Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Deadwood: language

I watched all the rest of Deadwood Season 2 in two long sessions of several hours each this weekend. I would say to anyone who hasn't seen it, Deadwood seasons 1 and 2 represent some of the highest quality television I have ever seen in my life. Quality that isn't genre-rooted like my love of firefly. The only reason not to seek it out and watch it is that it is very violent, with explicit sex and swearing, and for some lj-friends that is a deal breaker.

I thought some more about its immersive quality. kalypso_v is quite right to say Deadwood isn't realistic in the sense of naturalistic, and it gets less so as the season progresses, and yet to me it's what I call 'immersive' - you feel vividly immersed in the place and the story. Realistic in the sense that a dream seems real. Whereas a different kind of stylised pseudo-realism (let's say a soap opera) puts me off.

There are two striking features that distinguish Deadwood from other high-quality TV shows. One is the fine judgement of pacing, and the other is the language.


I don't know how the development happened - perhaps they were emboldened by positive feedback - but during series 2 the language becomes more elaborate, and more daringly unrealistic. While in Series 1 only EB Farnum, that stupid stupid man, spoke in the full flight of eloquence, now his habits of speech have spread to all the intelligent inhabitants of the camp. I can imagine that some people find it annoying - or would call it a Shakespearean pastiche. I think 'pastiche' is too strong. I would say Deadwood is influenced by Shakespeare in the way that (say) modern pop music is influenced by the Beatles, and does not diminish the original.

Here, for instance, is Al Swearengen exhorting Sol Star to brief Adams on the internal politics of the major towns of Montana, so that Adams can convince the local commissioner that Montana is about to annexe Deadwood.

Oh, Jesus Christ, show me the secret grip
that proves my regret and let’s be about our fucking business.

Will you salt Adams with expertise,
about Helena’s politics and Butte’s,
to be taken by this cunt Commissioner
as samplings of a vein of familiarity so rich, wide and deep
as to leave this Commissioner in no doubt
that Montana, stiff-pricked, courted Adams
as Deadwood’s representative
so strenuously towards annexation
it forced him to flee, lest he say,
“Yes, yes, take us now.”
And yield the virtue of the camp?


This is a conscious emulation of Shakespearean metaphor, sentence construction, and rhythm. Even the use of place-names to represent people(*). And I must say - this bit isn't unique to Deadwood - but don't actors such as Ian McShane do a fantastic job in this show. Poorly delivered such a declamatory speech might be absurd, but he infuses it with such conviction that it lifts your heart. You feel a rush of elation in going with the language and following the thought.

Whereas here is Cy Tolliver, giving a speech not unlike 'Friends, Romans Countrymen' - overtly intended to calm the vulgar crowd, in fact stirring up trouble. look how it is still Shakespearean - and by a clever man - but expressing a different personality - more brutal and yet more indirect. It's still elaborate in style, but utterly different.

Who of us here didn’t know what gov’ment was before we came?
Wasn’t half our purpose coming to get shed of the cocksucker?
And here it catches up to us again, to do what’s in its nature -
to lie to us - and confuse us and steal what we come to
by toil and being lucky just once in our fucking lives.
and are we gonna be surprised by that, boys,
government bein’ government?
Will we next be shocked by rivers runnin’
or trees castin’ fuckin’ shade?
those of a mind, make a price on your claims.
Get out from under uncertainty.
I am past pickin’ up again. This spot might be wrong,
but here’s where I’m makin’ my stand!


I think it's because the language isn't imposed invariantly, but illustrates the context and the speaker, that we know we aren't watching a simple pastiche.

Another Shakespearean element is the comedy 'crude mechanicals' who support the aristocratic main players like their wrinkled retainers. For instance Cy's sidekicks the junkie and the guy with the stupid hat (I forget their names) are more or less Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek in space in the wild west.

(*) I am reminded of Jonathan Miller's frank pastiche 'Get thee to Gloucester, Essex.
Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.
Fair Albany to Somerset must eke his route.
And Scroop, do you to Westmoreland, where shall bold York
Enrouted now for Lancaster, with forces of our Uncle Rutland,
Enjoin his standard with sweet Norfolk's host....
Oh saucy Worcester doth thou lie so still?'
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  • Phew what a scorcher

    I see Gove has backed down on climate change and it's back in the curriculum again.

  • GCSE Computer Science

    My book is now for sale

  • LJ Settings

    At the moment I have set up this journal so that only friends can comment. I hate doing this, but I was just getting too much Russian spam.