Thursday, April 03, 2008
Deadwood TV series, originally aired on HBO, available on DVD. 2004.
It's 1876 in Deadwood. Gold has been found in Dakota Territory. In addition to the people looking to make their fortune by finding gold, there are the people looking to make their fortune by taking that gold. Sometimes legally -- with stores, hotels, brothels. Sometimes illegally. Deadwood is outside the law; it's in a territory, not the United States, and its status is uncertain. Anything goes.
Wow, wow, wow.
Did I say wow?
Yeah, I know, that's not a review.
The Deadwood of this TV series is brutal; coarse; dirty; rough. It's not pretty; the colors are brown, black, occasionally blood red. The series mixes real people (Wild Bill Hickok) with made up people (Alma Garrett); even when based on 'real', it tweaks facts, such as the family of Seth Bullock or the background of Al Swearengen.
I'm sure people have a field day pointing out what isn't true about the series; but it's a hell of a story. And often, with a TV show (or a movie) a different truth is required. For example, the language. Deadwood is not safe for work; and it's not something that is family friendly, with the swearing, the murders, the nudity, the feeding dead bodies to pigs, and the language.
The language: so maybe back then people didn't say m*****f***** or c*********. I don't know; I just saw that in the wikipedia article and elsewhere, that the real curses of the day would seem mild to our ears. So, to keep the real truth -- that the language was coarse and shocking -- language coarse and shocking to our ears was used.
Violence: it's a violent place and a violent time. As one character says to another, you don't come to Deadwood to get fairness; you come to make money. Even the "good" characters are violent.
Actually, the violence, the language, the prostitutes -- all were reasons I didn't want to watch when it originally aired. But then I heard so many people talking about it and how great it was.
And they were right; the language works. It's perfect. It's Shakespearean and grand.
The violence serves a point: to prevent the glorification of the past. To show just how high the stakes were. And to convey a truly different worldview; something historic fiction usually fails at miserably. These people, their choices, their actions -- including pulling a gun on a murderer, or beating a thief nearly to death -- reflect a world that is not ours.
And thru the dirt and the violence, there is sometimes grace and beauty, all the more so because of the hell that is Deadwood. The child saved from a massacre. A suffering man put out of his misery. A woman who dances for the first time. Oscar Wilde said, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Deadwood is a gutter; but there are people who are struggling to find those stars.
One more thing; the characters. Brilliantly shaded; with so many shades of gray and complexity. Brothels and saloons, yes; but this is the real world, not a book where a poor boy makes good. Here a poor boy makes good the only way he knows how; selling drinks, selling whores, stealing, keeping one step ahead of someone else. And women, who are bought and sold by parents both as whores and as brides.
I loved this show, cannot wait to watch the next season. It's a truly grown up show; thoughtful, complex, gets better with repeat viewing. And so well crafted; not a word or gesture is wasted, the shots and editing are superb.
Final, final thoughts: I am so thankful I don't live back then.
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