David Chase Goes Meta

David Chase hasn’t been doing much since The Sopranos ended (he was supposed to go into writing and directing movies, but it’s hard to get those things greenlit), and HBO hasn’t had many successes, so it’s not altogether surprising that they’re going to re-unite. Chase will create and executive-produce the miniseries A Ribbon Of Dreams, tracing the story of Hollywood from the early days to its decline. The odd-couple lead characters will be representative of the two very different pools of talent that Hollywood drew on: one’s an intellectual with the mechanical and technical know-how that movies require, and the other is a roughneck cowboy type who winds up in Hollywood making movies about the Old West culture that is now dead. According to the link, “the miniseries will cover the age of rough-hewn silent Westerns, to the golden era of talkies and the studio system, to the auteur movement, to television, and finally to the present day.”

You can see why Chase and HBO would be attracted to this material. HBO is always trying to make shows that are Metaphors For America, and Hollywood is like the ultimate metaphor for America; a place built out of incompatible people trying to work together, whose job it is to figure out what stories Americans will want to buy. Chase is fascinated by movie references and the way real life intersects with popular culture — The Sopranos was in part about gangsters who have all grown up watching gangster movies — so this is his kind of thing too. And with the success of Mad Men, an idea HBO turned down, it isn’t surprising that they would be on the lookout for similar material: something about 20th century America and the people who sell fantasies to America and the world. Besides, one of HBO’s few remaining successes is a Hollywood meta-story, Entourage.

Of course, Hollywood meta-stories have a way of being self-congratulatory and insular, even the good ones, which always tend to be made from the point of view of people who have no idea what a good movie is. (What I mean is that a lot of Hollywood meta-movies seem to express the very misguided opinion that movies would be better if they’d have more respect for screenwriters and deal with more “provocative” subjects. There are some honourable exceptions like Barton Fink, which takes an ironic attitude toward know-it-all pretentious screenwriters.) And the last project that tried to deal with the early days of Hollywood, Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon (based on stories told by Hollywood veterans like Raoul Walsh), was a box-office flop. But hey, it’s David Chase; HBO needs him, he needs HBO, and unlike the other David (Milch) he usually gives the impression that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

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