An es­cape from re­al­ity into the world of movies

The en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of movies con­firms the hu­man need to es­cape re­al­ity

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - TONY LO PRESTI Tony Lo Presti is a former ed­u­ca­tor and former Hamil­to­nian.

The pub­lic’s fas­ci­na­tion with movies and movie stars man­i­fests it­self in the hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple who an­nu­ally watch the Academy Awards cer­e­mony (a.k.a. the Os­cars) world­wide.

The show (which will be tele­cast on Sun­day) is not just about hon­our­ing cine­matic ex­cel­lence. It is also about max­i­miz­ing box-of­fice grosses: an Os­car stat­uette (em­blem­atic of the pin­na­cle of achieve­ment in the film in­dus­try) in­creases the rev­enues of win­ning films and the salaries of win­ning ac­tors in their next film. In Hol­ly­wood, art and profit have a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship.

For over a cen­tury now, mo­tion pic­tures have en­abled au­di­ences to tem­po­rar­ily es­cape from real life into the “reel life” of movie char­ac­ters whose prob­lems mostly cul­mi­nate in suc­cess and a happy end­ing. The en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of movies con­firms the hu­man need to es­cape re­al­ity through en­ter­tain­ment and demon­strates the pow­er­ful role that cine­matic il­lu­sion plays in so­ci­ety and its cul­ture. Many fans live vi­car­i­ously through the on­screen roles and off­screen lives of their favourite movie stars, re­sult­ing in some fans be­ing in­cen­tivized to pur­sue a ca­reer in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try (the sub­ject of Best Pic­ture nom­i­nee La La Land). Sadly, the re­al­ity of life does not al­ways match the il­lu­sion of movies and the pur­suit of one’s Hol­ly­wood dreams does not al­ways cul­mi­nate in suc­cess — for each per­son who makes it in la-la land, there are mul­ti­tudes who fail.

The Os­car show is es­sen­tially a celebration of Hol­ly­wood — the birth­place of Amer­i­can cinema and legendary city of dream ful­fil­ment, where with tal­ent, op­por­tu­nity, and luck, an un­known as­pi­rant can be cat­a­pulted into cine­matic and box of­fice promi­nence and achieve fame and for­tune. Of in­ter­est to Cana­di­ans at this year’s Os­cars is ac­tor Ryan Gosling, who hails from On­tario and went to high school in Burling­ton. Gosling fol­lowed his dream of be­com­ing a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, de­fied the odds in re­al­iz­ing it, and has been re­warded with cine­matic achieve­ment — early last month he won a best ac­tor award at the Golden Globes for La La Land. Many are hop­ing that he will re­peat that suc­cess at the Os­cars. Cana­dian pride will soar if he wins, but he faces tough com­pe­ti­tion.

Al­though some de­pre­ci­ate the Os­car cer­e­mony as a self-glo­ri­fy­ing ex­er­cise in Hol­ly­wood nar­cis­sism and van­ity, it is the top-rated and most viewed en­ter­tain­ment awards show of the year. It at­tracts view­ers by of­fer­ing more than just the an­nounc­ing of nom­i­nees, the open­ing of en­velopes, and the dis­pens­ing of stat­uettes to win­ners. The show cap­ti­vates its view­ers with its lav­ish glitz, pageantry, and en­ter­tain­ment: the fash­ion dis­play and in­ter­views dur­ing the red car­pet en­trance of the at­ten­dees, and the on­stage singing, danc­ing, show­ing of movie clips, and comic re­lief pro­vided dur­ing the show.

But an­other in­duce­ment for watch­ing the Os­car spec­ta­cle is its use as a plat­form to protest so­cial or po­lit­i­cal in­jus­tice. Last year many black celebri­ties de­nounced the lack of di­ver­sity in the 2015 and 2016 Os­car nom­i­na­tions.

This year the Academy cor­rected this ex­clu­sion with a record-set­ting six black nom­i­nees in the act­ing cat­e­gory. And when doc­u­men­tary film­maker Michael Moore won an Os­car for Bowl­ing for Columbine in 2002, he used the podium to lam­baste pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s “fic­ti­tious rea­sons” for in­vad­ing Iraq, and chal­lenged his le­git­i­macy by be­wail­ing the “fic­ti­tious elec­tion re­sults that elects a fic­ti­tious Pres­i­dent.” Con­sid­er­ing the shadow of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the re­cent U.S. elec­tion, Moore’s pre­scient words aptly de­scribe the way many peo­ple feel about Trump and his elec­tion.

As evinced by Trump’s in­abil­ity to attract elite movie and mu­sic celebri­ties in his cam­paign and in­au­gu­ra­tion, it is no se­cret that the Hol­ly­wood com­mu­nity — which is tra­di­tion­ally left-wing — har­bours anti-Trump sen­ti­ments. Meryl Streep re­flected this bias at the Golden Globes last month, when on re­ceiv­ing an hon­orary award, she cas­ti­gated Trump for mim­ick­ing the phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties of a re­porter: “Dis­re­spect in­vites dis­re­spect, vi­o­lence in­vites vi­o­lence. When the pow­er­ful use their po­si­tion to bully oth­ers, we all lose.” Her re­marks drew au­di­ence ap­plause, but also in­vited a Trump tweet that la­belled Streep as an “over­rated ac­tress” and a “Hil­lary flunky.” Trump’s re­tal­ia­tory, dis­re­spect­ful, and bul­ly­ing words con­firmed both the truth of what Streep said and Trump’s thin-skinned lack of for­bear­ance.

Un­de­ni­ably, Amer­ica (and the world) is gripped in the throes of a bit­ter schism be­tween Trump op­po­nents and sup­port­ers. Given that Trump’s elec­tion and ac­tions have sparked a firestorm of mass demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton and in many ci­ties in­side and out­side the U.S., view­ers al­ready an­tic­i­pate anti-Trump side-swipes at the Os­cars. But this po­lit­i­cally charged cli­mate has been in­ten­si­fied in Hol­ly­wood by Academy Awards pres­i­dent Ch­eryl Boone Isaacs’ re­cent de­nun­ci­a­tion of Trump’s travel ban at the an­nual Os­car nom­i­nees’ lun­cheon — where she ex­horted nom­i­nees “to stand up” po­lit­i­cally so as to “be­come agents of change.”

Will Isaac’s words be heeded and in­cite sub­stan­tial po­lit­i­cal dis­sent at this year’s Os­cars, or not? Aside from find­ing out if one’s favourite nom­i­nees will win, this is a com­pelling ques­tion for watch­ing this year’s show. That’s be­cause in this tur­bu­lent win­ter of divi­sion and protest, the sub­ject of Trump’s dis­rup­tive pres­i­dency is ubiq­ui­tous — and looms large in the minds of Amer­i­cans and non-Amer­i­cans alike.


The Os­car spec­ta­cle is of­ten used as a plat­form to protest so­cial or po­lit­i­cal in­jus­tice. What will hap­pen this year, the year of Trump?

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