Nothing succeeds

Finally catching up with Succession which is every bit as good as everyone says. An excellent lesson in how to make a show without sympathetic characters, except damned if I can pin down how they’re doing it. I guess because everyone is focused on achieving things that we can understand, so we can follow the machinations with interest. As Hitchock knew and constantly showed us, watching somebody try to do something is fascinating and involving when we know (a) the goal (b) the stakes and (c) the obstacles. And then it doesn’t necessarily matter if we like them, we at least understand them. The boardroom battle in episode 6 was incredibly tense, even though the character most involved, the one with the clearest goal and the most at stake, is one of the least appealing (great per from Jeremy Strong) though admittedly he does have a rather heartrending central position (needs his father’s respect, will never, not ever, get it).

The only character without a really clear set of wants is, arguably, Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, the show’s Lear, who is basically just futzing around, upsetting people. Maybe he had a sense of direction once in his life, but now it’s just the love of power, making people do things.

Nothing will come of nothing.

The show, at least in these early eps (we’re at S1E06) has an irritating, jerky-zoom style presumably imposed by exec Adam McKay who directed the pilot. It’s a look, I suppose, but not a pleasing one. He tried something similar on THE BIG SHORT. It’s purportedly a cinematic idea, this “look” thing — TV used to all look the same, while movies tried to look distinctive (sort of — there have always been genre norms, and constraints on what was considered “commercial,” though these are fluid over time). I think Hill St. Blues‘ briefings introduced the idea of the unstable camera — use all the reframings! It’ll give it a documentary edge. Except we can tell, I think, when the camera is reframing just to create jitter, as opposed to actually, you know, getting a better framing.

I discussed the Paul Greengrass approach with a producer friend. “He tells the operator to move whenever they feel like it,” I said. He replied, “I think if you asked most operators what they feel like, they would feel like offering up a nice, stable, beautifully-composed shot.”

Through the static, we can still see that Succession is brilliantly written by Jesse Armstrong and team, always brilliantly acted, and often well directed by folks like Adam Arkin and Andrij Parekh. I eagerly await the moment when they realise the crash zooms are stinking the place up and ditch them.

4 Responses to “Nothing succeeds”

  1. I’ll have to go back to an early episode and see if it seems jumpier. I do recall finding it stylistically grating at first, but liking it anyway. The consensus during the first season wasn’t that favorable, though — “no likeable characters,” etc. I think the second season was when it broke through culturally. While there are no heroes there are also, refreshingly, no anti-heroes Even Logan, the closest thing to a sacred monster, is first seen peeing on his own floor.

  2. Yeah, it’s all about power and yet nobody really has any — Logan is trapped in his ageing body and dying brain, while everyone else scurries around in panic.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    IT’S WORLD AIDS DAY

  4. Preston Johnson Says:

    Rouben Mamoulian on camera movement:
    “The idea that camera movement will give cinematic movement to an otherwise static scene or study, so prevalent among directors and executives, is basically false. […] Unjustified movement is a sign of directorial weakness, not strength.”

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