Like Ned, I enjoy big, hefty, pulsating, throbbing…books. I really like all books, but there is something special about the Big Book (TM) and all it can do. But I like movies and TV shows a lot too! I like them all, and I really like them when they can do something that’s unique to their medium. Here’s what Ned says about books:
First off, I make the point early on that literature can be a far more time-intensive medium than most. What I don’t mention is that I think this is more of a strength than a weakness, since the greater time investment required to slog through a long book can lead to much greater emotional investment. If you don’t believe me, look at the glassy-eyed cult (to which I claim membership) that’s sprung up around David Foster Wallace’s 1200-page Infinite Jest.
The other thing I wanted to clarify is that I’m not making the claim that literature has a monopoly on making people develop strong emotional attachments to fictional characters. Obviously any worthwhile narrative medium can do that. But what gives literature a lot of power in this regard is its ability to do just what Don DeLillo says: good literature can represent a level of complexity in human consciousness that I don’t think any other medium can come close to
Literature is the best artistic medium for representing complexity and layers in consciousness. I think the best books are those that achieve this best. Similarly, I think the best movies are those movies that take advantage of the unique features of film — namely the size and power of the big screen — and the best TV shows are those that most use TV’s essentially serial nature to its full potential.
To make this all a bit concrete, the last two movies I’ve seen on my parents’ amazingly and gloriously large T.V. are Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and Metropolitan. These are two fantastic and very different films. One is a tragedy with Biblical undertones set in the Texas Panhandle in 1916 where every frame looks a painting and where the actors are almost lost in the big, beautiful landscape. The other is mostly set in Manhattan apartments and concerns itself with the impossibly articulate conversations a bunch of college freshmen are having over their winter break before and after débutante balls. While I understand that taste is ultimately just that, taste, I want to be able to say that Days of Heaven and movies like it do something more with the medium they are presented in.
I should also say that there are movies like In the Mood For Love which concern themselves primarily with human consciousness and feeling, but do so in a necessarily indirect and suggestive way. That’s obviously something very, very hard to do — without resorting to cheap voiceovers, you depend on incredibly talented directors and actors to suggest all the complexity of human feeling — but when done well, it’s an amazing accomplishment.