Monday, February 13, 2006

Bravery & Courage... When It's Safe

Hollywood: No one lavishes more care and expense on saying nothing.

That's what National Review's Mark Steyn says in today's preview of the recent cover story for the new issue... Phoney Baloney. (Consider subscribing.)

This time of year the media buzzes with excitement. For some reason folks eat up all the Oscar chit-chat, even when ticket sales are down. Forget the box office when causes and principles and courage are at stake:
...George Clooney’s triple Oscar nominations for acting, writing, and directing are said to be a significant moment in the life of the nation, and not just by George Clooney, though his effusions on his own “bravery” certainly set a high mark. “We jumped in on our own,” he said, discussing Good Night, and Good Luck with Entertainment Weekly. “And there was no reason to think it was going to get any easier. But people in Hollywood do seem to be getting more comfortable with making these sorts of movies now. People are becoming braver.”
Bravery? You made a slanted talkie about the McCarthy Era, son! USA Today says other films took on tough issues. Really? Like what?
…“Brokeback and Capote for their portrayal of gay characters; Crash for its examination of racial tension; Night for its call for more watchdog journalism; and Munich for its take.” Whoops, my mistake. That should be “Munich for its take on terrorism.” In their combined take at the box office, these Best Picture nominees have the lowest grosses since 1986. That means very few people have seen them. Which in turn means these Oscars are likely to have the lowest audience ever. Okay, maybe not ever. In 1929, they handed them out to an audience of 270 in the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and no doubt by the time you add in overseas viewership from the many chapters of the Jon Stewart Fan Club this year’s audience will be up around 309.

The fact that hardly anybody has seen these films does not in and of itself mean that they’re not artistic masterpieces. That’s why the Oscars are important: They can shine a light on undeservedly neglected art-house jewels that might otherwise get overlooked. But you couldn’t exactly call Brokeback Mountain overlooked. It’s the Jungfrau, it’s the peak of cinematic achievement. It’s an Everest papered from base camp to summit in rave reviews. And in the week the Oscar nominations were announced the world’s most ballyhooed art-house obscurity added another 435 theaters to its outlets — and business declined 13 percent.
Now, like I said, we can't just consider the box office. Um, well then how do we figure that Titanic won over L.A. Confidential? If anything, Titanic ONLY had box office going for it and L.A. Confidential had quality as well as crooked cops, a crooked DA, and evil political machinations in America's golden age... the 50s. Why didn't the Acadamy like that message?

Actually, that's a good question. It might be the fact that L.A. Confidential didn't pander to the audience, didn't play to the lowest common denominator, challenged viewers to pay attention and follow a slightly complex plot, used character with good and dark sides, etc. However, there might be more to it. Always worth looking at that film.

In any case, Cloony and his courage:
…Clooney’s other Oscar movie, Syriana, in which he stars and exec-produces, reveals that behind a murky Middle East conspiracy lies . . . the CIA and Big Oil! In Good Night, and Good Luck, he’s produced a film set in the McCarthy era that could have been made in the Jimmy Carter era. That’s to say, it takes into account absolutely nothing that has come to light in the last quarter-century — not least the relevant KGB files on Soviet penetration of America. To take one example that could stand for Clooney’s entire approach to the subject, Good Night includes shocking scenes of Senator McCarthy accusing Annie Lee Moss, who worked in a highly sensitive decoding job in the Pentagon, of being a Communist, and the heroic Edward R. Murrow then denouncing McCarthy’s behavior.

But we now know, from the party’s own files, that Miss Moss was, indeed, a Communist. What should we conclude from the absence of this detail in the picture? That Clooney, who goes around boasting that every moment in the screenplay has been “double-sourced” for accuracy, simply doesn’t know she’s a Commie? Or that he does know but thinks it’s harmless? That she, like he and Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, is merely exercising her all-American “right to dissent,” in her case in the Pentagon Signal Corps’ code room? If so, that’s a subtly different argument than Murrow was making: It’s one thing to argue that it’s all a paranoid fantasy on the part of obsessed Red-baiters, quite another to shrug, hey, sure they were Commies, but what’s the big deal?

Or is it that Clooney doesn’t care either way? That what matters is the “meta-narrative” — the journalist as hero, “speaking truth to power,” no matter if the journalist is wrong and wields more power than most politicians. Even if one discounts the awkward fact that these days CBS News is better known for speaking twaddle to power — over the fake National Guard memos to which Dan Rather remains so attached — the reality is that the idea of the big media crusader simply doesn’t resonate with any section of the American public other than the big media themselves…
Twaddle to power. That fits. Not just Hollywood, but news. Look at the locals... we've long noticed the excessive happy-talk, sweet feature stories in the kicker block, and either an agenda to push in the top block or enough ignorance to not know the difference.

Neither the news nor Hollywood have the courage to look at real news consistantly. Last Friday the Dutiful and Beautiful Mrs. Badda-Blogger folded clothes on the Coma-Couch while watching television... waiting for me to finish some nonsense on my computer. We were going to grab a DVD and relax. However, when I got there she was watching one of the magazine shows and it had a feature story on young girls stuck in prostitution. I said, "For eff's sake, what are you watching?!?!?! Don't you know this is February?" She didn't immediately know what I meant. Sweet, young girls... lost with no chances in life... yanked into a Dickensian scenario with no way out... used by lustful, evil, married men. This script was old when I was in college!

Try something new. Your audience is going elsewhere... and it isn't getting better for you.


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