Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mann's world

Over at THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR (and originally at the Museum of the Moving Image site), Matt Zoller Seitz concludes "Zen Pulp," his five-part series of video essays on the work of director Michael Mann. The final installment is devoted to my favorite pre-WIRE TV crime series, CRIME STORY.

Matt's entertaining and incisive essay (which, in full disclosure, I did contribute to slightly and I mean slightly) looks back at Mann's retro crime drama, which ran only two seasons in the mid-'80s, but whose multi-episode story arcs helped pave the way for shows such as THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD and the above-mentioned WIRE (echoes of it can also be seen in Mann's own HEAT).

The show made a star of Dennis Farina (above), and rightly so. As Chicago Major Crimes Unit Lt. Mike Torello, Farina brought just the right combination of charm and toughness to the role. In general, it had to be one of the best-cast series ever. Both seasons were packed with actors who went on to major careers, including Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, David Caruso, Gary Sinise, Ving Rhames, Lili Taylor, Michael Madsen and dozens of others. And, of course, the two-hour pilot (startlingly violent for network TV at the the time), was directed by the great Abel Ferrara.

I used to own the entire show - both seasons - on VHS. A few years back, during a bad attack of the flu that left me wiped out and sleepless for more than a week, I watched almost all the episodes back-to-back from my living room couch. I think if my downstairs neighbors heard "Runaway" one more time they were going to kill me.

I'd always hoped there would be a follow-up two-hour TV movie tying up the show's loose ends (the second season ended with a silly cliffhanger that felt like it belonged in a 1930s serial), but it was not to be. All we're left with is a not-so-great DVD set with poor picture quality, almost no extras and some of the original music removed for legal reasons. Hopefully, someone will get around to doing this right someday. It deserves it.

Matt's previous entries in the series look at MIAMI VICE, Mann's iconic male heroes, the role of women in his films, and Mann's use of doppelgangers and mirror images, especially in his film MANHUNTER. If you're even a moderate Mann fan, they're all worth checking out.


Jmags said...

I never did see this series, but if it has Dennis Farina it must be worth watching. I was a big fan of Miami Vice the TV show, the movie was okay. It didn't use music as effectively as the tv show, and for a film taking place in Miami it wasn't colorful enough.

wstroby said...

CRIME STORY was Farina's finest moment, playing the role he knew best ...