just and clinical. Montalbano is the kind of hero we come to believe because his powers are real, we know what he eats and his morning swimming routines to keep him fit. We see his commitment (often on the fringe) to his girlfriend and when a range of women fall in love with him throughout the series, it doesn't come as a surprise. Luca Zingaretti who plays Montalbano makes one fall in love with him within the scope of an episode, from then on we're enchanted with his quirks and choices.
Inspector Montalbano is a rare police drama that does not insult one's intelligence and neither does it thrust the brutality of the world into one's face. Given the subject matter. there are hardly any grisly or risque sequences. This thematic softness is a take on the genre where the why of committing a crime is more important than the how. Given that the range of complex human interactions, the show becomes an enriching drama that probes the Sicilian life in a way that is more satisfying than the backstory of The Godfather. Montalbano has been one of the most satisfying hero stories I have seen on TV, enough to keep one engaged for more than a few months. This one is a 11/10, will recommend.
Happy New Year and see you again the next year. Thank for reading the kinocow this year and will be back with more reports in the next months.