Monday, March 8, 2010

Fear and loathing of the Academy Awards

I generally pay a small amount of attention to the Oscars because 90% of what Hollywood craps out is lousy and I usually haven't seen more than one or two nominated films in any given year. Of course doing this job I have my head in the Oscars section of the almanac all the time, so I always catch up to who won what a year or two later. AA questions make for good trivia questions because they have definitive answers, and there's a certain level of movie fame implicit in an Oscar. It's hard for anyone to complain that I'm going too obscure if a movie won something.

I expected an oversized suckfest this year because I expected Avatar to win 63 awards, including Best Picture Titled Avatar, based in the size of the budget and the take. I had no intention of seeing Avatar and I still haven't. The initial turn-off was the constant commercials ruining the Phillies' playoff run, most irritatingly the attempt to tie the movie in directly with MLB literally while the games were being played. Next was the CGI-based nature of the movie. CGI still sucks and still looks like a bad cartoon. Give me Ray Harryhausen any day. Finally, I love good sci-fi... but good sci-fi is story-driven and usually contains some powerful parables about present-day Earth. Retooling the condescending Dances with Wolves story in space is not good storytelling. They spent $500 million on special effects and seem to have left the plot to whoever would work for tips.

Decent sci-fi starts with solid sci, which is to say that some of the presumptions in the film should make sense. Among the things that don't make sense in this film are creatures that move by flapping their wings flying in between asteroids held in place by a relative lack of gravity. Huh?

Much was made of the movie having created a language for the aliens. All I have to say to that is Klaatu barada nikto. Hasn't Star Trek been doing this since the mid-'60s as well?

Suffice it to say I wanted just about anything to bump Avatar from center stage. Unfortunately, just about anything did. The Hurt Locker is another film I wanted to avoid, and did. Any war movie that focuses on the invading occupier to the point that the people who live in the wartorn land are a mixture of afterthought and nuisance is a highly misleading piece of shit. Add to this that the movie was made while the war is still ongoing, and an apparently conscious decision was made to avoid any historicality by not attempting to provide any context for why the invaders are there, or why the locals are trying to kill them with IEDs to begin with... well, at that point, the filmmakers are pretty much in league with Satan. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, THL got 97% positive reviews, the other 3% of the reviewers questioning how it could be possible to make a movie ostensibly about the Iraq war which could have been set in a SWAT unit back home for all it said about Iraq. A couple of reviewers noted that the only social impact of the movie would be as a more subtle than usual "men jus' doin' their job" Pentagon tool for recruitment. "Liberal" Hollywood does it again!

You could tell that the screenplay was from an embedded "journalist." The plain fact of the matter is that it's a lot more dangerous to be an 10 year old kid in Iraq than it is to be an American disposing IEDs there (IEDs which, incidentally, probably wouldn't be there if you weren't). Who has potable water, nutritious and clean food, free medical care, body armor, military training, all the advantages of modern technology and is backed by a force of 200,000+? And who has none of those things and has to deal with a religious war backed by American bribery? Make a movie about that kid, you'll deserve an Oscar. Make an Army recruitment commercial, you deserve a contract for a detergent commercial or an ambulance chaser or used car dealer, whatever comes down the pipe next.

Apparently now too we have the pseudo-liberal bait and switch in which a woman is awarded an Oscar because she's not only a woman but the ex-wife of the guy with the blockbuster film. Giving her an award for this is somehow supposed to be a victory for all women, although I see it as setting women back a few decades. Alimony awards... literally? Ironically among the few negative reviews a couple noted that there were no female members of the military depicted in the film and there was no indication by that nor anything else that a woman was in charge of the movie and brought any new perspective to the genre. That the impact of the war on Iraqi women - far more severe than that on American men - went completely ignored to the point of invisibility is so obvious that so far as I know no one else has bothered stating that explicitly.

The movie was praised for the action sequences if nothing else. According to Iraq combat vets, those were laughably unrealistic.

Special revulsion is reserved for Precious, a film which African-American social critic Ishmael Reed is getting pounded for correctly having criticized as a psychological assault. Only American
pseudo-"liberals" - i.e., people who think that electing a half-African man for a "change" to suck off Wall Street and ramp up the war budget for four years is somehow progressive - could smugly congratulate themselves for enjoying a film depicting two morbidly obese welfare recipients getting dicked over literally and figuratively by brutal sex-crazed Sambo, and then on top of that congratulate themselves specifically for being so damn compassionate.

Reed points out that there isn't any particular pandemic of daddy-rape in the black community, and that the film would get praised for "bringing attention" to a fake crisis involving black men not being able to hold back from daughter-fucking is kinda sick. He points out that what we actually have is one instance of this, and that instance is purely fictional. Not a good base for social policy. I mean, there have been five Chucky movies and where's the outcry against possessed murder dollies? I demand to know!

Things got more perverse when uni-nomenclatured Mo'Nique - how's that name for breaking stereotypes... and am I supposed to pronounce the apostrophe as a glottal stop? - invoked Hattie McDaniel's name and "what she had to endure." According to Ms. McDaniel, she'd rather have played a maid for $7000 a week than been a maid for $7 a week. The one racial incident that she seems to have suffered was being barred from the Atlanta premier of Gone with the Wind, and when Clark Gable offered to boycott the premier in protest she insisted he go.

McDaniel was a resourceful daughter of slaves who actually worked as a maid in the early years of the Great Depression, and was able to have a four-decade showbiz career, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1939, a US postage stamp in 2006 (consider you need to be dead for a decade to get one, and the USPS wasn't doing actors 50 years ago when she died... this isn't as delayed as it reads at first glance), her own radio and TV shows and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That's what the woman "had to endure." How is playing a maid worse than being one? And what's the shame in being a working person?

Ironically southern audiences were scandalized by the fact that she played sassy, disrespectful
maids who were deemed too familar with the white stars of the film. This was pretty much the most dignified work a black actress could get at the time. I say this is ironic because the black family depicted in Precious may as well have come out of a KKK newsletter comic strip, and seems to me to do far more harm to the majority image of black folks in America than the maid thing.

In this case it's the condescending pseudo-liberal notion of class problems actually being race problems. America loves to talk about race - we especially like to claim we never talk about race - because the "solution" is for individuals to "open their minds" and "be nice" and "have a positive mental attitude." Somehow poor people get more responsibility in this scenario! Families like the one depicted have class problems, which would require a retooling of government, business, tax and social priorities, and would require people like rich Hollywood fucks to lose many of their privileges. Thus we'll keep the proles talking about race and rapey black men, and keep voting for California's suicidal property tax breaks for billionaires.

Mo'Nique made the stunning claim that the Oscar was a triumph of substance over "politics", as if every decision made by the voting members of the Academy isn't exactly just that. Presumably her performance (as a racial stereotype no less) was so awesome that racism could be the only way she would have lost..? Is that seriously what she was saying? If I were up for that award too I'd tell her to go fuck herself.

The Oscars have become all about pseudo-liberals assuaging guilt by awarding themselves for playing the roles of other people with serious problems. The problems themselves go unsolved.

In an episode of the hilarious British comedy Extras, Ricky Gervais and Kate Winslet have a great little interlude stating that Holocaust films get you Oscars.

Needless to say, Winset later did do a Holocaust film and won an Oscar for it. Nazi depictions are best for Best Supporting Actor Oscars, as we saw again last night. The moment I saw the nominated documentary short subjects clips, I figured the one with the African in a wheelchair was the winner, because African + wheelchair = Oscar. You'd need something on the order of a breast cancer + Holocaust survivor + lesbian to trump that one. Of course the documentary maker isn't solving the problem and for the most part isn't even addressing the structural problems of African poverty in a world economy... but hey, their career is taking off. Make a film about a wheelchair in Zimbabwe (and make no mistake, the film was all about the wheelchair and not the person in it), win an Oscar. Zimbabwe itself remains fucked.

I mention all of this because of Mo'Nique's farcical assertion that "politics was left out" of giving her an award. Was politics left out of calling Morgan Freeman (who I still think of as Easy Reader) the lead actor in a movie in which Matt Damon was clearly the lead, and Freeman played a supporting role? If Freeman played anyone other than Nelson Mandela, would that have happened? This coming from a bunch of movie studios that probably had money invested in Krugerrands until 1985.

A country whose dream factory can't crank out better than this is on the shitslide to being the next Britain, a class-divided post-colonial has-been state filled with a decaying terrible history, misremembered as a charming, fun empire for foreign tourists. "See you at the movies... save me the aisle seat!"
Add to Technorati Favorites


Dawn Davenport said...

I read one article online that referred to "Precious" as "poverty porn." It's funny, I have spoken to a number of my students about the film (who are female, African American and come from working class backgrounds). None of them have seen it, nor do they have any interest in doing so. (Granted, some of these same students thought "Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" was a cinematic masterpiece). They actually said it looked "depressing" and "disgusting." If people like Oprah and Tyler Perry want to empower young black girls (do they?), why not endorse films that send positive messages and feature strong role models?

QuizMasterChris said...

Thanks, Dawn.

Y'know what I forgot to mention?

The movie features a scene in which a fat black girl STEALS A BUCKET OF FRIED CHICKEN.

Why not a watermelon too?

Why not have a getaway driver with a purple Cadillac?

Can you imagine if white people had made a movie with that scene? The NAACP would be picketing.

J Will said...

The positive message in Precious is that a girl who has suffered terribly saves herself.

Black people really do eat fried chicken. Why the condescending outrage over depicting it? I also saw a Black woman eating a sandwich in the film. No idiotic outrage over that? I am a Black woman, and I occasionally eat fried chicken. Am I a racist?

You have an awful lot to say about a film YOU HAVEN"T SEEN. I actually saw the film, and found it to be a good story with outstanding performances.

Obviously, I was wasting my time actually seeing the film. From now on when a movie comes out I'll just go to Wikipedia so I can have an opinion, too.

QuizMasterChris said...

Self-preservation is now a "positive message"? Egad, we're worse off than I thought.

Here's some news for you: most of the people WHO VOTE FOR THE OSCARS haven't seen all the movies either.

Of course I feel as if I've seen every damn movie because of incessant advertising, clips, reviews, previews and banter. I think we all know pretty much what the plotline of Precious was and we pretty much all know that she turns the frown upside down, this being Oprah/Tyler Perry crap.

By paying the $10 for the film you get to see the other 70 minutes of exposition and filler. I'll pass.

We're talking about a movie in which a fat black girl STEALS fried chicken, which is the most cartoonishly racist thing I can imagine.

Chicken-stealing is a old stereotype. How old? People were writing to the New York Times about how that was an old stereotype in 1904:

The NYT also saw fit to print a dubious article about Negro chicken-stealing in 1883:

I can't wait for Precious II, in which a fat black boy tap dances with a watermelon. And then rapes it. How many NAACP awards will that win..?