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October 9, 2015

'Hung' Goes to the Movies

by Gary Susman, posted Jul 19th 2010 5:30PM
'Battleship Potemkin'In a key scene in last night's episode of 'Hung,' Ray tries to transcend the thoughtless-jock image his kids have of him by taking them to see a movie that "interesting" people would like, and he lets poet/pimp Tanya pick the movie and come along. Big mistake, since the movie ends up being some weird Russian silent art film. Neither Ray nor his teen twins seem to realize that Tanya (and the writers of 'Hung') have tried to expose them to a monumental classic in the history of cinema.

Though no one mentions it, it's clear from the scene they watch that the film is Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece 'Battleship Potemkin,' one of the most important and influential films in movie history. It's one of the most famous as well; the sequence of the massacre on the Odessa steps (complete with runaway baby carriage) is so iconic that it's been copied all over the place, from 'The Untouchables' to 'The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult' to 'Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith' to last year's 'Inglourious Basterds.'

Though 'Hung' seems to lampoon 'Potemkin' as something obscure and hard to fathom ("There's a deeper meaning. Look. Try to find it," Ray tells his kids, covering up for his own inability to make sense of the film), it's not an elitist or hard-to-understand movie. It was a propaganda film, made to be easily grasped. The Soviet government commissioned Eisenstein to make it in commemoration of a real-life 1905 uprising that presaged the Communist revolution of 1917.

Eisenstein did have some complex theories about film montage, about how contrasting images edited together yield meaning, but when he put those theories into practice in 'Potemkin,' their emotional impact is straightforward, compelling, and easy to read (especially for viewers who've watched the many decades' worth of movies and TV shows influenced by Eisenstein's techniques). In fact, 'Potemkin's' message - make common cause with the oppressed and rise up against your oppressors - is so unmissable that the movie has been banned over the years in numerous countries, including the Soviet Union, when 'the film's call to mutiny became politically inconvenient for the repressive government that commissioned it.

The Odessa Steps sequence from 'Battleship Potemkin'

It's no wonder the twins don't get it; they're both too wrapped up in their own personal teenage dramas to pay close attention to a strange, black-and-white silent movie with Russian title cards that was made 70 years before they were born. Ray, at least, is game to try and understand the film, but it's not really penetrating his jock skull either, despite his best efforts to be interested in what "interesting" (that is, nerdy and bookish) people like. It's pretty funny that Tanya would pick this film; she's as clueless in her own way as Ray is, only what she's clueless about is what's appropriate for family-movie-night viewing.

Thomas Jane and Jane Adams in 'Hung'That was my theory, anyway, and an e-mail exchange with Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, the co-creators of 'Hung' and the writers of this episode, confirmed that I was on the right track. "Ray wants to show Tanya and his kids that he's got all kinds of interests outside of being a jock. He let Tanya pick the movie, and we wanted to use a movie that Tanya would have been interested in seeing (she's such an art nerd) as opposed to something at the multiplex," Lipkin and Burson told me in their e-mail. "Also, we thought an art house flick would be a great juxtaposition to the B-grade horror films that Ray likes to take his kids to."

Of all the art-house/foreign-language films they could have used, why did Lipkin and Burson pick 'Potemkin'? Did they mean to add a tiny bit of Marxist class consciousness to the show's ongoing portrayal of the decay of capitalism? Does Tanya see the revolt in 'Potemkin' as a morale booster in her battles against her exploitative new boss Patty and the parasitic Lenore?

Actually, the reason for using 'Potemkin' was simpler than that. Lipkin and Burson pointed to the scene that Ray and the others watch in the theater, a sequence in which the Russian sailors are complaining about the rotten meat they're forced to eat, complaints that lead to their mutiny. "When taken out of context, the shots in discussion of meat are quite funny," Lipkin and Burson wrote in their e-mail. "Particularly because Tanya claimed to love cooking meat (which was a lie, she's a vegetarian) when she tried to come over to Ray's to get closer to him at the end of Episode 201."

Then again, Ray's whole struggle throughout the series is to be something more than a past-his-prime slab of beef. And 'Potemkin' certainly has its Freudian side, with all the shots of buff, barely dressed sailors and massive guns on the ship. If he'd viewed 'Potemkin' through the perspective of his own second career as a gigolo, he wouldn't have had much trouble finding a "deeper meaning."

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.

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This is the most intellectually sophisticated review I've ever read on TV Squad. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled in the future for Gary Susman bylines.

July 19 2010 at 8:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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