This article was previously published on The Silhouette
The relationship between film and TV is pretty complicated. It’s like that cousin you don’t really get along with but who shares same family members and goes to the same school and has the same friends.
There has always been this overarching need to establish film as an unchanging, cultural phenomenon, even though it doesn’t reflect the cultural or political state of the world. On the television side, there’s a rush to define every decade since the development on TV as the “Golden Age,” or even the “Second Golden Age.”
Don’t get me wrong, this is the Golden Age of television. The Sopranos and The Wire changed the way we watch television completely now, and in the future. Tony Soprano was television’s first unlikeable protagonist, the anti-hero. Of course, a popular phenomenon repurposed into shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and in my opinion, Shameless and The Good Wife as well. In a way that film hasn’t yet grasped, television borrows techniques, styles, and archetypes from other shows but does so with an originality that inevitably results in success. Television is just getting smarter, with shows like FOX’s breakthrough hit Empire and CW’s latina comedy Jane the Virgin proving so.
Television is each piece as a whole while film is the entire whole. To me, film recognizes the art of cinematography in a way that television lacks, and allows you to appreciate the small details that are picked from a concise story. Television is real time—it feels like it’s happening to you. A year is really a year, Christmas is really Christmas; film takes you to the past and future simultaneously, but it never feels present. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s what makes film so successful as a tool for escapism.
Film is coming off a fantastic year, although some would disagree and the lack of inclusivity was a definite downfall. Last year biopics like The Theory of Everything showed us the details behind prominent figures with a little bit of creative license, with sharp satires like Chris Rock’s Top Five aiming to make social commentary hilarious, and well-written comedies like 22 Jump Street proving that blockbuster comedies could still be funny.
The films that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Festival in January make me excited to love film again. The talent that occupied Park City, UT for the week-long festival lent a hand to making 2015-2016 an unreal film season. Intricate stories, beautiful cinematography, established characters—all the necessities for film to appeal to the public again. That, and social consciousness and intersectionality. Even though 35 percent of films at this year’s Sundance were directed by women, Sundance Institute still recruted Kristin Wiig, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Jenji Kohan to fill their Serious Ladies panel celebrating women in comedy. All have written for TV, and with the exception of Wiig, all have a hit show right now – The Mindy Project, Girls, and Orange is the New Black, respectively.
It’s clear that television is the more progressive medium, giving well-formulated plotlines to women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, trans* women, and other marginalized identities, while film continues to underrepresent and celebrate privilege. Television mirrors culture, while film idealizes it.
These aren’t arguments trying to prove which is better artistically. The truth is film and television are just different, and it’s a grave injustice to art to try and compare the two. We don’t judge paintings in comparison to sculpture, nor do we judge jazz in comparison to spoken word poetry, yet we judge film in relation to television constantly. As communications students constantly learn, the medium is the message. Film and television have developed their own messages that work to impact everyone differently.
Where Joss Whedon proved a cult following could thrive on TV with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lars von Trier does cult films like it’s his second nature. Jenji Kohan created a popular, funny, dramatic show by women about women with different kinds of women, while Richard Linklater made history with his 12-year film Boyhood.
Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away with Murder is a spin on the crime-mystery genre and shows a dark-skinned woman in her natural hair, but Francis Ford Coppolla changed crime films with The Godfather.
There is no sense in competing; we should really just be grateful that this we live in an age where different kinds of art exist, and celebrate that we’ve gotten to the place where sitting in your living room with pizza enthralled by the TV can be considered art.