Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

December 1, 2011

So I couldn’t figure out how to post to the adaptation’s group so I’m posting this here.

For my adaptation series I have been watching Trueblood which is based of the Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris, I’m very interested in how television creators handle images in adaptations. What specifics from the text do they find paramount to include and what do they find expendable? Trueblood is an interesting case because violence and sex are major parts of the story. Trueblood could never be shown on a cable or network station. (Although some might argue that is you shed Trueblood of it’s sex and gore, you would have Vampire Diaries, which is doing alright for itself). Fortunately HBO does not have to adhere by the guidelines of propriety that other channels must. However, for me I think that Trueblood does something with it’s images that Hell On Wheels, in my opinion, could never get quite right. The amount of gore. Vampires drink blood. And on occasion explode into a pile of bloody remnants. However in Trueblood I am not constantly bracing myself for the gore in the way I would for Hell on Wheels. Trueblood uses gore, for the shock value but also to enhance the plot. Hell on Wheels seemed to use it frivolously without cause.


The Future of Hell on Wheels

December 1, 2011

Now that we’re getting into the real meat of Hell on Wheels, (and moving on to other topics,) I find myself wondering exactly where the story can go beyond this first season. Naturally, a lot will change between now and the season finale, but there are still questions that should be addressed if we assume the length of some arcs.


Promotional material for the show highlights only Cullen and Elam. Both have guns, both are dressed in a similar manner. A partnership for the two seems very likely, and barring other contractual obligations or conflicts, I would be very surprised if either left the show after this first season. That said, we can recognize the difference between the two in the current narrative, so the show must resolve how these two end up in “equal standing.”

The action itself will drift away from Hell on Wheels, simply because the railroad has a destination to be built to, and Cullen has a piece of his vengeance to attend to in the setting. Both of these are shaping up to be season-long arcs, concluded in the finale, because to take any longer would almost necessarily stretch these two goals to be second season arcs. Cullen killing his target and somehow sticking with Hell on Wheels (assuming the railroad isn’t finished) would be a piece of narrative acrobatics, knowing as we do that Cullen’s target is a man of some prominence within the railroad town.

The advertising and title suggest to me that after this season, Cullen and Elam will become “hell on wheels” (well, horses,) as Cullen’s quest takes them away from the railroad and on to more varied locales. Then again, my theory is sunk by the rest of the ensemble cast: they can’t all travel wherever Cullen goes, and I don’t think a show like this can maintain scattered POV.

Characterization of Hell on Wheels

November 24, 2011

This episode of Hell on wheels cleverly plays with themes of identity, especially when examined with traditional Western characters in mind. What is a savage? What is a heathen? What is this idea of the fair-haired maiden of the West?

Thomas Durant’s solitude and loneliness re-defines the role of the powerful capitalist in this episode of Hell on Wheels. We are finally witnesses to a different side of Durant, a more human character with an emotional past. His wife rejected his ambitious dream of going West, and stayed behind in New York while her husband seeks to satiate his hunger for progress. Later in the episode, he walks the settlers’ camp alone, then attends the Irish brothers’ makeshift picture show, again without company. What does this say about the villain?  He’s changed as I’ve grown sympathetic to someone whose ideals are so twisted.

Joseph Blackman, the “saved” savage denies his past role of a member of his tribe, the band of his brother. In the scene, while cutting his hair he looks into the cracked mirror, a symbol his jagged sense of self. Even as a baptized Christian and “civilized” rescuer of Lily Bell, the fair-haired maiden of the West, he is subject to endless scorn and prejudice from the white settlers.

Again, Hell on Wheels plays with the idea of stereotypical characters and identity in the “old West”.

Is Emily Nussbaum a Formalist?

November 23, 2011

Read Emily Nussbaum’s first piece as The New Yorker’s TV critic;  it’s interesting.

Is Emily Nussbaum a Formalist?

November 22, 2011

Read Emily Nussbaum’s first piece as The New Yorker’s TV critic;  it’s interesting.

Hell on Wheels: A New Birth of Freedom

November 22, 2011

With each new episode of Hell on Wheels, I find myself captivated by the teaser and sucked in by the opening credits, only to become incredibly disappointed by the remainder of the episode. This was more evident than ever in the third episode, “A New Birth of Freedom”. The teaser, focused solely on Cullen Bohannon and orchestrated without a single real line of dialogue, features our protagonist rummaging through the belongings of the deceased foreman whom he has replaced and discovering a photograph of the men responsible for the death of his wife. Although the likelihood of finding a photo identifying each of the men is hardly believable, the atmosphere and structure of the sequence more than make up for this highly implausible coincidence. Hell on Wheels looks so much better during any scene that unfolds in the dark, and the flickering light and shadows inside the tent, combined with the gray hued flashbacks, created an atmosphere that for the first time actually intrigued me and drew me in to the story. Bohannon focuses on the name Sgt. Harper as bits of his thousand piece revenge puzzle begin to fall into place, and the darkness of the sequence and the quick cuts between the murders Bohannon has committed and the names on the picture made this teaser feel like the kind of gritty, brooding western that I want this show so badly to be.

However, after the music and smoke and fire landscapes of the opening credits faded away, once again Hell on Wheels lost me. The show is shot gorgeously and the art direction is flawless, but the actual content of the plot leaves so much to be desired.  The last shots of the episode, where Lily and Bohannon are shown on horseback in a wide panoramic view of the horizon, was evocative of old John Ford westerns like Stagecoach, and it’s scenes like this that continue to give me false hope in the show. There was another scene this week which particularly stood out in terms of cinematography. When Bohannon comes across Joseph tending to Lily Bell, he takes a moment to remove the remainder of the arrow from her wound, drinking continuously from his flask as he does so (also: how about cleaning the wound with that flask instead, Bohannon?). The scene is shot in a more interesting way than the rest of the episode, with the camera angled throughout the sequence to show Lily’s feverish perspective. I’m far more engaged with the camerawork and the landscapes and the period details than with anything the writers have presented (Colm Meaney’s perfectly bombastic Shakespearean speeches notwithstanding), and if the plot was able to bring something more interesting to the table, I would have been sold on Hell on Wheels weeks ago.

Hell on Wheels Episode 3

November 22, 2011

I can’t quite figure out why, but I definitely don’t agree with most of my classmates that Hell on Wheels is complete garbage. Perhaps it’s the business-focused side of my brain at work, but I find that this show is exactly what middle-America needs. AMC is not trying to impress the 18-24 age range of highly intellectual students that go to New York University. Instead, they are probably targeting 35+ adults, mostly males, and ones that don’t want to watch a show with a complicated plot when they come home after a long day of work. Still, I feel that Hell on Wheels will continue to improve as the season progresses, and while I don’t personally find it enjoyable, I think Hell on Wheels has beautiful cinematography and does a wonderful job at recreating the past.

What I do find very interesting in terms of the visual aspects of Hell on Wheels are the costumes and wardrobe – I find that not only is the show great at researching the clothing that people wore during the time period that the railroad was built, but I also appreciate the symbolism that goes along with the wardrobe of the characters. For example, our main character Cullen is always donning his pistol. This pistol, we find out in the first episode, is a standard issued revolver of the Southern army and is a much larger firearm than any of the weapons used by other workers on the railroad. This revolver represents Cullen’s past, and perhaps the only thing that will allow him to move on from it will be avenging the death of his wife. On the other hand, Elam, the slave, always dresses in a suit and dress hat despite the fact that he’s working in the dirt. His character dresses this way because he is trying to move on from the pre-Civil War era, and would like to be respected the way a white man is.

These representations are going to play larger roles, in my opinion, as the show continues. I feel that the show has a great setup for only having three episodes thus far – all of the characters have motivations, and have very complex relationships. This is a good formula for a show, we must simply wait to see what it has in store for us.

Hell on Wheels 103

November 22, 2011

Throughout its run, Hell on Wheels has always been visually stunning. The special effects are more consistent feature films rather than cable television. Additionally, the set pieces often appear to be shot on location rather than a Hollywood set. This makes Hell on Wheels aesthetically pleasing and separates it from most television programs.

One of the more visually, emotional scenes occurs when a fellow worker confronts Elem and accuses him of wanting to be white. The camera follows a line of black workers as they shovel dirt from the ground. The diegetic sound of some 100 workers digging into the earth provides an added authenticity to the scene. With each passing dig, the viewer can see the escalating frustrations of the workers. Finally, tensions reach a boiling point when a worker puts down his tools and refuses to continue. Elem quickly confronts the man in a face-to-face stare down. In the background, an explosion occurs, followed by a large cloud of black smoke. This visual serves as a representation of the explosive anger that both men feel and epitomizes the potential for damage that might ensue.  Here, the use of special effects adds another layer of richness to the story and helps establish the emotions of the scene.

Though Hell on Wheels remains a visual stunning program, the non-diegetic sound fails to add value to the program. As another blogger has stated, the soundtrack often feels like its playacting towards the audience’s emotions rather than to  “an honest relationship with the story being accompanied.” I agree that the result can take the viewer out of the story and often feels like the show is trying too hard to generate emotions for it audience by using a soundtrack. Thus, I believe, that if the show could introduce a more realistic sound from the era, the result could be a stronger reaction to what is depicted in the scene.

“Hell On Wheels” — episode 3

November 22, 2011

You’re losing me, “Hell On Wheels.” I could forgive last week’s slow burn–it was the 2nd episode after all–but man was this episode boring. Well I should clarify: Everything that didn’t involve Colm Meaney was boring. Meaney’s Durant continues to be the sole reason I’d keep watching this show, and I can only hope he’ll get progressively drunker and angrier as the story progresses. I guess my main problem with this episode revolved around the poorly written episodic arcs for primarily Elam and Cullen. It’s cool that Cullen got to shoot some people and that scene where he (drunkenly) operates on Lilly was both cringe-worthy and very well shot (I loved those quick cuts from the wound to Lilly to Cullen taking another swig from his flask), but the temporary derailment of his mission to find the Sgt. in order to introduce him to Lilly, as well as his interactions with Joseph, neither strengthened his character nor his mission. As for Elam: Common sure is getting burned so far. He’s been given a whole lot of jack to do other than try to rally the troops and bust down barriers, which would be fine if it didn’t feel like “a very special episode” circa 1865–did anyone else find that scene in the whore house especially groan worthy?


As for the actual aesthetics of the show, I think “Hell On Wheels” is doing a really fine job. I especially like the use of music, which switches nicely between 1860s and contemporary tunes quite smoothly; those heavy guitars in the cold open added a good amount of weight while managing to feel anachronistic. I also loved the way they lit Durant’s office–a dim glow that accents all the deep reds and browns of the room–in that scene where he spills his drink on himself. But unfortunately, aesthetics aren’t everything; and for the first time I feel like I’m ready to drop Hell On Wheels.

Imagery in Episode 3

November 21, 2011

Upon reading Karen Lury’s “Image”, and her ideas surrounding the way in which the television image can dramatize, I immediately drew connections to the visual strategies found in Hell On Wheels. Lury, though here discussing soap operas, claims that “In the same way that knowledge of each character’s biography becomes important to the narrative richness of [a television show]…the repetition of key images and the revisiting of particular locations is also important to the development of sentiment and empathy by the viewer of the series” (8). Here, Lury is discussing the typical sets, images and designs found on television, those that lack a sort of visual richness due to television budgets as compared to the richness of film visuals. She claims that “despite the relative visual poverty” of the television image, because these images and sets are revisited so often throughout a television series, they compensate the viewer through a certain ‘time-richness’, being revisited by characters in the shown and thus helping to promote and develop emotional attachment and sentiment in the viewer.

Hell On Wheels is definitely no exception to Lury’s theory. As she goes on to claim that “incremental ‘natural’ changes” in the scenery help promote change in both the viewer and characters on screen, I could not help but draw connections to episode 3. Here, we are constantly returning to images of mud, rain and slop throughout the town and its outskirts. Though Hell On Wheels’ imagery is definitely not that of a typical television show in that it is quite visually rich, the same rules of repetition and revisiting in order to develop sentiment still apply. Before episode 3, I do not remember there being such a reliance on images of wet sloppiness. This change and the episode’s subsequent repetition of these images highlight the rising sentiment of the characters and the show on a whole that the situation in Hell On Wheels is getting darker and grimmer. Obviously the director is attempting to create a sense of poverty, gloom and despair in the audience, and the show is accomplishing such not only through the dialogue and acting, but through this new reliance on grey and dreary imagery. Plagued by murder, savage attacks, racism, debauchery and greed, the condition of the train town is spiraling downward and the environmentally imagery is reflecting such a trend.