The Big Issue

Oscars have come and gone. I missed the ceremony this year but I did see the BAFTAS which were probably better due in part to the nominees (“The Constant Gardener” replaced “Munich” in most categories and is clearly a better film). The academy selected the films they believed were the most important films of the year. But which film has the issue that should be praised above the others? I haven’t yet seen “Good Night, and Good Luck” (attacking current media info-tainment and attempts to limit free speech) or “Capote” (the only film to be nominated that is more character study than issue-driven) but am sure that they will be well worth a look. On Saturday Hannah and I happened to rent Best Motion Picture of the Year; “Crash“. This was an excellent film, very well handled and the way the separate stories and characters were affected by each other was beautifully done but we both felt the race issue but a bit heavy handed and forced in places. Here reality seemed to be distorted to make things seem worse than they are (like the state of relationships were made to out to be nothing but hellish in “Closer“). Maybe I’m just being naive, being white and middle class and not living in the U.S., but have these issues not been dealt with and addressed in cinema countless times over the last few decades (e.g. “To Kill a Mockingbird“, “A Time to Kill“, just off the top of my head)? Is the situation not better now then it has been in the past or are racial prejudices and racial tensions so bad now that this film is really that important? Certainly the script has been around since at least 2001 according to the IMDB (where these links will take you). I just thought it was a very well made film that was refreshing in that every racial group demonstrates their own predjudices e.g. the Don Cheadle character referring to his girlfriend/partner as being Mexican when she is infact half Puerto Rican and half El Salvadorian. This too has been done before in films like “Traffic“.
Even “Brokeback Mountain” which was also excellent is deemed important not because it is a wonderfully written love story that is superbly filmed and acted but because it is a gay cowboy love story. I just thought it was great because the gay characters were not relegated to the side lines or presented as being riotously camp so that they were the focus of humour but this has similarly been done before in other genres (E.g. “Wilde“, “My Own Private Idaho“). Maybe because these films remind the viewer how much worse the situation could be (i.e. if the whole of the U.S. went back to the racism and homophobia that it had in the 60’s), they are considered safe and worthy of being rewarded and why more revealing and potentially dangerous films like “The Constant Gardener” and “Syriana” were kept out of the best picture and best director categories. “Philadelphia“, which isn’t a great film, managed to show a sympathetic and realistic gay character and a black character who is biggoted and predjudiced in the same film and that was over ten years ago. If the academy is arguing that “Crash” and “Brokeback Mountain” deserved to triumph because they are well made films then that’s one thing but I suspect that it was their issues that lead them to victory and kept other well made films out of contention.

5 thoughts on “The Big Issue”

  1. The US is so polarised right now that almost every movie that isn’t total prolefeed is “political.”

    In the current climate Hollywood is one of the few places where you will see a liberal point of view expressed, therefore the artists working there feel duty-bound to try to redress the balance. It’s worth noting that there are large chunks of the US where Brokeback Mountain would not play well. At least one cinema owner (in the Mormon mecca Salt Lake City) refused to play it. He did, however, play Saw II, which clearly upholds his Christian values.

    To be honest, there are parts of the US which are just as racist and homophobic as they were forty years ago. A few years ago movies like these would not have been so much of an issue as they have been this year. Due to the lamentable rise of the religious right in the US, these liberal movies are now beacons which the American lefties flock to.

    Note how all of the movies (with the possible exception of Munich) espouse liberal values. Right now no Hollywood studio would make a movie in which a man who kills abortionists is shown as a hero, but plenty of people in the US right now would pay to see it, and I can forsee a time when making such a movie would become viable in the USA.

  2. I suppose liberal is the word. Actually now you mention it I found “Munich” to be liberal in the sense that the filmmakers took great care to present a balanced view (maybe why they chose the bland and anonymous Bana in the lead and claimed that the story was only “based on real events”). “Syriana” seemed to having a bit more of a go at the U.S. even if that stance was complicated by noble deeds by American characters. Just complicated in general, actually!

  3. But – and bear in mind I haven’t seen the film – aren’t all the leads playing Mossad agents? Portraying members of the Israeli secret service as heroes could be seen as pretty contentious if you’re Arab.

    I think if I watch Munich I’d like to see it in conjuction with One Day in September and do a little reading up around the event.

    Bana is anything but bland in his first movie, Chopper, which I rented the other day. Absolutely cracking performance.

  4. How tiresome. For some reason my responses to a bunch of comments as well as your comment on the Pub post, Dave, seem to have dissapeared. Lig, all I said was, see “Munich” and then tell what you think. Dave, an “Entertainment” post is in the offing. Then for the benefit of any US readers I’ll have to introduce a “Wildcard” subject.

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