Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pasolini: Art or Exploitation



(An alternate version of a story published in Vol. 2 of  ParaCinema Magazine)
It’s hard to say if being remembered for what is often said to be the most controversial film of all time is a good thing. Italian director Pierre Paolo Pasolini, who is one of the most misunderstood and fascinating filmmakers in celluloid history, to this day carries the cinematic burden of controversy; a burden that may have even been the catalyst for his murder.

Pasolini’s final film Saló O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975) was banned in over a dozen countries upon its release (many of which still hold the censorship), often considered a dangerous piece of film. Original prints were at one point stolen only to be rediscovered, minus lost and now infamous footage. Critics have labeled it exploitative trash, with some tagging it the most disgusting film ever made (even today with genre films pushing the envelope of bad taste with violence and sex, Saló holds its shock value). 

Supporters argue for the film’s artistic merits and staunch political protest messages, particularly the director’s longstanding contempt with Italian fascism and his support of homosexuality. Hard to find DVDs of his films are coveted (The Criterion Collection’s short-lived 1998 release of Saló for example is one of the rarest DVDs on the market with copies on eBay and other online auction sites ranging from $500-$1000) and his films have been studied and debated for years. 

While the storm of controversy and mysterious cult following/curiosity-surrounding Saló will always leave it as Pasolini’s most notable film there is more to the brilliant and underappreciated director than merely his final film. 

In many ways its safe to say Pasolini was a poet first and filmmaker second. Poetry, theater, literature and political propaganda were the embodiment of Pasolini’s early career and in many ways opened up the doors for his film career (before Saló Pasolini had over 20 films under his belt). The director was always interested in the classics often adapting literary giants such as Chaucer, Boccaccio and in the case of Saló the equally controversial Marquis de Sade. 

His early films dealt with the Italian proletariats–everyday characters seldom chronicled on screen during his time. In 1962'sMamma Roma Pasolini weaves a tale of a middle-aged prostitute trying to break away from her unforgiving life on the streets of Rome and does it was a level of grace and compassion normally not given for such an “undesirable” sect of society. 

In 1969's Medea Pasolini tackled Greek mythology with the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece (a story often chronicled on film most notably in the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation cult classic Jason and the Argonauts). Like all the films in Pasolini’s cannon, this is not a kid's version of the classic tale but rather an adult themed take on the story.

Similarly to Medea, Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life–his penultimate trio beginning with cinematic interpretations of Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights, a loose adaptation of A Thousand and One Nights–was a unique and mature take on three literary classics, heavily exploring themes of sexuality (both hetero and homosexual). Pasolini’s films, particularly Canterbury Tales, also served as vehicles for his scathing criticism of religion, specifically the Catholic Church, an establishment commonly scorned in films during Pasolini’s heyday.
Then there is Saló, which deals above all with the themes of power, lust and greed. Upon its release viewers saw in the film Pasolini’s contempt for the Italian fascist regime. While one can easily pick out Pasolini’s overall disgust for the fascist movement, specifically the intolerance for homosexuality, Saló is more an exploration of the abuse of authority. The film examines the destruction of the human psyche and body and does so with dark and disturbing visual images that are not for the squeamish, but serve as an eye-opener to the mankind’s darkest capabilities (aspects of Saló are frighteningly similar to the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib prison back in 2004, which makes Pasolini’s vision all the more horrifying).

I was recently reminded of Pasolini, whose films I discovered during a film class in college, when I was reading an article on the numerous failed cinematic protest films released this year–RedactedThe KingdomRenditionLions For Lambs etc.–regarding the current state of Iraq and our presence in the Middle East. One of the biggest complaints by critics is that gone are the days when film served as a medium for true or effective political and social dissent. Sure Al Gore won a Noble Peace Prize and an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth but one could argue that not much has changed in the battle against global warning since its release and that the use of protest and controversy in art is fading. 

Pasolini was killed following the release of Saló. While the investigation into the homicide is still open many believe that Pasolini, like the late great and equally controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gough, was killed because of his art and the beliefs that fueled it. His final film was scathing towards Italy’s political infrastructure, the Catholic Church, and above all human intolerance. The film stirred things up but that was its point. 

Legacies are a funny thing. It’s unfortunate that Pasolini will no doubt always be remembered as “that director of that disgusting film” since there is more to the highly underrated director than merely a shroud of controversy surrounding his films’ visual content. On the surface many of his movies could be viewed as extreme or risqué but unlike the no-holds-barred torture porn tactics of the modern horror movie (SawHostel etc), Pasolini used this in-your-face form of filmmaking to comment on the grim state of the world. He was not alone. Fellow filmmakers like Spain’s surrealist auteur Luis Buñuel or French master Jean Renoir spent much of their careers making controversial films that weren’t afraid to criticize the state of affairs whatever the cost may have been. Seldom today do we see that kind of radical devotion to films with motives and seldom do films have the power to bring that kind of passion and anger out in audiences. 

Pasolini’s films are not for everyone but should be viewed with an open mind, despite the controversy surrounding them. Like all great art his films are difficult, require a lot from the audience but are important landmarks in cinematic history.
 

Friday, December 21, 2007

For Your Consideration, Reznor's Beginning of the End


This past week I, like many, was scoping out various magazines, blogs, newspapers and websites to check out the overall consensus of the top albums this year. While for the most part the obvious records were honored–Arcade Fire, White Stripes, Kanye, Spoon, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen etc.–there was one landmark 2007 album that for one reason or another seemed to have been forgotten and has officially fallen under the radar. 

Nine Inch Nails’ sixth studio album,Year Zero, was released back in April to not only all around critical acclaim but also respectable record sales (Nails still has a loyal fan base out there). While casual listeners who are not familiar with NIN’s mastermind Trent Reznor’s past efforts may hear more of the same inYear Zero–that is to say, more of the fast-paced distortion rock and somber lyrics that Reznor is known for–the album is in many ways a breath of fresh air and one of Nails’ most unique and ambitious projects yet.

One could argue that Reznor has been creating “concept albums” ever since he jumped onto the scene with the gritty, “industrial incarnation” album, Pretty Hate Machine, however, Year Zero may be one of the most fascinating and true to form concept albums released in the past decade and maybe even in rock history. Sure the content matter is conceptual, focusing on a suffering dystopian society that Reznor apparently sees in our near future, but the most fascinating part of Reznor’s vision with Zero is the concept of how the album was marketed, released, and packaged. 

Zero was created on the heel of NIN’s fifth studio album, 2005s fairly sub par, With Teeth. Reznor is long known for taking his time between albums (it took five years for the follow-up to NIN’s masterpiece The Downward Spiral with the extremely underrated, epic double album beast The Fragile, and another six years after that for With Teeth) however, the concept and puzzle of Year Zero was unleashed on fans during the With Teeth tour. 

Reznor has said in interviews that Year Zero is just a small piece of an entire cross medium concept that he envisioned while on tour. Reznor planned Zero to be part of a grand alternate reality game that would include a companion video game, a remix album (already out in stores) and an eventual film/television project of sorts, all tying into the album’s scathing political themes and messages. The project also served as a vehicle for Reznor to toy with his fascination with the changing tides in technology, specifically using the internet and viral marketing to give fans tastes of Year Zero

This past year was quite monumental for the music industry in terms of the marketing and distribution of music. There were a number of file sharing lawsuits, record sales were slightly up but still disappointing compared to ten years ago, Amazon unleashed its online music store, possibly the only one fit to counter iTunes, and a little band called Radiohead decided to screw the industry middleman, opting to release their newest endeavor themselves, in many ways giving listeners a glimpse of the future of acquiring new music. Still with all this news very few people noticed or remember the fascinating and quite brilliant marketing/hype campaign unleashed by Reznor for the Year Zero release.
 
It all started back in 2005 when Reznor told the media of his intentions of working on new material while on the With Teeth tour. This was followed by a clever interactive world wide viral marketing campaign aimed solely at fans on tour. NIN tee-shirts sold this year featured the words “I am trying to believe,” which, if added to a URL enabled fans to discover a series of minimalist websites describing a futuristic dystopia called “year 0000.” After that concert goers on NIN European tour were treated to actual tastes of the music to come after a number of small USB flash drives were distributed in bathrooms and concert venues each containing more links to mysterious website, binary codes and snippets of music. 

Eventually websites were posted containing whole tracks to the singles “Survivalism” and “Capital G,” often released as midi files through Apple’s Garageband music producing software (much of Year Zero was created and recorded on a laptop while Reznor was on tour, a fairly interesting departure from the artist’s usual perfectionist and extremely detailed studio recording methods of past albums). These multi-track audio downloads also enabled/encouraged fans to remix the songs themselves, again promoting listener interaction. Reznor’s decision to release his music this way goes back to early sentiments favoring the welcomed change in how people get music. In interviews Reznor has expressed feelings that the CD medium as we know it is dying and that digital music IS the future, despite what the corporate recording industry says.

Finally, as a testament to Reznor’s embrace of the inevitable future of music, NIN made the album available for streaming on its MySpace webpage and website and promotional files were leaked through peer-to-peer networks, all before the official record hit stores. The concept of the final disc itself was also fairly noteworthy as it was printed with a special “thermo-chrome heat-sensitive” CD face, which changes the ink printing from black (when cool) to white (when heated after play), revealing yet more mysterious binary codes that in turn lead fans to yet another website clue in the grand Year Zero world. Technology is as much a character in the Year Zero storyline as the crumbling future society Reznor depicts. 

Now while the campaign and unique release of Year Zero is as noteworthy this year as the route Radiohead or any other band has taken, the musical content of NIN’s newest opus should not be overshadowed for it stands high with some of the best this year. 

Very few musicians working today can successfully write or create interesting music that is politically fueled. Reznor has long written songs that tread the waters of dark and macabre subject matter, but never before has he been so specific and angry with his comments on the current state of the world, specifically his concerns and anger for our current administration. Songs like the single “Capital G” are blatant references to Reznor’s disapproval with our current president and the concept of Year Zero is in many ways Reznor’s vision of what our bleak future may look like if we as a country don’t wise up. In one stanza Reznor belts out, 

The biggest problem with the way that we’ve been doing things is 
The more we let you have the less that I’ll be keeping for me


Musically NIN has never sounded better. Reznor helped define the industrial rock subgenre in the late 80s/early 90s yet he seems to have spent most of his career stripping down and transforming the sound he helped create–straying away from typecasting is Reznor’s forte. Year Zero features the signature NIN power drum tracks but mixes thing up by blending funk, dance, hip-hop and distortion rock sounds not to mention a curious lineup of instruments. On “The Greater Good,” an album highlight towards the end of the disc built around a throbbing funk drumbeat, Reznor tinkers with a number of bizarre instruments most notably a marimba, classical harp and what sounds like a Japanese Koto like string instrument. 

It’s easy to forget how talented and innovative Trent Reznor is in the musical arena. Very few people can truly master the “one man show” routine but time after time Reznor continues to reinvent his sound, while also writing songs that are angry, socially conscious and at times hauntingly beautiful. The Downward Spiral was a masterpiece and arguably one of the best records to come out of the nineties. While it’s safe to say that none of Reznor’s follow-ups have come close to the distinctive sound/vision of SpiralYear Zeroas an album and concept is a feat that most artists never come close to. For those who know what I’m talking about you may too be baffled about how easily critics and the “top albums of the year” scribes seemed to have forgotten about this stellar ‘07 release. 

For those who skipped it or have yet to discover NIN seek out this album in whatever method of gathering music you approve with. The way this album was presented to the world is as fascinating as Radiohead’s overly hyped stunt, the political messages showcased on the record best the opinions of most other artists working in the same protest genre, and above all the sounds that Reznor envisions and creates continue to impress, even after six noise infused albums. The last lines of the album’s closer, “Zero-Sum,” truly sum up Reznor’s vision of Year Zero.

Shame on us 
For all we’ve done,
And all we ever were
Just zeroes and ones

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Films You May Have Missed in 2007


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 So it's the end of the year and you know what that means, the inevitable swarm of Top Ten lists. Whether it be a magazine, newspaper, or website, it seems anyone and everyone dealing with popular culture sums up the year with a series of rankings. For the most part, these lists are predictable and unanimous. In the music arena there is Kanye's Graduation heading off against The Boss' Magic or indie sensation, Arcade Fire's Neon Bible versus internet music marketing savvy Radiohead who kind of unleashed In Rainbows this year (this album may also be on next year's lists…). In the realm of cinema, people can't stop talking about the Coen's haunting return to form in No Country For Old Men or Oscar hopeful George Clooney's "proof that I'm more than just a pretty face" legal drama vehicle, Michael Clayton.
 
Now I could follow suit and provide a short-list of this year's highlights and award season shoe-ins but it would be more of the same. I've always been interested in shedding light on the films that for some reason or another fail to make the lists and are worthy of some attention. The following are ten films, in no particular order, that most people may have missed this year.

Film:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
It's easy to see why this film had a short life in the theaters and failed to garner any major attention. This is not the suave, ultra charming Brad Pitt that most moviegoers are used. This is why it's also one of his best performances. This film has been labeled a Western when in reality it's about an early form of stardom in American history and the obsession and corruption that comes with it. Pitt's performance is full of detailed nuances that bring both a sense of melancholy and fear to his take on the legendary James. The cinematography by one Roger Deakins (also behind No Country For Old Men) is some of most richly toned and distinctive in recent years and Casey Affleck's take on the Coward is one of the finest performances this year (seriously, he's ten times the actor his brother is). Still very few people actually saw this in the theaters, which is a shame since its also one of the most visually stunning films you'll see this year completely worthy of the $9 admission ticket.

The Lookout
This little indie film from last spring featured yet another scene stealing performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, arguably one of the better young actors working today (sorry Shia Lebouf). This small town bank heist sleeper is one part Fargo, one part Simple Plan, with a little Memento thrown in the pot and features a scene stealing performance by Jeff Daniels, one of this generation's most underused actors.

Sunshine
Danny Boyle is by far one of the most unique and diverse filmmakers working today who–and I know people will find fault in this comment–is likening his career to that of Stanley Kubrick. Allow me explain. Similar to Kubrick, Boyle continues to change his style up with every film. Trainspotting put him on the map with the same grittiness and eye opening themes and imagery as A Clockwork Orange28 Days Later was his foray into horror, helping to reinvent the zombie genre for this generation (Kubrick's The Shining remains one of the finest thrillers out there), and Millions showed he could do a children's story (Kubrick's A.I. would have been a similar venture). Sunshine, Boyle's sci-fi epic holds many comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey–beautiful special effects, moving score, and a things fall apart in space storyline–but is also an extremely unique film with a fairly believable premise, which also serves as scathing social commentary to that inconvenient truth that Gore was on about.

28 Weeks Later
Speaking of 28 Days Later, this surprisingly good sequel to Boyle's instant classic zombie nightmare film featured one of the best opening chase scenes of any scary movie in recent years, had a fairly original and unique storyline for a sequel and above all was as frightening as its predecessor. Still this film had a short run in the theaters but should not be missed if you're up for a good old-fashioned scare.

Zodiac
During the rush of Award season hopefuls it's easy to forget the films that were released earlier in the year. David Fincher has long been a master of the modern thriller but Zodiac was proof that he also had a knack for crafting a realistic investigation flick, in the same vein as All the President's Men. Add a stellar performance by the always-great Robert Downey Jr. and you have a forgotten slow burner from last spring that should be sought out on DVD.

Into the Wild
Sean Penn's faithful adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book of the same name may be my favorite film this year. Perhaps its because I've always loved a good road movie, or maybe I just have a certain level of admiration for the character of Christopher McCandless who in the early 90s set off on a major walkabout of the America's heartland. Penn has always had a knack for directing (seriously seek his little seen 2001 film The Pledge that featured Jack Nicholson's best role of the decade) and his young star Emile Hirsch joins the ranks of Gordon-Levitt as one of the best young actors working today.

Paris, Je T'aime
It's hard to make a bad film about the beauty and magic of the city of Paris and sure enough this collection of vignettes from a crew of international filmmakers doesn't disappoint. Sure some film shorts are better than others but overall this is a beautiful and at times surreal look at the city of love. Highlight segments: "Quais de Seine" Gurinder Chadha's (Bend It Like Beckham) lovely boy meets girl story, which is sure to bring a smile to your face and the Coen Brothers' brilliant use of Steve Buscemi as a confused and unlucky American tourist.

Lucky Miles
This instant classic from Down Under has yet to get a wide release but was one of the gems I was lucky enough to see at Chicago's International Film Festival earlier this fall. In true indie fashion this film relies on a clever often-funny storyline, great performances by extreme unknowns and an important social commentary floating just under the surface. It's also a film that should be seen fresh without any prior knowledge of the plot so I'll leave it at that.

No End In Sight
Forget Sicko. If you see one documentary this year your time should go towards this scathing look at the Iraq war. Told by the people behind the downward spiral of our presence in Iraq, this film will/should make even the staunchest of conservatives second-guess our current administration.

Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog is one of cinema's best-kept secrets. He's a natural filmmaker who isn't afraid to tackle some of the toughest and most fascinating tales and has a unique adoration for natural surroundings. Dawn joins the ranks of The Great EscapeThe Deer Hunter,Escape from Alcatraz and even The Pianist as one of the finest escape/survival films out there and is also a fascinating look at the pre-stages of the Vietnam war. Funnyman character actor Steve Zahn delivers a career best dramatic performance and Christian Bale proves that even though he stars as everyone's favorite caped crusader, he still has time for thought provoking and challenging roles.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Watch This Show!


As an aspiring writer interested in all things pop culture it is not my place to preach and tell people what to watch, read or listen to. It is not the duty of a critic to tell readers how to spend their time but rather make suggestions, however, every once in a while I find that it is important to inform people about certain parts of current popular culture–be it a stellar new band, an unknown indie film treasure, or a captivating television drama–that have floated under the radar for too long and quite frankly, are too good and/or important to be missed. HBO’s monumental original series, The Wire, is one of these examples. Consider this a plea to anyone interested in quality television who is dying to find a replacement for The Sopranos or who is tired of the mindless reality or sitcom dribble that currently fills the airwaves.

It may seem a bit peculiar to praise a show that has been around since 2002 and next month enters its fifth and final season. The Wire is hardly a breakout series, however, season after season the show remained relatively unwatched by the general public, despite universal critical acclaim (seriously some people have labeled it the best show on television, ever).

In the realm of HBO, The Wire has never brought in the same viewership figures as the network’s more popular landmark shows such as The Sopranos (11.9 million viewers for its series finale), Six Feet Under (average 4-5 million viewers over its five season span) and Sex and the City (about 3 million viewers average per season). During The Wire’s long awaited third season the show brought in a whopping 1.6 million viewers, a series high.

But enough of the numbers. Why am I so adamant about this series? Why devote an entire column to a show that is hardly recognized at the Emmys (one Outstanding Writing nomination in 2005), does not sport a cast of superstar actors, and for the most part is unrecognized and overlooked? Because people, television doesn’t get much better than this.

On the surface The Wire is a cop show, often poorly labeled as “HBO's gritty police drama.” At a quick glance the show’s main focus is the never-ending narcotics war between the police department and the criminal underbelly of urban Baltimore, Maryland, a struggling American city that is as overlooked and ignored in this country as this show itself.

With a description like this it’s easy to categorize The Wire with other good guy, bad guy cop shows such as the highly mundane slew of Law and Order or CSI series (seriously how many of them are there?). Upon a closer look and investment in the show one will quickly realize that The Wire is not interested with these primitive good versus evil themes. The Wire is interested at examining pure capitalism in action, focusing on the social, economic, judicial and political struggles and the overall downfall of the modern American city. Baltimore is its backdrop and there is a definite level adoration for the city seen on the show, however, one can’t help but look at Baltimore as merely an example of modern America and the dire civil problems that have been stewing for the past century.

The show’s creator David Simon, an ex-Baltimore Sun newspaper crime reporter, knows the city he’s lived in all his life like the back of his hand and sees The Wire as an expression of his anger for what it’s become–the political corruption, the deterioration of the many social institutions, and above all the notion that in this day and age the majority of people living in this country are worth less in the grand scheme of things. From the addicts struggling with addiction, the corner boys struggling with the hopelessness of avoiding life on the streets, the rogue cops struggling with a corrupt and unjust system above them, to the ambitious mayor to be realizing the mess of things, The Wire deals with the growth of a corrupt social infrastructure and the downfall of the individual or common man.

While fiction The Wire has always been rooted with in-depth investigative journalism, an aspect that truly sets it apart from other shows in the same genre, even though The Wire should create a genre of its own. The show’s writers, currently made up of crime fiction novelists such as Richard Price, George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane among others, research their subjects with great care and detail, tapping into every sector of the city, whether it be life on the streets to life at city hall, no stone is left unturned. The shows producer, Ed Burns, served as a Baltimore homicide detective for years and later taught in an inner city middle school, experiences which lent themselves to the show’s continuing themes bringing a level of harsh realism seldom seen on television. This quest to tell it like it is can be hard to watch (The Wire is often devastatingly real) but it is meant to serve as an eye opener for the sheltered eyes of the average American.The show’s premiere season focused mainly on the ineffectiveness of the drug war, introducing the series’ core characters–the narcotic and homicide investigators and street level drug kingpins, soldiers and pawns. Above all the show’s first chapter showed the hard often unglamorous work that goes into a true police investigation. On The Wire, unlike the formulaic police dramas most people are familiar with, cases take months and often years to wrap, with paper work a mile long.

Season two proved that the series was truly interested in covering the city as a whole, radically changing the target and focus to Baltimore’s struggling and corrupt shipping port unions. Think On the Waterfront meets Traffic with some Greek tragedy thrown into the pot. It’s hard to imagine a 13-hour season that focuses on a group of disgruntled stevedores but take it from me, never before has an examination of this extremely overlooked and forgotten populace been so captivating.

The third season tackled the issue of reform, particularly of the drug trade seen on the street level and the drug war, seen through the political infrastructure. The show expanded its coverage of the city adding a political element and showcasing the fascinating vertical chain of command of the police department all the way up to the mayor’s office. If you thought The West Wing was intricate with its coverage of the presidents cabinet, check out The Wire’s take on the inner workings of an American city’s underbelly. Above all season three begged the question, is this war on drugs a battle we can realistically win?

Last year’s fourth season was the most critically acclaimed and again branched its focus out even farther covering Baltimore’s failing school system (a scathing look at “no child left behind”). This season was undoubtedly the bleakest and most sobering of them all because of its theme of hopelessness, its look into the corruption in the city’s political arena and portrayal of just how ruthless the streets have become, seen through the eyes of a group of naive middle school students living in a world gone terrible wrong. A homicide detective sums up the season and really the show in general when he says, “It makes me sick how hard we done fell.”

Little is known of season five’s plots other than the fact that the main theme tackled will be the media (the aspiring journalist in me is dying in anticipation), a fitting closer for a show that has served as a fictional looking glass into the happenings of one struggling American city.

For those who write praise for the series, it has become a bit cliché to liken The Wire to a great American novel, with every season adding a new chapter to the epic story. Like great literature this unique aspect of the show allows for the development of a large group of characters (the impressive cast of fairly unknown actors and their wonderfully crafted characters deserves its own column of praise), minor and major story arcs, and requires a level of patience and devotion that may discourage casual viewers but pays off for those willing to commit. The show has never been preachy and its messages are never presented up front. Similar to the shows diagetic use of music and lack of emotion stirring scoring, nothing on the show is spoon fed to the audience, which makes viewing the series so rewarding.

Like HBO's other niche dramas, the mysterious dust bowl era set Carnivalé, the “gritty western” Deadwood, or even the newest sensation, the “polygamist lives next door” family drama Big LoveThe Wire is a show that requires a certain level of sophistication and patience that will no doubt turn away passive viewers who find comfort in “anything but” reality television or formulaic cops and robber crime shows. HBO has long been the true bastion for original no holds barred series that rivals the in-depth quality and style seen on film but has always had a leg up to its cinematic counterpart due to the vast possibilities of having a multiple season, countless hour platform to work with.

The Wire is a program that will not appeal to everyone. Its honest look at what is happening to the American city is harsh and difficult to stomach at times, however, it is this foray into the realties facing our country that makes it an important series. A friend of mine once said that he feels like a better person after watching the show because of its window to the world we really live in, the one we don’t see or read about on a daily basis.

I wrote this column because next month the show enters its fifth and final chapter, and unlike The Sopranos, a pop cultural phenomenon that will without a doubt go down in history, The Wire may be one of those overlooked gems that will be forgotten in time. Despite its wonderful cast of actors (it has the largest African American cast of leading actors of any show period) and first-rate writing, the show has never received any love from the Emmys (an awards sweep next year, honoring the show as a whole would be refreshing, but is unlikely). This past week marked the release of the fourth season on DVD (it should be noted that this show works best on the DVD format where viewers can soak up multiple episodes at a time), and HBO subscribers will no doubt be treated to aWire marathon before the final season premiere. And with the cold of winter here to stay now is as good a time as ever to dive in.

Like I wrote earlier, it is not my place to tell people how to spend their time, but for those who don’t know about this series give it a shot. In my humble opinion it is the best show currently on TV and quite possibly the best series television has ever seen (sorry toSopranos fans). So the next time you find yourself at a video store or searching aimlessly through the majority of the trash being broadcasted on TV, unsure of what to watch consider The Wire. I wouldn’t lie to you. Quality, captivating television drama has never been better.