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.

“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 interests 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 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

4 thoughts on “So, does it matter?”

  1. People have often spoken of Conservative Christians and Hollywood being involved in a “culture war”. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not Christians should feel threatened by Hollywood, whether Hollywood should try to market to Christians, whether Christianity as a whole is hurt more by Hollywood or by their own (sometimes very silly) opposition to it. I think it’s clear Conservative Christians came out of the war as the losers.

    But here’s something that hasn’t been discussed much: Hollywood made a big mistake by choosing to fight the war at all. They’ve become so devoted to the fight that they no longer make interesting movies. They, too, came out as the losers — they’re so busy telling us how revolutionary their homosexual love story is that they don’t realize nobody gives a damn. (I don’t go to the theater to watch hetero love stories either.) Nobody wants Hollywood to preach at them with “revolutionary” movies; we want movies that hold our interest. Nobody wants Hollywood to be our “conscience” — those who already agree don’t need a movie to tell them to agree, and those who don’t aren’t going to pay to see a movie they disagree with. We just want them to make movies that tell a compelling story. But instead they keep putting out the same boring drivel because they want to transform society… and society got bored and stopped listening.

  2. Well, yes: films have been degraded by leftist politics, dull writing, over-reliance on technical effects, and general pandering to adolescent audiences. But could it be also that modern technology and wealth have created so many interesting new opportunities in non-film fields that many of the best people either left Hollywood or never went there?

    And of course the new technology also makes it easy for film viewers to find entertainment elsewhere. Some industries decline while others prosper. Isn’t this always true?

  3. La vita e bella was nominated for but did not win Best Picture. Shakespeare In Love won that year. Roberto Benigni did win Best Actor (which is probably what you’re remembering–his crazed, endearing acceptance speech), and La vita e bella won Best Foreign Language film.

  4. Absolutely right, Steve. I am covered with shame as I should have looked it up instead of relying on memory. I do recall that idiotic speech and his daft performance but it was, I believe, dwarfed by Our Gwynnie’s famous sobs. But the point I made stands – Benigni’s prize was a real surprise. The film, or, at least, its second half is very moving.

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