Thursday, June 18, 2009

Directions and directors in Television

I've mentioned The American Vein: Directors and Directions in Television Christopher Wicking and Tise Vahimagi many times before. This is an important book for people who are interested in the history of American television. It is laid out much the same way Andrew Sarris laid out his book about film directors. The first chapter deals with those directors the authors think are most talented. By the last chapter you're pretty much in hackdom.

But what stories and quotes along the way. Wicking and Vahimagi manage to to fill their pages with the real lives of working directors. Don Siegel speaks bitterly about his TV work. Jacques Tourneur (I don't exaggerate) sounds downright despondent about his. William Freidkin, Andre DeToth and Sam Peckinpah also worked in TV and their careers are assessed here.

The book was respected by some but reviled by many. Those who hated it complained that Wicking and Vahimagi were dealing with hacks and hackwork--TV directors? C'mon! Vast wasteland, dude. But the writers make their case in snappy and readable fashion. I don't know if I agree with them because I haven't seen most of the episodes they reference. But it strikes me that given the hundreds of thousands of TV hours, some directors have given us striking and memorable work. Even when the show is a sit-com it can be evaluated in a serious way. For instance you could write full length books about the differences between Three's Company and Seinfeld.

From the Independent 2008:

Christopher Wicking: Screenwriter and critic who wrote for Hammer and worked on the adaptation of 'Absolute Beginners'
By John Jeremy (October 2008)

In contemporary cinema, cult directors have become almost commonplace but screenwriters are rarely accorded that ambiguous accolade.

It was the unenviable lot of the British screenwriter Christopher Wicking, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 65, to be swiftly promoted to that dubious pantheon while still in his early thirties.

His scripts for the British branch of American-International, a company specialising in horror and exploitation pictures, were quirkily arresting. He understood how to grab an audience by the lapels and hold them for the ride, even if the material to pass across his desk may have seemed, at first glance, unpromising. He created additional dialogue for The Oblong Box (1969) and then, consolidating his association with Vincent Price and director Gordon Hessler, wrote the screenplay for Scream and Scream Again (1969), perhaps his best known credit. There were several others, and later on a long association with Hammer Films which yielded productive collaborations with the former Ealing editor and director Seth Holt (Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, 1971), and, with the producer Frank Godwin, Demons of the Mind (1972). Godwin helped to inculcate discipline into Wicking's wayward working methods and they were to collaborate for over 40 years.

for the rest of a very interesting obituary go here:

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