01 March, 2009

Do we simply turn our heads and look the other way

So here's the thing.

A few years ago I went to watch the Oscars with a group of friends. But after an hour, as they were going through the Art Direction or Live Action Short awards, a couple of people became a bit bored and went away to do something, asking me to call them when the important awards started. So time passed, and finally they started giving out the big five awards, so I called my friend in. But my friend became annoyed at me for this, saying "Who cares about the screenplay? I asked you to call me when the important awards start." It was at that point that I realised she only really cared about the stars. The behind-the-scenes workers, no matter how important (and the screenplay writer is pretty bloody pivotal) are relegated to a ghetto in the public perception, where they just waste time and lengthen the ceremony, and no-one really cares.

And that annoys me, because cinematography, art direction, costumes, editing, sound design, these are all pivotal parts of the filmmaking process, and I personally love that they all get acknowledged as part of the real ceremony, not dumped into some secondary award ceremony. And even the recipients of the scientific and technical Oscars (which do have a second ceremony) get acknowledgement in the main ceremony. A few years ago, they experimented with trying to save time by having a microphone in the middle of the theatre, having all the nominees for some of the "lesser" awards stand lined up by the microphone, the winner is announced, takes two steps up to the microphone and starts speaking. And it was awful, because again it reinforced that these awards aren't all that important, they just occupy time, and these people don't desere to sully the stage that should be reserved for the stars. But it also denied these hard-working deserving winners their moment where they are the most important person in the film world, they were denied that moment of excitement, of being able to walk up through the theatre to reach the stage, and receive the applause and recognition from everyone in the industry.

But as bad as that was, I felt that what they did at this years Oscars was even worse. Because every other award got the normal treatment - presenters give a little talk, they read the nominees, the winner comes on stage and gives their speech. But for the acting awards, suddenly they bring out five past winners for each acting award. And each of those winners gives a little speech to one of the nominees, talking about the delicacy of their performance, or the fearless nature of their performance, or the excellence that they bring to their every performance. It was a special treatment that was given only to nominees in the four acting awards (not even the director nominees got that treatment), and it really confirmed this idea that the actors are the ones that are important, reinforcing the ghettoisation of anyone whose face doesn't appear on the poster.

I wouldn't have minded had they done it for all the awards - sure, it would have been a much longer show, but it would have been nice to hear people talking about this cinematographer shot this film to match the film's tone, or the choices the editor made, or just genuinely acknowledging the importance of the role they play, instead of rushing through those awards as fast as possible to get to the "big" awards. But giving that special treatment to one part of the industry really offended me.

Ultimately, I think the problem is that these days too much attention is paid to producing a show for the people at home. It almost seems like, in the immediate aftermath of the ceremony, more attention is paid to how well the show rated and how it was as entertainment to looking at the merits of the winning films. The truth is, the Oscars are (at least in theory) about the film industry recognising excellence by their own members. Now, they do manage to put on an interesting and entertaining show, and people are interested in films, which is why they show the Oscars on television. But as they pay more attention to show ratings and the home audience, I fear that the Oscars may actually lose track of their purpose for being (such as it is). Every year, people complain about the show's length, or how boring the non-star awards are. And I am concerned that, in a few years time, we may reach a point when these "minor" awards are given in a seperate ceremony, in order to respond to an E! audience that is more interested in seeing movie stars than appreciating artistry in the cinema. And should that happen, I think the Oscars will officially lose all interest for me, and will have as much relevance as the MTV Movie Awards. And that will be disappointing.

(And one other note - I was very unhappy with how they presented the In Memorium segment of the show. This is one part of the show where they should just present simply and with restraint, but instead it was all moving cameras shooting on-stage screens showing the video, while also trying to show Queen Latifah singing the accompanying song. The end result was that, even on the reasonably sized 46 inch television I was watching the show on, it was difficult to read the names of the people being remembered, and pretty much impossible to read the tiny-print roles of the behind-the-scenes players. So I was very happy to discover that the montage is available on YouTube. It's worth watching.)

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