Monday, March 06, 2006

Bark: By George!

It's such a shame that they don't show the Oscars on BBC TV anymore. My girlfriend and I are both cinema buffs, and we used to watch it live, even though we'd often both be working the next morning.

Today, however, I've had to catch up with the awards via the internet and radio.

First and foremost, I'm delighted that George Clooney got the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana (which, by a complete non-coincidence, I saw yesterday), because despite being one of the most sickeningly talented, funny and damnedly good looking men on the planet, he's been making some fabulous films recently, and deserves on for simply standing up and rocking the political boat.

Syriana is an excellent film: it reminds me of Heat in the way that it's shot, plus the density of character and plotting. There are around half a dozen similar plot strands winding their way through the film, which all bind together in the last half hour in a shattering conclusion. For moviegoers weaned on Jerry Bruckheimer blockbusters, it's undoubtedly very heavy going, and therefore not for everyone, but it's thought-provoking, ambivalent and unsettling stuff; especially the (literally) nail-pulling torture scene. It has a fabulous cast, all on top form, as well.

It's not quite as good a film as the other George Clooney picture out at the moment (Good Night, and Good Luck), though not by much. I saw that last Sunday, and was very surprised to see a woman bringing her three kids (not one older than about 12) to see it with her. I wasn't surprised to see them walk out after less than an hour. I doubt McCarthyism is up very high on tweenies' hot button list.

What makes it a fascinating film, though, is that by watching it, you realise just how little governments have learned over the last fifty years, and how little the news media companies have learned, or are wilfully ignorant of.

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." - Edward Murrow on questioning the political power of the time.

"[If] this instrument [Television] is good for nothing to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful." - Edward Murrow on the responsibility of Television News and Television Networks.

Both of these statements can be equally applied to governments and television networks today; particularly the US government and the Murdock press. It's almost as if the last 50 years never happened. It's depressing to think that for all our vaunted technology and sophisticated entertainment media, we're no more politically or philosophically enlightened than we were 50 years ago. It's a must see film, as far as I'm concerned.

Getting back to the Oscars, it's nice to see that a single film didn't sweep all the awards, Titanic-style. Even better, Wallace & Gromit got the nod for Best Animated Film, which is fabulous. I never did get around to seeing Corpse Bride, but W&G is so quintessentially British, it's nice to see it get the award over a "home-grown" Hollywood product.

So, on the whole, I think it was a good ceremony this year, with a more surprises than usual; particularly for Best Film. I was watching some late night BBC News 24 on Friday night, where some US journalists were complaining that the Oscars have somehow "lost touch" with the US cinema going public because none of the highest grossing films were nominated for the highest profile awards... Personally, I don't think that's such a bad thing: having films recognised and publicised that don't necessarily set out to purely entertain, but send a message and get people thinking about the world they live in. Crash will be going on my DVD "to-rent" list, I know that much.

Call me a snob, but to hell with populism; I want more from my entertainment media than "merely wires and lights in a box"...
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