Os­cars’ bold (or blah?) fu­ture

On the face of it, a bor­ing choice for film academy. But there’s more to John Bai­ley.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Glenn Whipp

John Bai­ley is the newly elected pres­i­dent of the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences (af­ter Tues­day night’s vote), prompt­ing two im­me­di­ate ques­tions.

1) What hap­pened to Laura Dern, pre­sumed to be ev­ery­one’s choice (and academy chief ex­ec­u­tive Dawn Hud­son’s pick) for the job?

2) Who on Earth is John Bai­ley?

The an­swer to the first ques­tion is pretty sim­ple. De­spite ru­mors to the con­trary, Dern didn’t want the job and de­clined to ac­cept the nom­i­na­tion when her name was put for­ward.

More specif­i­cally, the 50year-old actress, didn’t be­lieve she’d have time to ful­fill the de­mands of the un­paid po­si­tion. Dern, who just earned an Emmy nom­i­na­tion for HBO’s “Big Lit­tle Lies” and who can cur­rently be seen in Show­time’s “Twin Peaks,” has roles in the up­com­ing high-pro­file movies “Down­siz­ing” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”; even as the academy board of gover­nors gath­ered to vote, it was an­nounced that she would be star­ring in the Ed Zwick drama “Trial by Fire,”

which begins shoot­ing in Oc­to­ber.

So, yes, she has enough on her plate with­out hav­ing to deal with the over-bud­get, be­hind-sched­ule ef­fort to build an academy movie mu­seum in Los An­ge­les, not to men­tion the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s con­tin­ued push to di­ver­sify its mem­ber­ship ranks.

En­ter Bai­ley, a vet­eran cine­matog­ra­pher with a lengthy ré­sumé (“Amer­i­can Gigolo,” “Ground­hog Day,” “As Good as It Gets”) and a strong record of academy ser­vice, in­clud­ing 14 years on the board of gover­nors.

Bai­ley pre­vailed over the only other can­di­date, prom­i­nent cast­ing di­rec­tor David Ru­bin, whose cred­its in­clude “Wild,” the 2014 drama in which Dern played Reese Wither­spoon’s mother. They were the only two gover­nors who wanted the job. The vote wasn’t con­tentious. Bai­ley won.

The choice is, on the face of it, any­way, bor­ing. Dern would have been the first actress since Bette Davis to head the academy, bring­ing her star power, Hol­ly­wood lin­eage (she’s the daugh­ter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd) and gen­eral cool vibe to the thank­less job of be­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pub­lic face.

In­stead, the gig went to a rel­a­tively un­known older white male (Bai­ley turns 75 on Thurs­day), part of the de­mo­graphic ma­jor­ity for which the academy has taken heat. (The academy has added 1,457 mem­bers in the last two years, bring­ing its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women to 28% from 27% and mi­nori­ties to 13% from 11%.)

But that take is a su­per­fi­cial read­ing. You want to know Bai­ley? Read the blog he keeps on the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Cine­matog­ra­phers web­site, which he in­tro­duced in 2009, writ­ing: “I can’t prom­ise you that any of what I say will con­form to the tenets of Carte­sian logic, or much less, have any im­me­di­ate rel­e­vance to your daily con­cerns as cine­matog­ra­phers. What I will try to do is draw out what I know as a per­son in­ter­ested in the arts and how it in­ter­sects my work as a cine­matog­ra­pher.”

The man is con­ver­sant with the tenets of Carte­sian logic. Think he can’t deal with cost over­runs on a movie mu­seum?

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Bai­ley ex­presses a deep and abid­ing love for for­eign cin­ema, dove­tail­ing nicely with the academy’s re­cent out­reach, which has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased its in­ter­na­tional ranks. Bai­ley has served on the academy’s for­eign lan­guage film ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, help­ing steer the nom­i­nees for that Os­car cat­e­gory. He writes of­ten about his pas­sion for these movies, say­ing they of­fer “un­ex­pected win­dows into worlds far re­moved from our priv­i­leged Amer­i­can per­spec­tive.”

“On the sur­face, for­eign movies do not have the ca­chet they once had on U.S. screens,” Bai­ley writes, “but each year the en­tries in the AMPAS for­eign-lan­guage-film com­pe­ti­tion give ev­i­dence of a vi­brant cin­e­matic con­ti­nu­ity in a global mar­ket that is in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by comic-book may­hem and ex­plod­ing body parts.”

Bai­ley has also writ­ten about the mu­sic of avan­te­garde artist John Cage, the sculp­tures of Jean Tinguely and the writ­ings of Carl Jung. He’s con­ver­sant in Go­dard and Woody Guthrie, Buddy Guy and Nige­rian cin­ema. He’s no square. Will Bai­ley be the kind of leader to em­brace and con­tinue push­ing for­ward the academy’s re­cent ini­tia­tives to­ward a more in­clu­sive mem­ber­ship and bet­ter work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for women and peo­ple of color in Hol­ly­wood? Only he can an­swer that.

But as one of only two peo­ple who wanted the job, he has the op­por­tu­nity to gov­ern the group into a fu­ture that can be bold or blah.

If he’s at all in­flu­enced by the artists he writes about, Bai­ley should opt for the dar­ing.

Va­lerie Ma­con Getty Im­ages

JOHN BAI­LEY is a vet­eran cine­matog­ra­pher with a lengthy academy ser­vice record. Now, he’s pres­i­dent.

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