You may remember George Lucas. Some thirty years ago he made a little film called Star Wars that revolutionized filmmaking, inspired a new generation of filmmakers, and saved Hollywood’s finances. Lucas recently revolutionized filmmaking again by pulling Hollywood kicking-and-screaming into the digital age. In 2005, he made a little independent film called Star Wars Episode III that was the year’s box office champ, received some of the warmest reviews of Lucas’ career, and successfully rounded out the most popular and influential film series in movie history.
George’s thanks for all this? Star Wars Episode III got one nomination this morning — for Best Makeup. Lucas wasn’t nominated for Best Director, although George Clooney was for Good Night, and Good Luck. Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid, playing the deliciously wicked Chancellor Palpatine, wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
So sorry, George Lucas. If your film doesn’t get us angry at Bush, Oscar just doesn’t care. Why? Because we’re now in the era of film as social activism, The New Triviality.
The Trivial film, you see, is merely an occasion for social activism or celebrity posturing. For example, on accepting a Golden Globe for his role in Syriana, George Clooney used the occasion to make an untoward crack about Jack Abramoff. A friend of mine angrily remarked that the comment had “nothing to do with the film” for which Clooney was being honored. I politely demured. “It has everything to do with the film,” I said. Why?
Because Syriana, as its creators proudly admit, is really just a ‘platform.’ Just as Hollywood views films like “Lord of the Rings” as ‘platforms’ from which to sell merchandise, so too are films like Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck or The Constant Gardener now viewed as ‘platforms’ from which to sell politics, to pontificate about the world we live in. After all, there really is no ‘point’ to a film like Syriana unless it’s to enable a George Clooney to deliver political cheap shots on TV during awards season. He does it in the film, so why not on TV?
Of course, all of this Trivializes the cinema — turning it from an art form into something much smaller, more polemical. That’s why this year’s Oscar nominees are truly films for the era of the iPod, with its 2-inch video screen. These new films make ‘points’ but constrict the imagination into something trite and pedantic – something with which we’re supposed to be edified, rather than entertained.
“Gee, I never knew that about pharmaceutical companies exploiting the African underclass. I’m so glad I saw The Constant Gardener.” “Heck, I never knew America has 5% of the word’s population but accounts for 50% of the world’s military spending! I’m really glad I caught Syriana.” “Boy, I never knew the history behind the first sexual harassment lawsuit. I’m so happy I saw North Country.”
It is apparently no longer enough for audiences ‘merely’ to enjoy a film. Enjoyed Star Wars or Harry Potter this year? Too bad. Together those films made $1.7 billion worldwide, but they didn’t indict the global right-wing conspiracy of oil-homophobia-pharmaceuticals so together they received only 2 Oscar nominations.
Meredith Blake of Participant Productions recently stated that her company had repeatedly turned down films that were “creatively fantastic but found to be socially falling short.”
“Socially falling short”?
If you love the movies, these words should chill your spine. They indicate that movies are becoming smaller, more partisan, more …Trivial.
Indeed. As I wrote yesterday:
How a slate of leftwing political movies such as Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, The Constant Gardener, The Interpreter, and Munich could be greenlighted for release last year is beyond me, unless Hollywood in mid-2004 assumed that a Kerry win was inevitable, or after he lost, decided to put the celluloid shiv into Red State audiences. Why anyone thought these films would make money is utterly astonishing. But, to build on Michael Barone’s recent op-ed, the Hollywood left is currently as stuck in the 1970s as liberal politicians are.
Want the ritual of movie-going to return? Give mass audiences moves they’ll want to see.
They won’t win any awards, merely keep Hollywood afloat.