Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It Was, Like...Soothing, You Know?

After TWO viewings, I'm still digesting the sixth episode of David Milch's HBO series John From Cincinnati (seen up here on Movie Central).

I will say up front that I still very much dig this show. It's become one of the few series this summer I cannot miss (although to call it a TV series is a bit of a misnomer...with only an eight episode run, it's more like a very long movie).

But this last episode (entitled: His Visit: Day 5) and its extended climax was quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'm finding it very difficult to arrive upon the right words to describe it. Others have tried to encapsulate, and I'm not saying they succeeded brilliantly....but at least they tried.

At South Dakota Dark, here's some of what they had to say:

I thought it really nailed the feeling of religious harmony, the feeling of what it's like to come together with a band of disparate people and feel like you're approaching something higher than yourself. John's literal come to Jesus meeting at the end of the episode is the sort of thing I don't even want to try to bother finding a definite interpretation for (not that there necessarily is one) without having watched the episode 15 times or so, but the general feeling of warmth I got from seeing all of these fascinating players gathered together to listen to John speak to them and listen to an impromptu jazz duet was like nothing I've ever seen on television.

And at the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich comes as close to anybody I've read to nailing it:

The sense of the series as a composition – as an extended ballet of suffering and redemption – was never so strong as in “His Visit: Day Five”, which opens with a brilliantly self-referential scene in which filmmaker Cass (Emily Rose) avoids any direct contemplation of the footage she shot of John in the previous episode. Any artistic type should be able to sympathize with Cass’ plight; the creative process is rarely a straight line – more a formless, engulfing void given as much to intense lulls as to fresh bursts of inspiration.

It would require a separate essay to break down every beat of this episode’s climax, which I will hyperbolically state to be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Such greatness, you see, strikes me fanboy dumb, leaves me gasping for air in its wake. I wouldn’t dream of ruining such a potentially profound experience for others with my inadequate words.

Those are some strong statements, but hear me now and believe me later...I kinda know what they're talking about. The best description of my viewing experience I could come up with was that it was like reciting a poem, writing a short story, playing the piano, and performing a ballet all at the same time --- so intense it should be mind-blowing, but instead was, like...soothing, you know?

Oh, and here's Milch from a Newsweek interview explaining a little bit about the series and this episode:
DM: William James once said, and I’m paraphrasing here: if this life be not a real combat, then it is nothing more than a private theatrical from which one is free to resign at will, but it feels like a struggle. What James was suggesting, I think, was: it feels as if life has meaning and that the universe responds somehow to our effort to find it—but that’s a far different thing from saying that we will ever understand what the meaning is. To me, John [played by Austin Nichols] is a living, breathing character who embodies that paradox. He is an intermediate entity between us and the absolute, but he knows as little about himself as we do about ourselves. Somebody’s running him, in other words, and he doesn’t understand who. But he reveals more as it is in his power to reveal it.

NW: I don’t want to ask you to give away much of your story, but based upon what I’ve seen so far, it feels like it’s building to something much bigger than just a family of surfers.

DM: Oh, absolutely. Someone once referred to a spiritual experience as “a slow unfolding,” and to the extent that this story is about a collective spiritual experience, the unfolding is a little slow. John has been sent for some purpose, at a specific time and at a specific place. He doesn’t understand it, and neither does the audience, but it does become clearer. In the sixth episode, John will begin to speak of his father and of 9/11. Everyone around him assumes that he’s talking about the 9/11 we know. But he’s actually talking about a 9/11 to come.

I don't know if it became that much clearer but...Wow.


Lee said...

It really was "time well spent" - a frigging incredible piece of TV, that was not only great on it's own, but elevated the previous episode (thank goodness.)

That scene at the motel...while I've never seen anything like it before, it certainly captured something I've felt, or intuited, or wished, often. Those disciples of John's who came together for his speech form not a community of individuals, but rather something completely new. Humanity as a whole, single organism that is made up of both the living and the dead. Like Kai's "see God" experience, it was a moment when walls break down, and all sense of individuality and ego gives way to something profound and, well, divine.

Only eight episodes? Really? And still no word on a second season? Milch has to be allowed to see this through.

wcdixon said...

Thanks for joining me in admiring this production, Lee...I was starting to feel alone in the 'blog'derness.

Good Dog said...


sorry for leaving you alone in the blogderness. I think the show is just the best. It towers above everything else I'm currently watching.

And as Lee mentions, Vietnam Joe's deadpan, "Well, this was time well spent," was the perfect ending to an amazing episode.

Still not sure what the heck is going on, but I can't wait to find out. And the gathering outside the motel was sublime.

I read somewhere that it was ten episodes. That may be wrong, but I hope it isn't being cut short.

Oh, and whoever it was that sourced the clips for the title sequence and cut it together is a genius.

Lee said...

Will, I noticed that no-one really seems to be talking about JfC. I honestly don't think anyone knows what to say.

wcdixon said...

Eight or ten I'm not exactly sure...and not sure if it was really designed to go longer than that.

Found it interesting to read Milch say he originally set it in New York, and when this notion of a surfing family series came up, he just switched coasts and off they went...

I wonder what the arena was and the type of family it was when set in NY?

Good Dog said...

That's interesting. I wonder how much of the idea he had was put together before Kem Nunn's involvement. Having read Tapping the Source, and knowing about his other surf-noir books, I figured west coast and surfing was all part and parcel of it.

Given Milch originally went to HBO with an idea about society and policing in Ancient Rome only to be told they had a series in the works, then come back to them with Deadwood, I'm more than happy for him to pick things up and move them about.

Tim Thurmeier said...

I've always seen it on right before Entourage I think, but I never bothered to watch it. I think I might now...

wcdixon said...


As much as I'd like others to tap into the wonder that is JFC, I'd almost suggest waiting until it gets repeated or something. As in, most of us who have watched from the beginning still don't really understand what is going on --- I can't imagine jumping in mid-stream.

theblankscreen said...

originally it was going to be set among drug addicts