take the cannoli
I ordered some copies of David Ossman’s history (two books) of his perspective on the Firesign Theatre, of which he is one of the four. David was the one who seemed to be the keeper of the script, whatever record or material the group worked on in the early stages. Later, in the studio, the directions and skeleton of the work would be fleshed out and combined with improvisational extensions and overdubbed backgrounds, but much of the apparent liveness (not a word, yes) seemed to have been pre-assembled during the writing sessions. It’s been a couple of weeks now, but the mysteries of SMB meets e-commerce so far have not yielded any actual paperbacks. The reality of the ongoing pandemic is brought home each day as my watch vibrates with the arrival of a steady stream from Amazon of new stuff ordered mostly by my daughter, but no books.
While I wait, the world of streaming brings gifts of an earlier age of Hollywood, particularly a Paramount+ series called The Offer. Having glanced at a nasty little review of the show, I was not prepared for how much we’ve been enjoying this thing. It’s based on the making of The Godfather as remembered by the film’s producer, Al Ruddy. He has to get in line behind the film’s director Francis Ford Coppola, the book’s author Mario Puzo, and the legendary cast of Brando, Pacino, and Caan. But the slight pivot to the blocking and tackling just behind the scenes meshes quite brilliantly with streaming’s moment of apparent crisis.
The more streaming replaces cable, the transition from broadcast to cable is playing out again. Borne on the back of Netflix from ads to a subscription model, the rationale for paying for TV was the drop of a full year’s shows putting the viewer in charge. Competitors tried to sidestep Netflix’s enormous lead in subscribers and soaring original production financing by spacing out these bulk drops with a hybrid approach of an initial 3 or 4 show drop to hook us, and then weekly updates a la broadcast. The Offer uses this cliffhangeresque approach to great effect, mixing the backlot and corporate storylines with the real world of a 70’s Hollywood struggling with the intersection of multinational corporations and the New York crime families. Not lost on us are the parallels with today’s acceleration of digital technology and its grip on the world economy.
Particularly poignant is the superb portrayal of Marlon Brando’s intuitive understanding of his power to dominate his performance offscreen as well as on. The Godfather documents the relationship between corporate and underworld power; the series delineates how Brando uses the same power differential to negotiate with the producers, the studio, and Gulf & Western, the conglomerate that owned Paramount. The actor’s political stances and personal lifestyle were legendary in their excess, but Brando knew the film would be an offer Hollywood couldn’t refuse. It’s not a real stretch to see the outlines of this in a modern setting with Musk and the current Twitter dynamic.
Whether or not the deal closes, the impact of the offer will continue to reverberate. The methodology of negotiating by tweet is obviously effective, to the point that each addition to the thread underlines the accelerating value of the platform. As with the Supreme Court leak, it’s the leak itself that is the product. Subsequent leaks form the narrative of who, what, and why. Why is the real question, and why this will drive people to vote. Comedy is hard, but drama fills the seats. As the philosopher Kristofferson says: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”