Movies vs. Television

Veteran film critic Owen Gleiberman, appearing on Elvis Mitchell’s excellent radio show The Treatment, makes an argument for why the movie form has gotten “short shrift” in the current golden age of scripted television.

…Movies still, for me, transcend television, if I can dare to say that in this day and age. It seems that the idea that television is now officially better than movies has so taken over. I don’t argue at all with the rise of television; I’m an absolute devotee of shows like ‘Sopranos’ or ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Breaking Bad.’

But I think that there’s a lot of serial television that can just hook you because people like the serial nature of it. I think that movies at their best—and I still think people are making extraordinary films even in the franchise era—movies have a kind of primal power that transcends that. And I’m not just talking about the fact that you’re watching it in a theater. You look at a movie like Todd Haynes’s ‘Carol’ or the ‘Mad Max’ film from last year in very different ways. I think those films are operating on levels that even the best series television, I would argue, is not. They just have a visual and emotional power that is very deep, that is very primordial. And that’s what we always wanted from movies.

The idea that serial television because of its multi-episode nature attains a complexity that movies don’t have…sure if you’re comparing it to some franchise popcorn. But in a way that argument is specious in that it would undermine the complexity of all the great movies of the last hundred years. Whether you’re looking at classic Hollywood or ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ or ‘Nashville’ or ‘Carrie’ or ‘Boogie Nights’—none of those movies needed to be one minute longer than they were to attain a timeless complexity.

A typically astute argument from one of the best film critics working today. Gleiberman has also written a new book: “Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies,” which looks excellent. Listen to the full interview at