It’s 2013. I know, newsflash right? Like most of you, I figured that the transition into the current year is kind of a given after about January 15th, and unless you’re hoarding a time machine in your basement the world is going to expect that you live in the present. As it turns out living in the present is a little less defined than it used to be, at least according to film and television trends of late.
I’ve been struggling with time periods lately, as I try to stay current with my film and television consumption. It seems that more an more often I get halfway into a movie or an episode without having any clear idea of when it was set. At first I thought maybe I was being naive and that we were moving towards a sort of “timeless” film style. Something like what David Fincher achieved in Se7en.
Se7en is the kind of movie you could watch again and again without pinpointing exactly where or when it was set. The more this problem grates on me, the more I realize that a commitment to timeless cinema isn’t what I’m frustrated by, and an overstepping of realistic trends is actually what is happening.
It seems we’ve moved past “timeless” film making and entered into the danger zone of what I like to call “Mad Menifcation”. Before you go all rage-troll on me, understand that I’m not ragging on Mad Men. This is a show that is set in the 60′s, looks and feels like the 60′s, and borderline smells like the 60′s. They’re totally hitting the mark. Where we are going astray is the new trend of making a show that looks like it was set in the 60′s, or 50′s or 90′s and then trotting out an iPhone halfway through the movie or episode to clue your viewers in to the current timeline.
Using a vintage car, dressing your lead like James Dean, having transatlantic dialogue, and then product placing a Nexus tablet in Pseudo Dean’s hands and dropping a line about tweeting in for good measure isn’t telling a consistent story. What I want to know is where I can find these people that dress like Twiggy, live in Howdy Doody’s grownup mansion, and speak like Katherine Hepburn in 2013? Seriously, I’d love to pick their brain over a malted at the local Pop Shoppe.
Ok, obviously I’m bordering on snark, and it’s quite possible I haven’t convinced you that this is a real epidemic just yet, so I’ll cite my examples.
First up Park Wook Chan‘s American debut film Stoker. I’m a huge fan of Park Wook Chan. In fact one of my favorite films of all time comes from his Korean repertoire. My problem with Stoker is that I truly could not figure out when it was set until almost halfway through. There were no TV’s in the house, the main location of the film. The landline telephone was a retro collector’s piece. The lead was wearing saddle shoes for goodness sake. I assumed we were playing in the 50′s or 60′s until we got to the high school and some of the students were dressed more currently.
I passed it off as inconsistent costuming until the lead brought a cellphone out of her pocket. Wait. Hold on. I’ve never seen Don Draper send a text.
The realization that I had been watching the film through the eyes of the wrong era jarred me out of the story and I had to rethink what I’d already seen through my 2013 filter in order to get back on the right page.
I’m certain if I were to go back and watch the film again, there would be subtle cues alerting me to the present day, but if that’s not something I can determine right away I’m going to feel a little cheated when you tell me later and I have to struggle to readjust partway through. The only way I can forgive this decade-confusion is if it remains that way through the entire film without any technology or dead giveaways as to when it was set. Even then, I wish you wouldn’t.
Example the second: Netflix’s new original series Hemlock Grove. I’m going to disclaimer this by saying I’ve only watched the pilot, which is the source of my James Dean rage-comment. Here are some images from the show.
You can see my point, right? Unlike Stoker, it was certainly not difficult to determine that this was set in the modern day with the use of iphones, modern cars and science and technology, but this made it more blatantly ridiculous in my mind. There was such a disparity between characters, settings and technology that I almost couldn’t follow the story. It seems like a cop out to me. We want the magic of the 60′s, so we’re going to style the majority of our characters that way and give them cool retro houses, while still making use of the newest technology. It’s confusing, and it doesn’t do justice to the story.
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way and just need to get over it, but I strongly believe that consistency in a story is important. I don’t have a problem with emulating the tone of an era, as long is it’s done in a subtle and believeable manner that leaves no doubt as to when the show is set. I’m learning when I write that above all else, I need to listen to what the show needs. Am I staying true to the characters? Is it believable? What does the story require? I guarantee the answer isn’t a shoestring tie or a pastel blue rotary phone.