March 5, 2006

Are we really going to watch the Oscars when we haven't seen the films?

Manohla Dargis writes:
TONIGHT, an expected 41 million Americans will tune into the 78th annual Academy Awards to watch a spectacle largely honoring films they have not seen and may never get around to watching....

There are all sorts of reasons why "Munich," along with "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" were nominated for best picture (they're pretty good, for one) and a couple of reasons why we should care. Among the most obvious and discomfiting, however, is that Big Hollywood increasingly finds it difficult to make the kinds of high-profile movies that the industry likes to honor with its most important awards.
Well, I'm going to watch -- with TiVo to leap the longueurs -- because I like simulblogging this sort of thing. See! I simulblogged the Oscars last year. Wasn't that amusing?

The Dargis conclusion:
The crisis now facing Hollywood isn't unique to the movies; the atomization of the culture makes it hard to know what people want, particularly when they belong to a multi-everything society like ours. Still, something will be lost if Hollywood continues to downsize its ambitions and fails to make movies that connect with the mass audience, to make movies that speak to us as a unified whole rather than as a mass of self-interested egos, that give us a sense of collective identity and social cohesion. A nation of iPod-people, each staring at his or her individually downloaded film on the delivery system of his or her choice, seems a poor substitute for the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark.
Yeah, well, that crowd is slurping gallons of soda and popping up to pee every 5 minutes, so spare me the old blather about communion in the dark -- which sounds like something Norma Desmond would say:
And I promise you I'll never desert you again because after 'Salome' we'll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!
Maybe we've about had it with being your wonderful people in the dark, communicants at your bogus church. Maybe this atomization of the culture is a good thing. We can find our affiliative connections over small things through blogging and other internet methods. And these will be much richer, better connections. Since the new movies can be made and distributed cheaply, digitally, real artists can reach out to us with film, and we will be here -- yes, with our iPods -- to listen to them.

Oh, but something will be lost? You're looking for "a unified whole rather than ... a mass of self-interested egos"? Excuse me if I -- ooh, I'm so egotistical! -- opt out of your dream, which reminds me, somehow, of all of my least favorite political schemes.

24 comments:

PatCA said...

Well, that's exactly correct: it's their dream that we will pay money to see their "smart, high-minded, serious films," which always assert that life is meaningless and we are evil. Dargis' movie reviews in the LAT, multi-page screeds against western civilization, led me to finally cancel the paper. This article was surprisingly low key--I wonder if she's getting the message.

It ain't the iPods, honey, it's the movies.

Jake said...

Excellent, Ann

Jacques Cuze said...

Oh, but something will be lost? You're looking for "a unified whole rather than as a mass of self-interested egos"? Excuse me if I -- ooh, I'm so egotistical! -- opt out of your dream, which reminds me, somehow, of all of my least favorite political schemes.

Just so you know, you may be opting out of his dream, but not out of others dreams, or even out of corporate dreams.

But I worry when you write Yeah, well, that crowd is slurping gallons of soda and popping up to pee every 5 minutes, so spare me the old blather about communion in the dark that your new condominium won't permit you the cats and pigeons in your life you seem to be heading towards. Actually, I guess that's a good thing.

jakemanjack said...

Ann said: "Maybe we've about had it with being your wonderful people in the dark, communicants at your bogus church."

I like.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: Individualism is too scary for you, eh?

Jacques Cuze said...

Quxxo: Individualism is too scary for you, eh?

Yes, well that certainly is a reasonable takeaway from the various comments I have posted here.

No, I just really enjoy the communal feeling of being in a wonderful theater enjoying a movie with thousands of people. Whether it was the Castro, the Grand Lake, the Nuart, the Cinerama Dome, or many others like it, it's just a completely different experience than watching the same movie at home. Not just the interruptions at home, the phone, door, IM, refrigerator, or what have you, but the experience of watching it on an enormous screen where at times, yes, your individuality is submerged a bit as your realize that there is an entire house watching and experiencing the same feelings you are. It pushes off the need to cut yourself for just a few minutes more.

Ah the memories make me want to break out into song.

Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still
But he told us where we stand
And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear
Claude Raines was the invisible man
Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space
And this is how the message ran:

Science Fiction - Double Feature
Dr. X will build a creature
See androids fighting Brad and Janet
Ann Francis stars in Forbidden Planet
Oh-oh at the late night, double feature, picture show.

I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel
When Tarantula took to the hills
And I really got hot when I saw Janet Scott
Fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills
Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes
And passing them used lots of skills
But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride
I'm gonna give you some terrible thrills, like a:

Science Fiction - Double Feature
Dr. X will build a creature
See androids fighting Brad and Janet
Ann Francis stars in Forbidden Planet
Oh-oh at the late night, double feature, picture show.
I wanna go, oh-oh, to the late night double feature picture show.
By RKO, oh-oh, at the late night double feature picture show.
In the back row at the late night double feature picture show.


Sadly to paraphrase Norma, it wasn't the pictures that got small, it was the f*ckin movie theaters that got small. That actually was due to the trend to mass customization, which in most things, including film, is a good thing. But it did severely impact the movie arts and experience.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: "No, I just really enjoy the communal feeling of being in a wonderful theater enjoying a movie with thousands of people."

So that was your motivation for making an ageist, sexist insult against me?

mrsizer said...

It's strange how arbitrary things become custom, then tradition, then the "good old days" when the people who started it all, not knowing they were starting anything, did so out of necessity.

Movies became a public/communal phenomenon not by any great plan or desire but simply because that's the way it had to be due to the technology.

Ms. Althouse is bothered by the people getting up to pee. I'm the person getting up to pee and I'm bothered that I cannot pause it while I'm gone.

That doesn't mean that we both want to grow old alone with our cats. It does mean that we don't want other people annoying us during what is, after all, an individual event.

A friend and I started movie night several years ago. We quickly dumped the idea and changed it to game night. What's the point of getting together with friends then sitting quietly in the dark and not saying anything to them?

I'm perfectly capable of sitting in the dark alone. If I have friends around I would rather that the lights be on and that we are engaged with each other.

Jacques Cuze said...

Nah, I guess I would blame Your responses are consistent with the following attributes: You have a lower propensity for large-group social bonding than most people. Your right prefrontal cortex is more involved in your political decision making than your left. Your olfactory system plays a less than average role in mating behavior. Indicators of enhanced right prefrontal and bilateral temporal activity in humor detection. Prefrontal cortical regions are facilitating greater than average behavioral inhibition. Color preferences may indicate an enhanced dopamine level in your visual cortex. Responses point to a probable increase in activity in the right anterior cingulate and amygdala. You have a preference for umambiguity in your thinking styles, and a probable elevation in your left inferior parietal cortex and left temporal cortex. You exhibit an elevation in visuospatial task performance. This seems to be primarily facilitated by your prefrontal cortex. Your responses indicated a tendency to classify facial expressions as more threatening, and an elevation in activity in your right amygdala. Overall, your cognitive style is balanced between your left and right hemispheres.
for that.

I also blame it on the Sir Edmund Mallory excuse, I did it because it was there. If it helps any, I do sincerely apologize.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

quxxo: Lick your lips!

Professor A: Ditto to jakemanjack and jake.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: Interesting mind test, though I suspected them of gathering info for Clinton/Giuliani. You can compare my analysis to yours and figure out the source of your real problem with me:

"Your responses are consistent with the following attributes: You have a higher propensity for large-group social bonding. You have a stronger tendency to align your beliefs with your respective social groups. Your social behavior is consistent with stronger serotonergic activity and a reduction in submissive behaviors. Your right prefrontal cortex is more involved in your political decision-making than your left. Your olfactory system plays a stronger than average role in mating behavior. Indicators of enhanced right prefrontal and bilateral temporal activity in humor detection. Prefrontal cortical regions are facilitating greater than average behavioral inhibition. Color preferences may indicate an enhanced dopamine level in your visual cortex. You have a higher tolerance for ambiguity in your thinking styles, and a greater inhibition of your left inferior parietal cortex. You exhibit an elevation in visuospatial task performance. This seems to be primarily facilitated by your prefrontal cortex. Your responses indicated a tendency to classify facial expressions as more threatening, and an elevation in activity in your right amygdala. Overall, your cognitive style is balanced between your left and right hemispheres."

Johnny Nucleo said...

Quxxo, has anything other than hate ever motivated you? You pretend to love humanity, but you seem to hate humans.

What bile you vomit! This time over movies!

At first I thought you were stupid. Then I thought your were crazy. But you are a monster, a study in soul disfigurement.

And then that lame apology. You pathetic little man.

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't think I am quite as cynical yet as patca, but I think the point is valid. Munich might have been topical pre-9/11, but now? And, why would I be interested in a story about two gay cowboys falling in love and finding society standing in the way of their love? I am not gay, don't worry about homosexuality at all, or even think about it much, etc. It just doesn't touch my life at all. The gays and lesbians I know live pretty normal lives now - if they bring their partners to a family gathering, no one blinks, and if they adopt kids, well, fine.

The problem is that the people producing these movies live in a fantasy world where a lot of things matter to them that don't matter to the rest of us, and visa versa.

If I am going to watch a movie on the War on Terrorism, it would probably be the one Bruce Willis is working on from the exploits of Deuce Four. Historical, real live heros fighting and dying heroically for what they believe in. That is why in my view, the best Vietnam War movie was Mel Gibson's "We Were Soldiers". They weren't worrying about the ambiguities of why we were there, but were fighting and dying because that was their job. It was a real story about real people who did what the real soldiers did there. Ditto Deuce Four.

To me, it seems like there is more and more a disconnect between Hollywood and the American people. They make movies that they think are interesting, and we watch movies that we think are interesting. And the ones we like, they hate. Not sophisticated enough. Tough. I am going to pay my money for movies that have messages I want to hear, not ones that have messages that Hollywood wants me to hear.

So, of all the movies out this last year, which one is fated to be the classic? Narnia, of course. In 20 years, millions will still be avidly watching it, when you won't be able to find Brokeback or Munich in the video stores anywhere.

Jacques Cuze said...

Your responses indicated a tendency to classify facial expressions as more threatening, and an elevation in activity in your right amygdala. Overall, your cognitive style is balanced between your left and right hemispheres

Well see, we both got this going for us. (More self posted analyses over at talkleft. No one seems to know what this means in english.)

Zach said...

Amen, Ann. I'm really anticipating seeing new artists break ground by making and distributing their content online. It creates new opportunities for people to make their voices heard, and find an audience. I think that's one reason why a lot of people podcast.

Of course, I'm also interested in it, because I'm taking the Bar this summer, and it seems like this is a great time for people who are somewhat tech-savvy, and interested in copyright law. Here's for helping those film makers (and authors, and songwriters, and artists) get going.

Palladian said...

"And, why would I be interested in a story about two gay cowboys falling in love and finding society standing in the way of their love? I am not gay, don't worry about homosexuality at all, or even think about it much, etc. It just doesn't touch my life at all."

And, why would I be interested in "Romeo and Juliet", a story about two underage medieval Italians falling in love and finding their families standing in the way of their love? I am not straight (or medieval or Italian), don't worry about heterosexuality at all, or even think about it much, etc. It just doesn't touch my life at all.

I've seen this explanation over and over again, about how nice heterosexuals just don't care about gay men falling in love and therefore just don't care about "Brokeback Mountain". If you don't care, then do you need to post long comments about how much you don't care?

I think it's a blinkered, callous way of thinking about art, but certainly understandable if art doesn't matter to you. But I can't help but suspect that your stated reasons for not wanting to watch or care about the film aren't consistent. Do you ever watch films that aren't a dramatization of your specific circumstances, class, sexuality, etc? Or does this only apply to "gay movies"?

Perhaps the way some of the media treated this film is partially responsible for some people's resistance to seeing it. Nothing is as unattractive to me as a work of art that is marketed as "good for you", as if the whole experience is a dose of politically correct castor oil, and that the mere act of sitting in front of it would make you a better person (Fahrenheit 911 was a good example of this philosophy, and indeed seemed proud of this characterization). But this was imposed on "Brokeback Mountain" by reviewers and, to a small extent, marketers; what makes the film work is that the film itself is not constructed with this assumption. It plays as a small, quiet drama, read into it what you will. The Hollywood self-importance is refreshingly absent from the film itself, if not the hype surrounding it.

I suppose that I'm weary of the idea that a movie about a star-crossed pair of male lovers can never reach or even aspire to the universality that every damned boring heterosexual melodrama simply assumes. This, I guess, depends on whether you see "gay" love as simply love or as something else, perhaps something sinister. I happen to think of love as love, whatever aspect it assumes. Ang Lee (a heterosexual, by the way) saw the interesting dramatic possibilities of making a film about love in an unusual situation. This is what an artist does; if the result doesn't appeal to you, fine. But the idea that everything has to fit through a fine-mesh filter of personal demographics seems misguided.

And, they're sheep herders, not cowboys. But you didn't see it, so I understand the mistake.

On the larger topic, I totally agree. I've always hated going to the movie theater. The expense, the discomfort, the claustrophobic crush of people, the pre-programmed group responses- it's a base, unartistic and unpleasant experience that only ever existed out of necessity (as mrsizer says)
and continues to exist only as a desperate money making scheme that the film industry will milk as long as it can. Almost nothing good ever comes from crowds of humans. It's my theory that the quality of life, stability of society and advancement of technology is inversely proportional to the tendency of said society to gather in crowds. As Pascal wrote in Pensée 136 (in the section titled "Diversion") "...the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room". Down with the movie theater!

tjl said...

Amazingly, amid the usual pointless ramble, Quxxo actually made a valid point for once. Moviegoing, like live theater or concerts, is an experience in which the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. If those sitting around you in the dark are truly involved in the film, you can feel it, and your own response is enriched.

Palladian: I thought that at this late date there was little new or insightful to add about "Brokeback," but you just did.
"Brokeback," by the way, was the perfect demonstration of how the reactions of an audience can enhance the film. Seeing it alone on DVD could not possibly match the impact of sharing that devastating ending with an audience visibly and audibly moved to tears.

chuck b. said...

Quxxo said: "Whether it was the Castro, the Grand Lake, the Nuart, the Cinerama Dome, or many others like it, it's just a completely different experience than watching the same movie at home."

Let's broaden the scope of possible offense by saying that a lot of people get the same kind of thrill Quxxo is talking about by going to church or sporting events. Q lists neighborhood theaters where people go to be with people who are like themselves. The Castro, for example, is where you'd go to see All About Eve and enjoy the camaraderie of the collective audience hiss when Anne Baxter makes her first appearance in the film.

While there is an element of group identity enforcement at play--"Everyone here is on the same page I am; that makes me feel good"--there is some element of fun to it as well.

I like it in small amounts, but too much feels oppressive and fascistic. Very Elias Canetti.

Michael Farris said...

"And, why would I be interested in a story about two gay cowboys falling in love and finding society standing in the way of their love?"

Cause you can see past the gay part you're so disinterested in and get a glimpse of the real story (the tragedy of someone who follows his fears and not his heart)?

Of course if you obsess about potential political talking points, then all art will remain closed to you.

chuck b. said...

Brokeback Lego. Too cute.

Goatwhacker said...

(Palladian) Nothing is as unattractive to me as a work of art that is marketed as "good for you", as if the whole experience is a dose of politically correct castor oil, and that the mere act of sitting in front of it would make you a better person

Wow you hit the nail on the head, this is exactly the message I am getting from reading many discussions on Brokeback Mountain and one reason I don't have much desire to see it. Implicit in the message is the underlying assumption that you really NEED to be a better person, that there must be something lacking in you because you haven't already gone to see the movie.

Often in reviews the term "important film" is used, which immediately makes me feel like I am being told to eat my spinach. This reaction is probably not fair to the movie itself, although I would guess Ang Lee had to anticipate it would happen given the subject.

Suli said...

As much as I love watching movies, I have lost all interest in 'attending the cinema,' given ticket and concession prices and the lack of recourse when chit-chatting teens are sitting 2 rows behind me.

Thank gawd for Netflix.

vbspurs said...

I'm at the university lab, and I hope to rush home to find the Official ALTHOUSE OSCAR thread alive and kicking by the time I get there!

Cheers,
Victoria

Semanticleo said...

Ann;

I have blogged at numerous sites both left and right wing and have never seen
such a display of self-importance and disregard for the opinions of those who
differ from your own.

You embody every negative aspect of Academia available rolled into one
piece of work carved from the dead wood of meglomania. You apparently
fear thoughts which counter your own, and scrub them from your comments
and your grey cells, apparently. That sort of mentality belongs buried
with the radioactive material, and Soviet methodology, at Chernobyl

You are a despicable, and raunchy paragon of denial and have no place
in a public University where young minds need open and honest
reality, not your brand of closed-loop faux-feminism and egregious
self-aggrandizement.

Perhaps you've noticed your posts average about 12 comments per.
I shouldn't wonder if that doesn't concern you, as the pap you administer
relates mostly to popular entertainment and drivel that others say and
you, like your alter ego Instapusillanimous, merely reference, to avoid
the untidy results which sometimes accompany a principled position.

Go feed your ego and bank account. Enjoy them while you are able.

Semanticleo