The Wire Style Dissected
In a dense and almost exhaustive video essay Studies of Long-Form Television, Part 1, Erlend Lavik dissects The Wire style, or non-style, and demonstrates how and why creator David Simon and his team went on building a visual often disregarded or treated as the weakest point of a show turned classic.
I discovered The Wire shortly after it stopped airing, thanks to its strong words-of-mouth, and I remember having been taken aback by the plain cinematography (especially abrupt in the first episode) and wondering how the show survived as the story was still timidly unfolding.
As you listen to Lavik’s analysis, you will see that The Wire offers a distinctive and interesting balance between ‘cinema-realite’ with a series of conscious choice made beforehand (the 4:3 ratio, the digetic music, the no flash-back/no voice-over stand point, the camera behaving as a documentarian camera etc.) and feature film look (the use of vertical and horizontal lines to play with the 4:3 ratio, and every small freedom taken from the ‘documentarian’ style during the 5 seasons to subtly enhance a specific point in the narration).
This video essay is of great quality and gives key tools to understand how The Wire ‘simple’ visual style helped enhancing the story, the actors, and blend everything together.
Ultimately, it aslo reminds us that great fiction doesn’t necessary needs visual tricks to attain greatness, and sometimes to let the story grow better and stronger, the sound and visual effects need to retrieve a bit.