Saturday, March 10, 2018

HORROR, SCI-FI, AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY SCORE BIG AT THE OSCARS



I must first tell you that I haven't watched more than a few scant minutes of the Academy Awards in quite a few years. While I appreciate the Academy maintaining a tradition that gives those lucky enough to win one of its categories a pat on the back and a hunk of a gold-plated Britannia metal doorstop to remember it by, I view it largely as a collective, annual secular ritual of self-indulgence on a monstrous scale that has progressively (pun intended) become a platform for lopsided political views. Hey, if they want their festivities hijacked by a group of what's as close to a moral mafia as one can get that's their business, I guess. But the fact remains, this year's broadcast had the smallest TV viewing audience since 1974. That's the same year when audience data began to be recorded. So, what does that tell you? That Academy execs keep running into the same wall and expecting different results?

Frankly, I don't think they give a hoot. Take this acute observation for example: "The ceremonies are a two-hour (that right there should tell you how old this quote is) meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons." Could this have been said recently by somebody like say, Clint Eastwood? Nope. It was George C. Scott in 1970 (!) announcing in advance he wouldn't accept the Oscar if he won because the politics surrounding the Awards were "demeaning". Irony of ironies followed when, during the Best Actor segment of that year's Awards, presenter Goldie Hawn opened the envelope and squeaked: "Oh my God! The winner is George C. Scott!" The film's producer accepted the award on Mr. Scott's behalf. Scott was home at his farm in New York, no doubt, tending his animals.

Just a couple of years later, in 1972, the Apache/Yaqui/Pueblo/French/German/Dutch Sacheen Littlefeather stepped up to the podium on behalf of Marlon Brando's Oscar refusal and ranted on against Hollywood's treatment of American Indians (now more accurately referred to as "aboriginal Americans"). Littlefeather, nee Cruz, thought so much of how her ancestors were being exploited that she decided in a thoughtful retreat from reality to pose nude for the October, 1973 issue of PLAYBOY. Interestingly enough, you don't see that little factoid brought up in her WIKI bio. As for Brando, other than his role as Col. Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW in 1979, he was unbankable, continued to gain weight until he was obese at over 300 lbs., contracted Type 2 diabetes as a result, and was pretty much left to reminisce in obscurity in Tahiti about the good ol' days. Put that in your fact-checker and smoke it, people.

Which brings me to another topic that is so glaringly obvious about the Oscars and Hollywood in general, that it openly hides in plain sight. Unless you've been living under the proverbial rock, it's once again open season on gun control with the Tinseltown cognoscenti. This dried up social/political road kill has been trotted out and run over more times in recent years than I can count. Personally, I think that it is high time to you-know-what or get off the pot and make some changes (i.e. more stringent background checks) on not only assault-type weapons, but all guns that are sold, a more rigorous program to keep any type of gun out of the hands of the diagnosed mentally ill, and enforce the laws that are already on the books. And, oh yeah, raise the minimum purchase age to twenty-one.

The MeToo Movement was also out in force, although it appeared that the women were tired of wearing black and opted for their more traditional Oscar garish garb.


Perhaps the biggest hypocrisy of all is that a good many of these causes are based on the underlying theme of violence and bloodshed. So, while well-meaning but ignorant actors are railing about gun control, the use of guns in their films is out of control. There's no denying the road to Hollywood is paved in rivers of blood, but movies are still being cranked out that are awash in violence and gore. That includes horror films, but hey, that's to be expected, right?

Host Jimmy Kimmel paved the way for all of this with numerous statements that he made in his opening monologue. This is one of them: "So, if you do win an Oscar tonight, we want you to give a speech [hear that, Martin Landau?- MMW]. We want you to say whatever you feel needs to be said. Speak from the heart. We want passion. You have an opportunity and a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment." With all his spiel about fairness and the wisdom that comes along with it, he still couldn't help himself by taking a few, unnecessary but unsurprising jabs at the political right and -- like a typical schoolyard bully -- took humorless potshots at people who were not there to defend themselves. Jeez, the Oscars are supposed to be the one time when everyone in the industry celebrates each other, not a roast for selected individuals who diverge from, or don't agree with, their "unified" message. Or, maybe not.

Despite the rank and churlish cloud of social commentary that hung over the 4-hour long, 90th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre, it was nevertheless pleasing to see that horror and science-fiction films came away with some big wins this year. Guillermo del Toro's THE SHAPE OF WATER wins Best Picture and he himself takes the Oscar for Best Director. It also took the award for Best Original Music Score and Best Production Design. Jordan Peele won for his screenplay of GET OUT, the racially-charged story masquerading as a horror film. BLADE RUNNER 2049 won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. Not a bad haul for one show. On a personal note, I was quite happy to see Gary "Dracula" Oldman win the Oscar for Best Actor, right after his Golden Globe take-home just a week or so before. Oldman is an ace of an actor and I don't ever think I have seen him walk through one of his roles. Kudos to Alison Janey, too. I've always liked her work.

So, what does the future hold for the Academy and, indeed, Oscar himself? I don't believe much will change. Actors will still be happy to tell the world about how things should be based upon their superior intellect and vast life experience, and traditions will still erode against the tide of activism. I also predict that, now that Hollywood has covered most of the social agenda, the "next big thing" down the pike will probably be something in the nature of sexual "liberation". Transgender-ism comes to mind. After all, THE SHAPE OF WATER is an unnatural (now called "outsider") love story at its core, and violation of the sexual norm can easily thrive within the inherent outre context of the horror, science-fiction and fantasy film.

Hollywood will remain polarized, as it has really always been. For years, actors and actresses with a different opinion have had to lurk silently in the shadows for fear of being ratted out and blacklisted in certain circles. It is amusing to see that the same, condescending and opinionated people are now being voraciously eaten by their own, and the survivors of this Hollywood zombie apocalypse are falling over themselves in a race to the media microphone to voice their horror and displeasure at the atrocities of their fair-weather fellow travelers. I wonder when the smoke finally clears, if will there be anyone left at all besides the drug-addled and homeless on the streets of Hollywood. But then they might be the next subject to be appropriated for exploitation.

If they weren't so intent on spending their purposely atheistic lives reading their next pile of scripts, they might pause and remember the instructive words of a certain Good Book from the dim distant past that warns against casting the first stone.

The reviews shown below are from the April 2018 issue of TOTAL FILM.





BONUS: A history of the Oscars from TOTAL FILM, April 2018.





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