March 06, 2006

So, does it matter?

The London Evening Standard trumpeted for all to see: Britons triumph at the Oscars. After the humiliation of the BAFTAs, when all the major and most of the minor prizes were carried away by the Americans, we got our revenge.

Alas, it was not so. Apart from Rachel Weisz getting an award for looking pretty in trying circumstances, the only British film to win anything was “Wallace and Gromit”. As it happens, I have seen it. (Well, how could I resist a film which was titled “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”?) It is very good, indeed. When it comes to amusing animation, the Brits can occasionally come up with the goods.

This has been the year of the least watched nominations, as anyone who has read Mark Steyn or various other commentators knows. The most popular of the winners is the documentary, “The March of the Penguins” and that only in the United States. The first Narnia film that was awarded various prizes also did well.

The London Evening Standard trumpeted for all to see: Britons triumph at the Oscars. After the humiliation of the BAFTAs, when all the major and most of the minor prizes were carried away by the Americans, we got our revenge.

Alas, it was not so. Apart from Rachel Weisz getting an award for looking pretty in trying circumstances, the only British film to win anything was “Wallace and Gromit”. As it happens, I have seen it. (Well, how could I resist a film which was titled “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”?) It is very good, indeed. When it comes to amusing animation, the Brits can occasionally come up with the goods.

This has been the year of the least watched nominations, as anyone who has read Mark Steyn or various other commentators knows. The most popular of the winners is the documentary, “The March of the Penguins” and that only in the United States. The first Narnia film that was awarded various prizes also did well.

“Crash”, which won the Best Picture award, has already gone into DVD, a bad sign for a main-stream film, however low budget it might have been. The other nominated ones, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Munich”, “Good Night and Good Luck” and “Capote”, have grossed remarkably low. “Brokeback Mountain” dropped out of the top ten grossing films in the week before the ceremony.

That, in itself, would not be a problems. The Oscars do not have to go to particularly popular films. The problem is that these are not films from little-known arty film makers. They are all main-stream and have had quite the most astonishing amount of publicity. Yet the public has been staying away in droves.

(To be fair, very few films do all that well nowadays, proof that Hollywood has lost its ability to understand what the audience wants.)

A few years ago there was a genuine surprise at the Oscars when the Italian “La vita e bella” won the Best Picture award. It was genuinely off-beat in that a film that would normally have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture award, was put in for the big one instead and won. As it happens, it was a genuinely moving film handling a difficult issue – the Holocaust in Italy – in an unusual, comical way.

Since then there have been few surprises, though much is being made of the fact that “Brokeback Mountain”, the favourite, did not win.

The other interesting and, even extraordinarily funny, aspect of this year’s nominations is how seriously they have been taken by the industry itself and attendant hacks. Solemnly, we have been told that this is the year in which Hollywood and the Oscars have grown up because so many of the nominations were important, meaningful and dedicated to a cause.

Curiously enough, the causes were all left-wing and the alleged courage of the film-makers non-existent. Just how brave is it to make an anti-McCarthy film? Or one about the supposed evil-doing of corporate pharmaceuticals?

Interestingly enough a more “courageous” or, at least, a more truthful approach to both those subjects would have made better and, possibly, more popular films. If Clooney, or someone else as Clooney is terminally incapable of thinking outside the BDS Hollywood box, were to make a film that looked at the McCarthy era and what went on before it in the light of all the information that has come out in the last decade or so, he might have had something interesting to say.

Why did all those privileged people become Soviet agents? How did the party manage to dupe so many seemingly intelligent individuals like Edward Murrow? Was Murrow a dupe or a liar? How was “McCarthyism” used to prevent any discussion of Communism and Communist infiltration for decades?

Similarly, Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes might consider making a film in which the truth about medical drugs in Africa is told. That would involve a certain amount of research, of course, but the information is available to all who want to read it.

Mind you, the villains would not be big business but African governments who slap taxes on all those drugs that are sold to them at cost price or given free by the companies, thus preventing their use by the people who need them.

Other villains might be African officials who steal the drugs and sell them at highly inflated prices, again interrupting the flow to those who need them. Would Ms Weisz consider playing the heroine in something like that? Somehow, I doubt it. After all, that would mean abandoning all that she “knows” from everybody around her.

And what of the winner “Crash”? Have we not already had many films about the issue of race, some rather more courageous in peeking at the unfashionable red-neck attitudes? Only peeking, mind you.

Homosexuality? As Mark Steyn points out, the most courageous film on that subject was made in 1961. Joseph Losey’s “Accident” dealt with the issue when homosexual activity was still illegal in Britain. Dirk Bogarde took the role of the barrister in the closet at a time when he was one of the great pin-up heroes of young British womanhood. Now, that is courage.

So what do we have? A bunch of outdated and seriously unoriginal ideas put forward by people who take themselves and everything they say far too seriously and are of no interest to the public at large. Sounds like the Conservative Party. In fact, I can almost see George Clooney or Ralph Fiennes in the role of the Tory leader, who comes up with ideas that were buried years ago and people who have retired just as long ago.

As politics and the MSM turns into mass entertainment (some of it extremely cruel), the entertainment industry has decided, unilaterally, to become the conscience of the world and its political intelligence. Sadly, nobody else, apart from dribbling journalists agree with that idea but that has not stopped George Clooney, Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennnes, Stephen Spielberg and others, too numerous to mention, from pronouncing endlessly on subjects they have no knowledge or understanding of and, to be quite frank, no interest in. Otherwise, even pea-brains though they are, they might have found out something new and interesting.

The subject of British films has been uppermost in my mind (incurably frivolous, I tell ya) because on Friday I went to the National Film Theatre to see that wonderful 1954 comedy “The Constant Husband” with Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, Margaret Leighton, Cecil Parker and a host of other excellent British actors.

An entertaining plot, amusing script and wonderful acting, together with quite a nasty little twist in the tail. Most British films of that period had one. Indeed, it is one of the greatest mistakes to assert that post-war British cinema was somehow cosy. Not a bit of it. Even the comedy capers are quite unsettling and the thrillers show a hard, narrow and unpleasant society.

What is it that made it possible for the British to make good films for quite a long time? Why can they not do so any longer? As it happens, I did see “Mrs Henderson Presents”, a rather fatuous and plot-less film about the Windmill Theatre, for which Judi Dench was nominated for the Best Actress Award. She was very good, as was Bob Hoskins, but neither was what I would call an outstandingly stellar performance. And the film was dull.

(As for our other hopeful, Keira Knightley – forget it. I am not going anywhere near what is quite clearly a travesty of one of the greatest novels in English literature.)

In the end I come to what is probably an obvious conclusion. Films were made by people who saw their art or craft or trade as being part of entertainment. Not only they were more popular, they were actually better – better written, better directed, better produced, better acted. How many of the ultra serious, self-important Oscar winners and nominations will be watched in ten years’ time? A big round number, I should say. But “The Constant Husband”? No problem.

Oh well, I suppose the two films that, respectively, justified and glorified terrorism, “Munich” and “Paradise Now”, got nothing. One must be thankful for small mercies.

Cross-posted (mostly) from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at March 6, 2006 05:39 PM
Comments

Further amusement can be derived from reading the comments of the leftorattis regarding Brokeback Mountain's failure to win. "Hollywood is not ready to face up to a gay love story," they sneer. Well,that implies that the people who didn't give the movie the Best Picture award are somehow morally lacking; they have failed to live up to the high standards set for them by the all-knowing lefties. A bizarre perception at best. Looks like the ever-diminishing movie-going public wasn't "ready" either because, as Helen says, they stayed away in droves.

What is it about the movie industry that administers a lethal dose of Leftyism into those who involve themselves in it? Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Harry Belafonte, Barbra Streisand, Tom Robbins and their legions of clones in Hollywood, and their doppelgangers in London, and their fellow travellers in Paris... And the customers stay firmly away. Doesn't that tell them something?

Absolutely no one goes to see British movies (with the exception of the odd Richard Curtis movie every five or six years).

Doesn't this tell them anything?

Posted by: Verity at March 7, 2006 07:01 AM

Verity's comment reminds me of situations where some scruffy character on the street asks for money and you say no and he responds by shouting abuse. His reaction confirms that it was right not to give him what he wanted. So it is for enthusiasts of the didactic movie.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 7, 2006 09:56 AM

Interestingly, there was a "socially-conscious" film out there this year that did acknowledge the dreadful truth that African governments have a habit of killing their own people. Lord of War was actually quite a powerful movie, but suffered from two flaws, I suspect, that ruled it out of Hollywood contention. First, the already-mentioned admission that African governments are pretty nasty and secondly, the barely-recognizable sub-text in the character played by Ian Holm that arms dealers can actually have good aims in mind, even as they dance with the devil. It was a film that dealt with the issue realistically, not in terms of light and dark. No wonder it was dismissed.

Posted by: Burkean at March 7, 2006 11:07 AM

Not to interupt the ideological reverie and general left-bashing, but your portrayal of Brokeback Mountain as a low-earner is inaccurate. The movie had grossed, as of February 26th, over $75 million in the US, as compared to a budget of only $14 million. Rant away at the mainstream media all you like, but try to get your facts right.

Posted by: ChrisCochrane at March 7, 2006 04:33 PM

If you think that was ranting at the mainstream media, all I can say is you ain't heard nothin' yet.

All things are relative and $75 million is a goodly amount But I am not convinced that it is such a huge amount for a film that was hyped as much as "Brokeback Mountain".

Posted by: Helen at March 7, 2006 04:38 PM

"A few years ago there was a genuine surprise at the Oscars when the Italian “La vita e bella” won the Best Picture award. It was genuinely off-beat in that a film that would normally have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture award, was put in for the big one instead and won. As it happens, it was a genuinely moving film handling a difficult issue – the Holocaust in Italy – in an unusual, comical way."

Life is Beautiful didn't win Best Picture (Shakespeare in Love beat it). However, it did win Best Foreign Language Film and, in what was the surprise, Best Actor for Roberto Benigni (over Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, Nick Nolte, Edward Norton, and Ian McKellen)

Sorry to be a stickler about stuff like that...

Posted by: Patrick at March 7, 2006 04:46 PM

Sorry, Patrick. Quite right about the film. Just goes to show one must not rely on memory but check facts. My point does stand. Benigni's Oscar was unexpected. "Shakespeare in Love" managed to be dull and infuriating at the same time. Was that not the famous Oscars with Our Gwynnie crying?

Posted by: Helen at March 7, 2006 05:11 PM

"All things are relative and $75 million is a goodly amount. But I am not convinced that it is such a huge amount for a film that was hyped as much as 'Brokeback Mountain'."

Sorry, but this seems to me to be a good example of ideological circular logic. If the movie didn't make that much money, you would have cited it as an example of the mainstream media trying to cram its agenda down our throats and failing. And since the movie did make money, well, the natural response is, what did you expect, given all the hype and media-power behind it?

Nice when you can have it both ways.

Posted by: ChrisCochrane at March 7, 2006 05:31 PM

Yay! I caught an error!

But anyway, If Brokeback Mountain were a $14 million comedy (with an entirely different plot) starring Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, thus getting a similar amount of free publicity, $75 million would still seem like a good figure. It wouldn't be called a blockbuster, but it's definitely not a failure or a movie people are actively turning away from.

I vowed to boycott Hollywood for a year if "Paradise Now" won. That's two movie tickets they would've lost out on...

Honestly, I'm more irritated by the poor quality of movies in general than any sort of message Hollywood is trying to send me. If it makes them feel better to green light "Syriana" instead of some Bernie Mac vehicle, fine by me, I'm not watching either one.

I took a look back at past best picture nominees, and I didn't see this problem even last year. Oscar-wise, this year of four "message films" is an abberation, not a trend.

Posted by: Patrick at March 8, 2006 01:34 AM

The hype about Brokeback Mountain didn't have so much to do with manking the film, but with the way it wss going to be received in the red states. And that has been unexpectedly good - no demonstrations outside theaters, lots of normal, mainstream people going to see the movie.

Movies about race kind of played out in the 60's and 70's, but thwere Crash was different was that everyone was a racist - the ideological black carjacker - and there was that wonderful bit where one immigrant, the police chica, makes fun of another immigrant's English - pure Americana, a real Ellis Island moment.

Posted by: Jim at March 8, 2006 11:15 AM
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