Everything’s Netflix and Showmax in most conversations about what’s available once you leave the DStv bouquets behind you in search of a more pocket-friendly television universe where you don’t limp (sorry) along on a diet of soggy repeats. But there’s more out there than those two. Over on Amazon Prime Video, which is available in South Africa for $2.99 a month (set to increase to $5.99), there’s a galaxy of great movies, including Oscar winners, and scores of top TV series, not least the inimitable Kevin Bacon in the admired, much talked-about and blushingly named I Love Dick. By TONY JACKMAN.
Dick, before you go all coy on us, is Kevin Bacon’s character’s name in I Love Dick, a startlingly original eight-part series by Jill Soloway, the creative force behind the delightful Transparent, and set in the town of Marfa in Texas, a dead ringer for an arid Karoo dorp such as Nieu-Bethesda. Which is not to say that Bacon’s slavish new admirer would be shy of getting to know him more intimately.
It’s not easy to come up with something so original in a television milieu as diverse as it has become in the last few years (the Fargo trilogy, the four seasons of Transparent, the True Detective trilogy, American Horror Story). Season 8 of American Horror Story has been announced just this week and apparently it’s going to be set in “the very near, very scary future”.
Yet with I Love Dick it’s as if the creators threw out the rule book and thought, nah, there’s another way to make television. We’re gonna throw big words on the screen against lurid backgrounds. We’re going hand-held. (Been done in a number of movies, of course, among others by Steven Soderbergh in Traffic and in the Blair Witch Project to frightening effect.) And we’re doing artistic out-takes which seem irrelevant or at least puzzling, until we finally drop all the pieces of the Rubik’s Cube in the right order and everyone says, “Aha!” Oh and we’re doing half-hour episodes (like Transparent), when everyone else does an hour.
Watch the official Trailer for I Love Dick:
Then there’s the matter of Kevin Bacon himself, and you have to wonder if it would have worked with any other actor in it, because a part (if one may put it that way) of who Bacon is, his own life and his own legend, imbues his role in all of this. Ever since Diner he’s been the heartthrob who’s made more movies than most of his peers and came to have a game named after him (Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon) and who is found in urban dictionaries under “Kevin’s bacon” (which you can decode here but only if you’re not easily offended – it’s porn-rate rude). And about whom drunk people at parties speculate that he’s the best-hung dude in Hollywood. So there’s a little tongue-in-cheek humour in his casting as well.
But this isn’t all a joking matter.
Bacon – seriously, even though he is very funny in the way he gets his message across in the video clip below– is a proponent of male nudity in films and television, and came up with the hashtag #FreeTheBacon (that being the other urban meaning of his surname) to fight for the unlikely cause. He argues that to have women baring all in movies, but scarcely ever men, is gratuitous, and it is, undeniably. But instead of proposing that female nudity be banned, he favours men getting out their wieners (as he puts it) too.
Think I’m macon this up? Watch:
Having said that, and heard what he has to say, I’m not aware of any naked sightings of Kevin’s bacon in I Love Dick, other than close-ups of his denim-covered nether region in close proximity to the crossed eyes of the infatuated Chris Kraus. Maybe that would have been too darn obvious and consequently too jokey and gratuitous, under the circumstances. Or maybe the studio said no, Kevin, put it away, as in the above clip. Pretty ironic if so.
Dick is the artistic genius (supposedly) at the centre of an artists’ retreat in Marfa, the kind of event that will resonate with denizens of festivals cluttered with artistes punting their show and their ouvre über alles, and especially over everyone else’s.
His new admirer is a mouthy and libidinous New Yorker indie filmmaker, Chris Kraus (a real writer and filmmaker and author of the novel on which the series is loosely based). Kraus is not part of the event at all but has arrived to accompany her husband Sylvère, who is. When her eyes alight on Dick for the first time, she is instantly infatuated in the way a teenage girl might be if Justin Bieber walked into the room and returned her gaze. Hahn is Kraus to Bacon’s Dick, and the two thespians play off each other beautifully.
Perhaps surprising, then, is that a key aspect of I Love Dick is that there’s not much of it around, despite Kevin’s best efforts. While Dick/Bacon is mostly content with strolling around looking broody and interesting, as a poet might, as if he’s formulating the form of his next sculpture while silently judging the other artists in his realm, Griffin Dunne’s Sylvère, Kraus’s older husband, is constantly distracted by his wife’s and others’ sexuality, while Chris herself begins penning increasingly lurid love (and lust) letters to Dick.
There are a handful of men in Marfa other than Dick and Sylvère, but among the central characters Bacon and Griffin are the only two. The rest of the chief cast is women all the way, and they’re in charge here.
As with Transparent (in which Kathryn Hahn played Rabbi Raquel, and which was creator Soloway’s breakout series), sexuality and gender roles are probed and prodded, but unlike Transparent it is not an exploration of American Jewishness and family frailties, even if its main female character is Jewish (if not religiously so).
It’s about obsession and infatuation against a backdrop of artistic pretension, and is a strongly feminist work.
Watch Kevin Bacon discussing I Love Dick:
Chris Kraus is obviously the kingpin around whom all other characters spin. She’s hardly ever out of frame, other than in one marvellous episode in which the other women suddenly show themselves as key players alongside her, so there is more obsession in Marfa than had previously been let on. It’s a brilliant and brave performance, given that a good deal of it has her entirely naked.
Roberta Colindrez – we’ll undoubtedly be seeing much more of this great performer – dominates every frame she is in, as Devon, the tomboy playwright who gets to put Toby (India Menuez) in her box in one of the story’s most telling scenes. And it’s the moment when you start to see quite where it is all heading. Devon has an eavesdropper’s role in things for much of the time, quietly taking in the attitudes and idiosyncrasies of other characters to become part of her new work. Devon is also at the centre of the brilliant scene that wraps everything up in episode eight.
Much more in the background, for the first few episodes, is Lily Mojekwu as Paula, a curator in Dick’s shadow, who suddenly comes into her own in a delightful way as the story works towards its climax.
It is supremely feminist but not slavishly so, so when Toby, whose artistic ouvre is pornography, turns herself into a living art installation in the middle of a “men’s camp”, with the clear intention of being ogled at, and her video of this goes viral on YouTube – she’s buck, butt and everything else naked – she gets taken to task by Devon for displaying her patronising privilege in the middle of the place where these humble macho men work. It’s telling that the men’s initial arousal slowly turns to embarrassment and shame – shame, as Devon might point out, they did not seek out but which was imposed on them. Both artists make valid points.
But, themes aside, it’s also about a relationship between a man and a woman, Kraus and Sylvère, played with artistic dexterity and beautiful nuance by actor-director Griffin Dunne. He’s somewhat older than her, and their decade-and-a-half together has seen the sexual spark dimmed in their relationship. Yet they are both highly libidinous, so while she is captivated by Dick/dick, he finds his eye roving in the direction of the lissom Toby, played by an actor who, you think, surely has to be the teenage daughter of Julianne Moore. In fact, she is India Menuez, a New York actor, artist and occasional guest curator at no less than MOMA. And is in her mid-twenties. But we’re meant to see her as young(er), nubile and out of bounds. Yet Dunne makes you understand his own infatuation as something more than merely sad, less than sadly perverse.
Despite being hailed as groundbreaking and just brilliant television, I Love Dick was cancelled in early 2018. But what is this obsession with repeats and sequels? Suddenly everything must have season after season or be presumed a failure. We don’t expect Charles Dickens to be exhumed to write a sequel to Great Expectations. We don’t go off JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye because he was so ardently against a sequel being published. Some things are just perfect as they are. And I love I Love Dick just as it is. DM
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