The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s True Detective

I have often said we are living in a Golden Age of Perfumery because of the sheer breadth of artists working on making fragrance. When there are over 1300 new releases a year the chance for true artistry to exist within that large number is high. I also think we are living in a Golden Age of Television Drama for many of the same reasons. With 500 channels, and counting, to fill up with content; not including the streaming services like Netflix the chance for true artistry and vision to exist is high. Just before sitting down to write this I looked at my DVR to see the list of shows I record currently: The Walking Dead, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Homeland, Mad Men, Sherlock, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Americans, not to mention the recently completed Breaking Bad. Even with all of that I haven’t caught up to others which have been highly praised like Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire. It feels just like the effort I have to make to keep up with new perfume releases, there just isn’t enough time to catch it all. If you are a fan of the great television currently going on I want to alert you to a fantastic new series on HBO called True Detective, it is among the best acting, writing, and directing on television I have ever seen.

truedetective2

Woddy Harrelson as Marty Hart (l.) and Matthew Mcconaughey as Rust Cohle in 1995

True Detective is meant to be a seasonal anthology series like American Horror Story with each season containing one complete story. For this first season writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have created a story of two very different men and how the ritual murder of a woman affects them individually and as a team. The two actors at the heart of True Detective are giving stellar performances. Woody Harrelson as family man Marty Hart is about as far from his dim but lovable bartender on “Cheers” as can be. Matthew McConaughey is man with a past Rust Cohle newly assigned as Hart’s partner which is about as far from his happy stoner in “Dazed and Confused” as can be. Both actors have turned in memorable dramatic performances in the past but together in True Detective they are truly stepping it up to new heights.

nic pizzolatto

Nic Pizzolatto (Photo: Luis Sinco)

The story goes back and forth from Louisiana in 1995 as Hart and Cohle investigate the ritual murder of a young woman and 2012 where two new detectives interview them separately about the case. In 1995 both men are trying to find that common ground necessary to work together and having difficulty doing that. Hart is almost the clichéd family man detective having an affair but Mr. Pizzolatto has more to say about that as we see more of the underlying needs that make Hart tick. The reason that we see that is because Cohle unsettles him on multiple levels. He is smarter, is a better detective, and the only thing Hart has that Cohle doesn’t is a family.

matthew-mcconaughey-in-true-detective

Mr. McConaughey as Cohle in 2012

The physical differences in Cohle as a younger man and older man are striking. As the 1995 Cohle Mr. McConaughey is gaunt and unrecognizable as the 2005 People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive. The 2012 version is a bit of Dazed and Confused Danny Wooderson, if viewed through a dark prism. The physical changes signal something different in the two time periods for Cohle. Woody Harrelson is physically unchanged but psychologically as different as Cohle looks physically. Mr. Harrelson lets that show in a wonderfully nuanced performance especially in the 2012 interview scenes.

Director Cary Fukunaga arrives at "Celebrate Sundance Institute" the Sundance Institute's inaugural benefit in Beverly Hills, California

Cary Joji Fukunaga (Photo: Reuters/ Gus Ruelas)

Halfway through the eight episodes True Detective has the atmosphere of the movie “Se7en” if it was seen as a Southern Gothic thriller. Mr. Fukunaga has used his framing to make some things uncomfortably close and other times the atmospherics seem as much a character as the protagonists. At the end of the fourth episode there is a six minute single take shot, called a tracking shot, of Cohle escaping a shootout that is as technically difficult to achieve as it sounds. One mistake and you have to go right back to the beginning; only the most skilled and confident attempt such a thing.

This group of four amazing artists are creating something memorable in this halcyon era of fantastic television. If you love great acting, writing, and directing add True Detective to your DVR or Netflix queue this is as good as it gets.

Mark Behnke

Providence Perfume Moss Gown Ad

Editor’s Note: I have been wearing a dab of Charna Ethier’s Providence Perfume Company Moss Gown to give me a bit of an olfactory soundtrack to go with the visual.

The Sunday Magazine: Salinger (The Documentary)

One of my favorite parts of the Sunday newspaper is the magazine section. I have been lucky to live in great newspaper towns where this Sunday section was a weekly omnibus covering the world. While I want Colognoisseur to be focused on the World of Fragrance Monday through Saturday, on Sunday I want to share with my readers some of the other things I am passionate about. What you will see through all of these is my fascination with the creative process. For this first Sunday I want to talk about the recent documentary on J.D. Salinger.

Shane+Salerno

Shane Salerno

At the end of January PBS’ American Masters aired their 200th episode, the documentary Salinger directed by Shane Salerno. Mr. Salerno is best known as a screenwriter for the movies “Armageddon” and “Savages”. His current gig is co-writing “Avatar 4” with James Cameron. Mr. Salerno’s fascination with author J.D. Salinger came about after he optioned the film rights to Paul Alexander’s “Salinger” biography back in 2000. He wanted to see if he could attract Daniel Day-Lewis into playing Salinger and had heard that Mr. Day-Lewis wanted to have as much research on the real life subjects he would play before considering a role. This was what started Mr. Salerno down the path of gathering information about the notoriously reclusive author.

salinger2

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger is known to almost all who passed through American High Schools and Universities as the author of “Catcher in the Rye”. It is an evergreen classic and I mark it as one of the best written books I have ever read. “Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951 and it made Salinger into a star of the literary world. He would release a couple of short story collections and with the publication of the novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” in The New Yorker he stopped publishing. In 1953 he bought a farmhouse in Cornish, New Hampshire and after that last story in 1965 that was where he lived out his life until his death in 2010.

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger writing "Catcher in the Rye" Photo: The Story Factory/Paul Fitzgerald

Mr. Salerno’s documentary fills in many of the blank spaces in Mr. Salinger’s life. Starting with his experiences in World War II.  As part of a counter-intelligence division he landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day, was part of the notorious firefights at the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. In the documentary there is a description of him hugging a tree during the latter battle while explosions and bullets rained down around him. By the latter days of the war his division would liberate one of the Dachau sub-camps. During all of this he was writing “Catcher in the Rye” in the down times. The documentary shows the only known picture of him writing on a portable desk while in uniform. The documentary proposes that by the time Salinger returned to the US he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a time where that term hadn’t yet been coined. One of his comrades in arms was interviewed for the documentary and he said that there are still days for him where artillery goes off in his front yard or living room. Considering he shared Salinger’s experiences it is reasonable to expect Salinger was also traumatized.

salinger-movie

The way this played out in Salinger’s life was his unhealthy obsession with very young girls, teenagers. The documentary spends time with two of these girls; the more well-known Joyce Maynard who wrote a book about her time with Salinger and Jean Miller who he began a relationship with when she was 14 and he was 30. The common threads to both stories were chilling and I found myself seeing Salinger almost as predatory. Ms. Maynard described, as her time was waning, Salinger had started the same pattern with a young au pair which made her know the end was near. This reminded me of the description of Lyndon Baines Johnson by the biographer Robert Caro as having a tapestry in which the brightest threads were laid next to the darkest threads. Salinger was a brilliant writer with a darkness that played out in his obsession with teenage girls.

The other constant throughout the documentary was that Salinger was writing every day for all of these years. Some of the interviewed subjects saw finished manuscripts. At the end of the documentary it claims that starting in 2015 we will be getting five new works by Salinger. One of them will flesh out the Holden Caulfield family history and another the Glass family featured in “Franny & Zooey”. The one I am most interested in after seeing the documentary is a World War II based novel about a counter-intelligence agent’s war experiences. Salinger also was an adherent to Vedanta and one of the new novels is said to be a story-driven manual of Vedantic principles and finally a novella about Salinger’s war experiences. One of the people in the documentary says if these do get published they would go right to No. 1 on the best seller lists. As if to prove this point two days after this documentary aired on PBS “Catcher in the Rye” shot to No. 1 for the first time.

I admire Mr. Salerno’s persistence in tracking down many of the people who Salinger knew and to get them to speak on the record. His reward was a chance to actually see Salinger when he was told to be in Cornish at a specific place and time. The video they took was of a white-haired man smiling and laughing behind a car window. I hope Salinger had finally found some peace in the final days of his life. I know I am very much looking forward to these new works and will be one of those lining up to read them as soon as they are released.

Salinger is available through Netflix or check your local PBS Station Listings for a replay of American Masters.

Mark Behnke