Something about movies make us believe in our dreams - from the dreams we long for to the dreams we fear. But something about the silver screen, the "magic" of pictures in motion telling us stories, moving our hearts, seducing our senses, and occasionally igniting our minds, sticks with us as a sign of our glorious past, and of our hopeful future.
It's all bollocks, and I think we know that. But we aren't going to stop dreaming the dream. Deep down we are all children, and the characters in the movie world are the characters in our own fictions. We hope that one day too we will tell Mr. DeMille we're ready for our close-up, and tell Sam to play it again.
Tonight's extravaganza will have a Classic Hollywood theme to reflect the themes of some of the Best Picture nominees. As the social media world buzzes with Red Carpet excitement and the Oscar countdown continues, we get to hear stupid questions such as "why did you choose this dress? It's beautiful" to which actress Bérénice Bejo tried not to shake her head when she replied "because its beautiful." I can't believe how much I don't care about the Red Carpet.
Having not watched the Oscars in at least five years, including this year, I can't tell if I love it or hate it. You see, the Oscar night is an annual celebration of the Star System and Hollywood's early days. For example, Bejo is the star of The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius), a film I saw on Friday. I have spent the past month of teaching my students about Classic Hollywood and the transition between silent films and "the talkies," from swashbuckling, screwball comedy and gangster films to post-WWII film noir and forward. The Artist is worth a go. It gets surprisingly dark at one point, but it stays true to the period it tries to represent. But what it also shows is how fragile, desperate, generous and greedy is the ego of an actor.
So why do we love movies? Why do we watch the Oscars? And why do we obsess about celebrities, become emotionally involved with their stories, even to the point of watching the mind-numbing Red Carpet procession? What would you do if you were a Hollywood star?
We all know that the real "best" pictures don't always win, or even get nominated. I remember in 1997 myself and a group of Americans were living in England and feeling very homesick on Oscar night. Braveheart, a completely inaccurate Scottish historical drama starring an Australian and an almost entirely Irish cast playing Irish bagpipes on location in Ireland (except a Scottish actor who played the one Irishman in the film). The next day at work, every 30 minutes or so, Bronwyn would cry BRAVEHEART??! Because it isn't about quality, historical accuracy, or depth. It's about something more (or less).
The formula is aptly explained in this video:
A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever -- powered by Cracked.com
Even though there is a certain formula to it, we are drawn in. This is, after all, our own version of royalty. Certainly now, like the days of the Great Depression, the world of Hollywood seems totally unimportant and devoid of reality as we all worry about how to fill up our gas tanks while these people worry about their next multi-million dollar role and how not to end up in the tabloids. And yet, for reasons similar to the Great Depression, we are drawn to the glamour of Hollywood in order to not have to think about the bills and the mortgage and the mundane parts of life for just a few hours.
Some watch for the costumes, some watch because they are genuinely interested in the outcomes, some watch to be snarky, and some watch hoping one of the actors will trip. Some watch because the host is supposedly funny, and some watch purely out of tradition, the way non-football fans vaguely participate in the Superbowl, or Christmas.
Look at our stars and our movies today. I miss crazy movies like Sunset Boulevard. I miss the seedy night mixed with the glamour of the day in the Film Noir period. The lights, the sounds the stars, the innocence. Where are the Gary Coopers? Brad Pitt? No thank you. George Clooney is a less funny Cary Grant perhaps. And Kim Basinger was acceptable as Veronica Lake. But what about Katharine Hepburn? Audrey Hepburn? Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth? Barbara Stanwyck?
Sometimes I think we think that history works in a purely progressive manner - but I think it goes in cycles, and currently we're not doing that great. Heath Ledger could have been on this level of having that "it" factor - the unbeatable, unrepeatable, unmatched, can't-take-your-eyes off quality. But I can't think of anyone else in recent years who has this, except perhaps Denzel Washington. But comedies used to be witty, and clever. Nowadays they are aimed at the 13 year old male humor, and I think that is indicative of something said in our culture.
|Bombshell beauties like Rita Hayworth|
Ultimately, the fact that the best pictures of the year aren't always the ones that are nominated for Best Picture of the year isn't the only thing that matters about looking back at our Hollywood past. Instead the winners and the nominees tell a story of where we thought we were going and where we were at the time. Rather than an award show, the Oscars are about the ritual of celebrating popular values, cinematic history, and cultural moment. It may leave a lot out, but it is a celebration of what is left in.
And of egos.
Tonight I will be raising my glass to movie history by preparing a lecture on film history and by watching a great film, and not the celebration of egos.
Do you watch the Oscars? Why or why not?