Berkeley CSUA MOTD:Entry 48328
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2017/09/24 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
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2007/10/15-17 [Health, Health/Men] UID:48328 Activity:nil
10/15   New "the Wire" out soon
        http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_talbot?printable=true
2017/09/24 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
9/24    

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Cache (8192 bytes)
www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_talbot?printable=true
Feeds David Simon says, "We were always planning to move further and further out, to build a whole city." David Simon says, "We were always planning to move further and further out, to build a whole city." Johnson, Clark On a muggy August afternoon in Baltimore, trash scuttled down Guilford Avenue, the breeze smelling like rain and asphalt. It was the last week of shooting for the fifth and final season of the HBO drama "The Wire," and the crew was filming a scene in front of a boarded-up elementary school. Cast members had been joined by forty or so day players--mostly kids from the neighborhood. Now, when Johnson yelled "Cut," the kids swarmed around a video monitor to look at themselves in the last shot, pointing and laughing. Johnson, who was wearing what he called his "lucky cowboy hat," stepped away to talk to one of the professional actors. Another man--a bald white guy, unprepossessing in jeans and a T-shirt--remained by the monitor, and he answered the kids: "Hey. The bald guy was David Simon, the show's creator: a former Baltimore Sun reporter who figured that he'd spend his life at a newspaper, a print journalist who has forged an improbable career in television without ever leaving Baltimore. The kids listened politely to Simon and ran back to their places. Each season of "The Wire" has focussed, with sociological precision, on a different facet of Baltimore. The previous season featured a story line about the city's anarchic schools, told partly through the character of Roland (Prez) Pryzbylewski, a young cop turned schoolteacher. Simon recalled, "On the first day, the kids were all cutting up and yelling. You know how they kicked the shit out of Pryzbylewski emotionally on the show? The kids were doing the same to the assistant directors. While Simon was telling this story, Jermaine Crawford, a fourteen-year-old who joined the cast last season, came over to hug him. The scene being filmed would mark the final appearance of Crawford, whose character, Dukie, comes from a family in which all the adults are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Much of the new season, which will begin airing in January, will take place at a downsizing newspaper called the Baltimore Sun. Johnson, back at the monitor, began teasing Simon for giving so many of his old Sun colleagues small parts on the show. Among the dozens of people who have recurrent parts or cameos are Simon's former editor, Rebecca Corbett, now an editor at the Times; the former Sun political reporter Bill Zorzi, now a writer for "The Wire"; Steve Luxenberg, the editor who first hired Simon as a reporter at the Sun; and Simon's wife, Laura Lippman, a crime novelist who used to be a Sun reporter. "It was like a frat house the other day, with all your newspaper pals around here," Johnson told Simon. " Warming to his riff, he added, "You ever try playing off these people who've never acted before? Somebody yells Action,' and they stand here like this"--he made a blank fish face. He played a detective on "Homicide," the NBC cop series based on Simon's 1991 book by the same name, about murder in Baltimore, and in the new season of "The Wire" he plays Gus Haynes, a city editor who tries to hold the line against dwindling coverage, buyouts, and pseudo-news. In the season opener, Haynes provides a bitingly funny introduction to newsroom culture. He complains about a photographer who invariably gooses the poignancy of fire scenes by positioning a charred doll somewhere amid the debris. "To evacuate a person is to give that person an enema," one of the old-timers chimes in. "At the Baltimore Sun, God still resides in the details." The Sun allowed its name to be used on "The Wire," but stipulated that no current employees could appear in it; the newspaper's offices have been re-created on the show's hulking soundstage outside the city. This arrangement suited Simon fine--he bitterly accepted a buyout offer from the paper in 1995, feeling that it was squandering talent under new management. "The Wire," Simon often says, is a show about how contemporary American society--and, particularly, "raw, unencumbered capitalism"--devalues human beings. He told me, "Every single moment on the planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. So, if the first season was about devaluing the cops who knew their beats and the corner boys slinging drugs, then the second was about devaluing the longshoremen and their labor, the third about people who wanted to make changes in the city, and the fourth was about kids who were being prepared, badly, for an economy that no longer really needs them. It's about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm--the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Some of the dialogue from the fifth season is taken word for word from the Sun's newsroom. Simon recalled, "There was this writer, Carl, who every day would eat the same thing for lunch: cottage cheese. Finely tuned as Simon's ear is for the newsroom, it is perhaps even better calibrated for the street corner and the precinct, having been sharpened by thirteen years of daily crime reporting. Viewers of "The Wire" must master a whole argot, though it can take a while, because the words are never defined, just as they wouldn't be by real people tossing them around. To have "suction" is to have pull with your higher-ups on the police force or in City Hall; a "redball" is a high-profile case with political consequences; "The game" is the drug trade, although it emerges during the course of the show as a metaphor for the web of constraints that political and economic institutions impose on the people trapped within them. And, in one memorable neologism, a penis is referred to as a "Charles Dickens." Because Simon and his primary writing partner, Ed Burns--a former Baltimore homicide detective who was once one of Simon's sources--are both middle-aged white men, people tend to assume that the dialogue spoken by the drug dealers and ghetto kids is ad-libbed by the black actors on the show. In fact, one of the show's writers was always present on the set, keeping the actors on script. Gbenga Akinnagbe, the actor who plays a drug dealer's henchman named Chris Partlow, said, "This is David's domain. The novelist Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River"), whom Simon hired to write several scripts, agrees: "When you hear the really authentic street poetry in the dialogue, that's David, or Ed Burns. Anything that's literally 2006 or 2007 African-American ghetto dialogue--that's them. The show's departure from Hollywood formulas may be nowhere more palpable than in its routine use of nonactors to fill the minor roles. No other television drama, it seems safe to say, features an actor whom one of the show's lead writers helped put in prison with a thirty-four-year sentence. That is Melvin Williams, a Baltimore drug kingpin whom Ed Burns nabbed in a wiretap investigation in 1984; Williams plays the part of the Deacon, a community leader both savvy and wise. The former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, an advocate of drug decriminalization, has a small role as the city's health commissioner; the character works with a police commander who creates an experimental zone, which the street kids call Hamsterdam, where drug users won't be arrested. The former Republican governor of Maryland Robert Ehrlich shows up as a state trooper on the governor's detail in a scene where the Democratic mayor of Baltimore comes to Annapolis to ask for a bailout. People whom Simon reported on appear in cameos as city clerks, drug counsellors, corner boys, hired muscle. "These jokes don't impair anyone else's viewing," Simon explained. "But when Kurt Schmoke advocates for drug decriminalization as the city health commissioner, there's an extra kick for the locals. But here's the other thing: these are faces you don't see on television, the faces and voices of the real city." He said, "I'm the kind of person who, when I'm writing, cares above all about whether the people I'm writing about will recognize themselves. There the crew had set up a small, pretend encampment for homeless people. Cars rattled along ...