Tuesday, May 13, 2008

John From Cincinnati: The Rewatch Concludes

I finished rewatching John From Cincinnati last night. Seeing the show again reminded me just how amazing it is. Particularly in that last episode, there are moments as incredible as anything in cinema, most notably the epic pan through clouds to John and Shaun on the water that opens the episode. That is as perfect and exhilarating a moment as can be captured on film. It’s such a rush to descend from the clouds and see them again.

Most TV shows are decidedly fiction. They may exist in a realistic world, or comment on real world issues, but they don’t feel ‘real’ in the way that John From Cincinnati does. Even The Wire feels more artificial in some ways, that show depicts a world I’m not that familiar with and brings it to the attention of the viewer. John is on the surface a less realistic show, filled with its strange characters and inexplicable floating. But, I’d argue the show is more realistic because it takes place on a subconscious mental plane. It just feels so important, in the same way that The Invisibles did.

I think The Invisibles really is one of the only comparable works to JFC. Both are about conveying their creator’s philosophy within the context of a narrative. The DVD features a video of David Milch talking about the big ‘speech’ in episode six, where John lays out the series’ philosophy. The essential message of the series is that art, the representation of reality in writing or film, can be used to alter actual reality. “Cass’s Camera” is synonymous with the power of art, and it’s through her camera that the world will learn about John and what he means to reality. And, on a meta level, it’s “Cass’s Camera” that brings the whole story to us.

I said it before when the show was airing, but what really strikes me about the series is just how positive it is. It’s about people overcoming their innante prejudices, and personal hang-ups to come together and help make the world better. In the end, Mitch says that “We’re them,” which makes him worried, but in actuality is the essence of the series. It’s about erasing the borders that divide us and embracing our oneness as a single human organism. It may worry Mitch that he’s a part of Stinkweed, but it also means that Stinkweed is a part of him, and by merging with the enemy rather than fighting it, you can control it.

By the last episode, everyone is doing what they want to do, functioning in harmony as a single entity. I love a lot of the little flourishes, Cass telling off Palaka in her New York tough guy voice, she’s totally out of regular reality, channeling the power of John’s father into the world. And, the montage of the parade sequence is another burst of fun and energy, I wish it wouldn’t end. The series isn’t always consistent, but at its best, it’s a transcendent spiritual experience, never more so than when John and Shaun fall out of the sky, back to the water.

I think it’s hard for people to reconcile the spiritual elements of the series with the cursing and hard edged atmosphere. But, that’s the world we live in. Even if Butchie flips off a beach cleaner, he’s still keeping the faith. This is one of the greatest TV series of all time, filled with wonderful characters and performances, I’m hoping the world will catch up soon and realize just how good it is. In Cass's Camera, season two is starting.


Troy said...

A word of thanks goes out to you for posting positive, and very informative information. Many others share your feelings and interpretation of 'John From Cincinnati' series storyline, and HBO's decision to cancel.

In protest subscribers mounted a series of grassroots efforts and campaigns to Save John From Cincinnati. The latter campaign involved purchasing 2400 lbs of birdseed it was delivered to HBO Headquarters New York City on April 17, 2008. See the SaveJFC profile on youtube.com for the actual delivery. Also to stay up to date subscribe to the newsletter at:


Anonymous said...

Well Said BRAVO!!!!
Im thinking if the 3 episodes that were cut from the season would have explained so much, I also think Cass may have begun editing that footage and who knows what would come from that. Great Comments.

Paul said...

Nice summary of the show. I agree in particular that the opening surfing-in-from-the-skies was one of the most exhilarating things I've seen on TV.

Patrick said...

I was listening to the commentary, and during that soaring through the skies part, Milch says something like "I'm starting to cry here," it really is just that powerful.