Ribs, blood, the White House, power and terror as a political approach. On February 1, 2013 House of Cards revolutionized the way of making television (and making cinema). Today, the legacy of the series (masterpiece) collides with a fiction that has become reality. Because it’s now clear: Frank and Claire Underwood have won.
Thinking back today to that serial masterpiece that was – and is – House of Cards, several points come to mind, still etched in the memory. The acronym, with the emphatic and deep music of Jeff Beal, while images with the corners of Washington scrolled underneath, as if we were secretly spying on it. An obviously dark intro, in line with the tone of what can still be considered a revolutionary series. Then, we are reminded of Freddy’s ribs, devoured by Frank Underwood as if he were a ravenous wolf, holed up in a den that only he knew, far from the intrigues of the cohort and the affairs of the state. There, between Freddy’s mild gaze and the sticky smell of dripping fat, Senator Frank was himself, and therefore vulnerable: unbuttoned tie, demonic plans and Southern pride.
And we remember the glacial elegance of Claire Underwood alias Robin Wrightthat #FLOTUS later became Deputy and in turn #POTUS, holding the fist of the situation, never flinching from her husband’s long shadow. On the contrary. But among all, we vividly remember the toll of Frank’s ring, slammed – in triumph – on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office at the end of the second season (it was the Chapter 26), who just became the 46th President of the United States of America. Four different moments, and a legacy that year after year has become even more substantial and perhaps complex. The legal reasons, which revolve around the protagonist and executive producer Kevin Spacey we know them, but apart from the news, it is sacrosanct to remember House of Cards for being the watershed series par excellence, the one that opened up the horizons of a Golden Age TV comparable to the Hollywood riot of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.
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There is a pre and post Frank J. Underwood series, and there is also a subsequent and previous cinema to the series conceived by Beau Willimon and loosely based on the novel by Michael Dobbs. House of Cardswhich burst onto Netflix on February 1, 2013 (in Italy it arrived very late, a year later, thanks to Sky Atlantic), immediately made the public capitulate, the insiders, the productions and, even, Barack Obama who, on several occasions, admitted to following the series with emphasis, underlining the questionable pragmatism of Senator Underwood. He said, “This guy gets a lot of results”. How to blame him? After all, House of Cards unleashed an incredible media earthquake for its precision emphasized regarding the dynamics relating to power, in addition to the subversive distribution method: via streaming, immediately available, one season at a time. Absolute novelty. Impossible to go back. House of Cards it was the future just arrived.
A point of no return, the turning point that would have annihilated cinema as we knew it. An (ex) great Hollywood star like Kevin Spacey in a political and anthropological show, with obsessive traits and subdued adrenaline-pumping language, while thriller reflections mixed with a pinch of irresistible winks to soap-operas. Inconceivable until 2012, while the big screen was experiencing its apotheosis, among Avatar e The Avengers. In between, the more itchy aspects of an Enlightenment and perverse epic, which anticipated the times of a productive restoration.
“Streaming is the future. Everything will change and television will no longer be television in five years … everything will be streaming”, anticipated the screenwriter Beau Willimon, while his morbid curiosity was mounting towards that man who, like Napoleon, made himself King by getting his hands dirty with blood and barbecue sauce. Around him, Washington, progressive America and the parameter of power that acquired decidedly disturbing implications. Astounding the public, literally lowered into a White House (a meticulous reconstruction, so much so that you could smell the carpet) that Chapter after Chapter, looked more and more like a house of horrors.
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“We don’t suffer terror, we create terror”
An impactful structure, an elegant and turgid staging that deliberately holds back emotions and then releases them little by little, parallel to the twists and turns of a screenplay that aimed straight at the heart of the United States of America. A rowdy series capable of making fun of politics and conventions, mystifying the croaking bandwagon that accompanies the closed circuit of the American presidential elections. But the level was rising and terror began to spread: how effective would streaming viewing be? Would it really have replaced traditional TV? Would it really have supplanted the big screen?
Perhaps, the serial distribution via streaming imposed itself thanks to the fascinating wickedness of Frank and Claire, immersed in their plan of divine rather than political omnipotence. Here, the terror. Self House of Cards he endorsed the now contemporary distribution and narrative treatise, taking the time to roll up the characters (Claire, above all), making sure that they entered the public’s imagination. A mythicization, a polarization of political thought (Democratic as well as Republican) based, precisely, on fear which becomes an instrument of coercion against that democracy “overrated”and therefore towards the people kept constantly on the razor’s edge.
A tool that cancels critical thinking and destroys the natural propensity that one should have towards the future. The audacity of hope ended at the end of Barack Obama’s double mandate has run out, and since 2016 the West and its values have been irreparably (?) altered. “We don’t suffer terror, we create terror”, says a Mephistophelean Frank Underwood, alongside a polar Claire, looking us in the face, at the end of the fourth season. A promise that today takes on another meaning: Frank Underwood won and House of Cards had predicted the future. And no, not just the television one.
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