by Elise Hassan
From Alex Garland’s ‘Devs’ to Wong Kar Wai’s upcoming ‘Blossoms’, television is proving to be a sought-after playground for acclaimed film directors.
Devs, the debut TV series from film director Alex Garland (who had previously given us sci-fi gems Ex Machina and Annihilation) offers a welcome cinematic escape in televisual form. For many of us, Devs entered our screens in the height of the pandemic and in the early months of lockdown when new releases were dwindling and cinemas had all but shuttered their doors. Each and every episode of Devs is directed and written by Garland himself and contains his ever-present signature themes of technology, power and quantum physics.
Devs is yet another example of the current rise in auteur television, in which filmmakers who have otherwise kept themselves to the big screen are now moving to the small screen, bringing with them a cinematic quality that has nearly always been saved for the cinema. Garland brought forth his exquisite use of colour, location, sets, music and cinematography to television’s episodic format to create a riveting slow burner of a story.
In 2013 we were given Jane Campion’s Top of The Lake, a visually stunning and crime drama set in New Zealand that follows the mystery of a detective called Robin (played by Elisabeth Moss), as she tries to uncover the disappearance of a pregnant 12 year old girl.
Campion is most renowned for films such as The Piano and Bright Star that so often feature the complex stories of women who are on the outskirts of society. It was no surprise that Campion’s storytelling would fit so beautifully to the small screen, allowing her the time to delve into each character and the complexities of their lives and connections to each other.
It has been 12 years since Campion last made a feature film, stating herself that “cinema in Australia and New Zealand has become much more mainstream. It’s broad entertainment, broad sympathy. It’s just not my kind of thing. As a goal, to make money out of entertaining doesn’t inspire me. But in television, there is no concern about politeness or pleasing the audience. It feels like creative freedom.” The creative freedom that Campion mentions is what makes television so exciting and desirable for feature filmmakers, with the medium allowing for more experimentation and more flexible production costs.
Television, which is so often seen as the ‘lesser’ art form to cinema - or the less serious of the two - is proving to be a medium that can hold up to its cinematic counterpart. The hierarchy is beginning to falter and the line between television and cinema is beginning to blur, with film festivals themselves beginning to screen episodes of television. Last year’s BFI London Film Festival saw a virtual screening of the first episode of A Day-Off by Kasumi Arimura from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, most well-known for his intimate and meditative feature films Shoplifters, Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son.
Whilst filmmakers moving their work to the small screen is not something entirely new, it has seen a significant rise in the last decade and looks as if it will only continue to rise, with the highly acclaimed Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai also stepping into the world of TV. His decade-spanning Shanghai-set drama Blossoms will have thematic connections to his iconic film In The Mood For Love. It is currently in production and will certainly hit our screens with a bang, confirming that auteur television will continue transforming our televisual viewing experience - for the better.
Elise Hassan is the TV editor for the Radical Art Review