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A Brief Note About Dream Sequences


I saw Transamerica last month. Not a bad picture, actually–not only the expert lead performance, but a genuinely interesting lead character. The biggest problem with the film–what makes is a halfway decent movie with a great acting performance rather than a really good movie–is that the road movie just isn’t as robust a genre as indie directors seem to think it is. The picture slowly runs out of gas as the arbitrary incidents and local color pile up; it’s almost impossible to do anything with it at this point, and it saves screenwriters from thinking up more dramatically interesting ways of advancing the narrative. I’m not sure what’s more exhausted, though: the road movie, or the dream sequence.

By dream sequence, I hasten to add, I don’t mean a Lynch-like aesthetic where everything teeters on the edge of dreaminess, but dreams within an otherwise straightforward narrative, especially on TV. I suppose it’s not literally true that if they’re more than 30 seconds, they suck, but I’m tempted to say it anyway. This was made particularly evident in the regrettable 3rd season of Six Feet Under–the dream sequences undermined what the show did really well (first-rate soap opera in the non-pejorative sense with some terrific characters) and emphasize what it did badly (Alan Ball’s conviction that his well-worn cliches about suburban life are Profound Insights), but with 1000% more wankery.

And then we have The Sopranos. It’s used short dream sequences well sometimes, especially in the Season 2 finale. I suppose “The Test Dream” was better than I feared, but while it was pretty good for an interminable dream sequence it was also exceptionally subpar for a Sopranos episode. And tonight…I guess I could be perverse enough to point out that it did replicate a real dream more than these things usually do: some but not total resemblance to real life, with anxious failures and things you just can’t grasp. But, really, to be candid it was dull and pretentious, no takeoff and no payoff. (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see this as an inevitable downside to Tony getting shot last week.) I don’t mean to sound like Television Without Pity reviewing the last season of Buffy, but the prospect of this stillborn concept continuing for more episodes is dampening my enthusiasm for Season 6 considerably…

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