Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #220: Too Many Awards, Too Few Care

Kate Winslet won the Screen Actor's Guild Award which she was the odds on favourite to win, and once again she was completely gobsmacked by the win and could barely speak.

Come on Kate. You're a good actress and all that, but this is your third major award this year, which pretty much guarantees you a fourth. There's no shame in having a quick prepared statement for when you win, especially when it's as pre-ordained as this year's awards season seem to be. Of course if she had, then she'd be committing a cardinal sin in the Fame Game, which would be acknowledging the sheer pointlessness of modern award shows. (Which is the point of this post, and not a cheap excuse to post a picture of Kate Winslet.)

You see, the script that all must follow goes something like this: No matter how locked in you have the award, even if your competition was more or less disqualified by getting busted the day before the final ballots were filled in setting fire to a synagogue while singing the "Horst Wessel Waltz," you must still act as if you were not expecting it.

You must act like this is the greatest honour on the planet Earth and that you are not worthy of such a glorious honour.

To do anything else would be "disrespectful" of this great honour, even though it's definition of "the best" is often tainted by a certain level of snobbery. Snobbery that allows people to rather cynically make films for the sole purpose of winning awards for the people involved, regardless of their quality and/or cultural staying power.

It wasn't always like this, there was a time when any film could at least get nominated, regardless of genre, cast, or political leanings. Stars who won would go to the dais, thank the Academy, thank some friends and family, and then go back to their seats. And while not every best picture winner really won the sweepstakes to perennial classic status, I'll wager washboards to wigs that the ratio between classic/forgotten was still far better than recent years.

But what caused this change?

Two things: Method Actors, and Television.

Now I'm not knocking Method Actors, per se, but how people view method actors. You see when the first generation from the Actor's Studio arrived on screens in the late 1940s and early 1950s they were considered a revelation. They seemed so dramatic, yet so real, and suddenly acting went from a job that could make you famous, to a job that gave you some sort of special insight into the human condition. The ability to cry on cue by using the memory of the day their goldfish died turned actors from mere entertainers, to deep and profound artists.

With themselves being taken way too seriously, they started to take everything associated with them way too seriously. Awards ceremonies, which used to be partly social, partly promotional events, suddenly became hugely important events. And because these events were so important the words they said on that stage more powerful than the Gettysburg Address, and the Complete Orations of Cicero combined, and many of them much longer. They were compelled to thank all the little people that helped them become so wonderful, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Now some could make a statement by not showing up. The first person to boycott the Oscars was George C. Scott when he was nominated for Patton. Scott did it because he didn't like the idea of actors competing with each other, and even called it a "meat parade." However it was Brando who took it to the next level, sending actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place when he won for The Godfather to make a political speech on the behalf of the Native Americans involved in an armed standoff with the federal government at Wounded Knee.

Now the stunt really didn't do anything to end the troubles at Wounded Knee, or help anyone, or their cause. In fact it might have done more harm by making it, and its association with the notedly eccentric Brando, a punchline for comedians for years afterwards. But it did do something that has affected awards shows ever since, it made the Oscar dais a political platform.

You see when it comes to celebrities, it's monkey-see monkey-do, especially if the first monkey to do something holds a position of admiration, like being the first breakout method actor in Hollywood. Of course none since would allow anyone else to make the statement for them, that would take away from their precious spotlight time. Instead you have cleebrities declaring on everything from war (against), to universal health care (for), and wearing a variety of coloured ribbons denoting their support for everything from curing breast cancer (pink), to ending chain e-mails (brown).

Of course this attitude has made award shows range from unwatchable to comical as they make their broad declarations to the cheers of people who all think exactly like them for fear of never getting invited to another award show.

And its even affected the films. Changing it from any film having the possibility of a nomination, to only serious dramas, and broad epics making the cut, to films being made solely for awards and nothing else.

These films had to be worthy of such an honours, and to do that must belong to an ever narrowing range of genres from biopics, to tales of Suburban angst, to anything involving illicit sex and Nazis that doesn't have the words: Ilsa and She-Wolf in the title.

That brings us to television and awards shows. You the networks need awards shows for several reasons.

1. Award shows are a veritable factory of cheap content. Networks are all owned by big media companies, these media companies need content not only for their networks, but for all the entertainment related shows they have in syndication. Award shows provide content that goes far beyond their three hour plus run-time. Before the awards there are speculation about who will be nominated, who will be snubbed, and most importantly, what they will wear on the red carpet, then comes the post-show analysis of that clothing, who won, who lost, and their speeches. And this goes beyond television, to newspapers, magazines, and web-sites. That's why every award show where there's a chance someone famous might show up is now getting televised.

2. The big media companies need them to win investors. You see there's nothing that impresses a mutual fund manager from Dusseldorf and convince him to invest with your studio than an invite to either a nosebleed seat at an awards show, or to one of the lavish all-star after-parties. There they can have a few drinks, and get an even more intoxicating taste of being among the beautiful people for an evening. Xenu only knows the number of contracts signed because some money man got to shake hands with Angelina Jolie. So the companies promote these events, heavily, not just to win ratings, but to inflate their importance to the people they need to keep the ever precious money flowing.

All of this combines to create an attitude that puts awards show beyond their true status as a way those in a certain trade could honour their own, to the bloated, self-important, ego-fests blighting our airwaves from now til Oscar night.


  1. Jake Was Here29/1/09 2:47 pm

    I don't know why you're not writing for Big Hollywood.

  2. I'm not overtly political enough for Big Hollywood, though I would like a link. My traffic took a big hit when Dirty Harry retired his old site.