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gigi
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Has anyone watched this?

On the recommendation of a friend whose opinion I trust, I'm 4 episodes into the first series. Man, is it dark! I normally back-to-back watch tv series, but this just takes too much out of me to do that. I'm struggling a little bit to keep watching, partly because I feel over-priviliged and guilty watching a representation of a cruel and vicious system for entertainment. Nonetheless, there is a lot to recommend it and I am a bit torn about this.

To summarise, Oz (abbreviation of 'Oswald penitentiary'; there are references to the Wizard of Oz throughout) is set in the wing of a high security prison called 'Emerald City'. 'Emerald City' has been set up as an experiment in a different kind of encarceration and is run by a psychiatrist who hand-picks its members. So far, series one is narrated by an inmate who is in a wheelchair as a result of police brutality. This feels a bit dated, but once you get past that it actually works quite well. He works as a guide to the various factions that emerge in Oz, and also to individuals' lives prior to encarceration. Oz has moments of extreme violence (a lot of which is suggested and not shown), but has so far also covered some really interesting issues - the death of an AIDS patient; the patriarchal lineage of violence; and the role of religion in prison, to name a few. THe latter, in particular, is what is making me not-quite give up on it. I found the episode that deals with the conversion of one inmate to Islam, and the role of the Catholic priest in providing a sense of meaning in this space to be really interesting. (COmpare this to the way that religious imagery has become so cliched in films & tv programmes that deal with institutionalised violence - eg. gangster films - but that don't really investigate the individual's relationship to their faith in any depth beyond a passing visual mention.)

Anyway, it would be good to get a sense of whether I should perservere with this. I feel like it's going somewhere, but as I say, it weighs heavy.

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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I watched it. I am not sure the entire series merits any kind of lengthy attention. I would just give the first season a spin and call it a day. In latter seasons it gets increasingly intense, but often at the expense of the storyline.

This show was way ahead of its time, though. The Wire is such a big deal because it is a fantastic show. But it is by no means the first time that kind of storytelling was on TV, as it can also be found in shows like Oz.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Also, I didn't know what to make of the spoken word interludes at first, but eventually I began to really, really like them. I have attended a lot of spoken word-type public events and never have really connected to this form of poetry/performance. But there were several times in this series were it really clicked.

Also: "So far, series one is narrated by an inmate who is in a wheelchair as a result of police brutality. This feels a bit dated, but once you get past that it actually works quite well."

I agree, in that the show tried to capitalize on this image as a hook. But here in St. Louis, this is a constant, abiding issue. If taken as an image of the inherent cycle of power/victim that is part of many local police/community relationships, it is sadly timeless.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I agree, in that the show tried to capitalize on this image as a hook. But here in St. Louis, this is a constant, abiding issue. If taken as an image of the inherent cycle of power/victim that is part of many local police/community relationships, it is sadly timeless.

Oh I should have been clearer in constructing that sentence. The police brutality does not feel at all dated, rather the device of narrating to camera feels a bit dated. So far, I think he's a really interesting character and I thought the flashback scene that showed his crime, arrest & cause of paralysis has been one of the better examples of the series' use of the technique.

There's something about the show's inability to progress that I find interesting. The characters are completely and utterly stuck in Oz; many of them for life. I'm intrigued to see how this spins out in terms of plot development. A friend is doing his thesis on stasis and time in tv series, with a focus on the Sopranos which goes nowhere. This is even more acutely the case with Oz. It has the weight of hopelessness to it, which I think is partly why I am struggling with it. I'll keep on watching series 1, gradually, I think and see how I feel.

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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Oh I should have been clearer in constructing that sentence. The police brutality does not feel at all dated, rather the device of narrating to camera feels a bit dated. So far, I think he's a really interesting character and I thought the flashback scene that showed his crime, arrest & cause of paralysis has been one of the better examples of the series' use of the technique.

There's something about the show's inability to progress that I find interesting. The characters are completely and utterly stuck in Oz; many of them for life. I'm intrigued to see how this spins out in terms of plot development. A friend is doing his thesis on stasis and time in tv series, with a focus on the Sopranos which goes nowhere. This is even more acutely the case with Oz. It has the weight of hopelessness to it, which I think is partly why I am struggling with it. I'll keep on watching series 1, gradually, I think and see how I feel.

Oh. Well, the police brutality comment was important, I think. There is a sense in which the Rodney King issue has become "dated" compared to its initial influence over American discourse. Our police brutality conversations have moved onto Mexico border control and little kid patdowns at the airport. This is actually an odd movement in American journalism, as the police brutality issue remains a big, scary deal in some areas.

The speaking to the camera thing was hard for me as well, but that was the one facet of the series that grew with me. It is all a bit Shakespeare, really.

That point about stasis in TV is really interesting. Oz does struggle with that and ends up having to move towards different plot devices to maintain interest. As far as stasis in prison drama is concerned, I find it fascinating that the cultural stasis of prison leaks out into mainstream urban culture by means of different fashions and poses (such as wearing baggy pants without a belt). That has nothing to do with this thread. Just an observation.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I find it fascinating that the cultural stasis of prison leaks out into mainstream urban culture by means of different fashions and poses (such as wearing baggy pants without a belt). That has nothing to do with this thread. Just an observation.

Mmmmm, yup, me too. My brother works in a high security Young Offender's Institute (read: prison for under 18s) on a programme that tries to rehabilitate young offenders. He says that he can spot ex-offenders on the street instantly through codes of clothing & gestures. I recently was discussing this with someone who had worked in an adult prison and they said that as much as they were afraid in that job, they would never work in a YOI. Their reasoning being that adults seemed to have a sense of time and loss when put ina prison, they looked forwards to their release back into society. Young Offenders, however, she said, increasingly look inwards to the prison - that is where they have their social status and those inside are largely hopeless & therefore more dangerous. Of course it is a generalisation but I can see how in Britain there is an increased tendency towards the American trend of lifetimes of repeat offences, and the cultural cachet that comes with that.

Plot-wise, I think it is an interesting device that allows for more in depth investigation of character over plot. The Sopranos, at least, certainly did. That final scene - oh momma, that final scene! -

nothing changes. Nothing changes.

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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  • 3 years later...

I started watching Oz a few weeks ago, since it's on Amazon Prime now. I'm a couple episodes into season 3, and while a lot of the elements on the show work well and are quite interesting--especially the ways religion is handled--I can totally understand someone not wanting to subject themselves to the experience. The second season finale, in particular, is one of the most sickening things I've watched, in any medium. At the same time, though, the violence isn't necessarily gratuitous; it's part of a story and also develops the characters involved. But I could see it devolving into a merry-go-round of revenge, particularly with Schillinger and Beecher, as the show keeps going.

 

I'm also watching through the lens of Orange is the New Black, and while the series are significantly different in the kinds of prisoners they depict--Oz is a maximum-security facility for violent offenders, Orange is lower security, nonviolent offenders--the way the Emerald City society is constructed in Oz gives it a lot of parallels with Orange.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Unless I'm forgetting something, the episode in season 4 where Alvarez escapes is the first present-day outside the prison scene in the show. We've seen the outside in the "how they got here" flashbacks, but those are always in the past, obviously. We never go to a guard's home, and the political stuff is always through the TV.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
Twitter Blog

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FYI: Glen Workshop screenwriting guru and frequent Good Letters contributor Bradford Winters (who now writes for The Americans and also wrote for Boss and the short-lived Saul-and-David series Kings) was one of the writers for Oz, and his brother is one of the actors in it. He talked a lot about writing for Oz when he spoke at the Glen, and played some intense clips.

 

(Strange but true: Mayhem on the Allstate commercials... that also is Bradford's brother. Those Winters brothers: DeanScott William, Blair, and Bradford.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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