Film is from Mars, telly is from Venus

After all these years, the two mediums are finally getting it on

Back by popular demand: Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars

Back by popular demand: Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 00:00

The two crotchety neighbours have been enjoying mutual disharmony for well over half a century. Jealousy and mistrust have all played their part. Every now and then, the elder of the two rivals, when the noise became too extreme, has hammered angrily on the shared wall.

But time softens most such rivalries. After all, they’re both now so ancient that the age difference hardly matters. At this stage, they may as well join forces and direct shared anger towards the young jerks drinking cider at the nearby bus shelter.

This laboured analogy is taking us towards a consideration of the long-running tensions between the media of film and television. The eventual arrival of the small box as a commercial force in the 1950s threw the movie studios into a panic. Not unreasonably, the moguls felt the availability of talking pictures in the family home would dissuade punters from abandoning the hearth and forking out for tickets at some remote location (soon, no doubt, to be redesignated as a bingo hall).

This was the era of desperate gimmicks such as 3D, Emergo and Percepto. The screen was increased to the size of a football pitch. None of this was explicitly acknowledged as a response to television. Indeed, the senior medium made a habit of largely ignoring the very existence of John Logie Baird’s invention. When it was mentioned, the box was treated as an eater of minds and a corrupter of souls.

Think of a key scene from Douglas Sirk’s timeless All That Heaven Allows. Having been persuaded to abandon her “inappropriate” lover, Jane Wyman receives a TV from her children. We see her devastated face reflected in the grey, hopeless plane of the screen. It seems that something more aggressively negative – entertainment anti-matter – is set to fill the emotional hole at the centre of Jane’s life.

Television ate away at the cinema. But, to the surprise of most pundits, the movies survived. Resigned to perpetual truce rather than a fight to the death, a sort of grim cold war was maintained. Detente manifested itself in the form of dodgy big-screen adaptations of small-screen entertainments (such beasts as On the Buses and Are You Being Served? kept the British film industry afloat in the 1970s) and lucrative telly conversions of popular films (including hits such as M*A*S*H).

Still, you couldn’t really say the media got on with one another. Until now. The TV series Veronica Mars is reconstituted as an agreeable film. The Muppets headline proper event movies. Matthew McConaughey wins an Oscar as his TV show, True Detective, becomes the most fashionable programme on the block. Top movie directors work on budding box-sets. There has never been a time when the two rivals have been on such easy terms.

What’s the point of fighting any more? The future belongs to Netflix. Let’s have another beer and contemplate eternity together.

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