The embarrassing mix-up for the award of Best Film at the Oscars last week in some ways represents the current situation of the United States itself.
The award was initially given to “La La Land” which is a completely escapist film that harks back to the escapist films of Busby Berkeley in the 1930’s. Then, as now, Hollywood deemed that the unemployed, the dispossessed, the angry masses needed to escape into a world of music, glamour, dance and catchy music. Give them a romance and a struggle by a pretty girl to get to the top in some Broadway show, sing and dance with a handsome leading man and let the camera play around with as many different ways as possible of getting sequined ladies opening umbrellas or kicking their legs.
It was geometric in result and even now fascinating to look at, but a million miles away from the lives that the film-watchers would walk back out into after they left the cinema.
The world they walked into had been pitched into near total collapse and mass unemployment by the gambling of the New York Stock Exchange (Wall Street) in 1929. In 2007 the World saw the beginning of what has become known as the “Global Financial Crisis”. Again, the gambling of stockbrokers and financiers caused a near melt-down of the world’s largest economy (U.S.A.) and subsequent problems for most of the countries in the world.
“La La Land”, when it opened, received almost unanimous praise from the film critics. It seemed that they were carried away with the film’s obvious homage to the past, the Busby Berkeley type dancing and singing on a Los Angeles highway, using car roofs as a stage, the “Singing In The Rain” type scenes as the two forlorn lovers walked the streets of an almost deserted city and sang to each other in a similarly deserted park. The use of Jazz (the popular musical form of the 1930’s and 40’s) as the male hero’s obsession.
Like the Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s the cinema-goers would be walking out to a very different world when they left their “Movie House” in some “Rust Belt” town that had seen its factories closed and fall into ruins and where many of the young people survived without a job or from their basic pay job at some restaurant or in a supermarket.
“La La Land” was a very different film to “Moonlight” which was the film that actually won the Best Picture Oscar after the initial chaos of getting the wrong cast and filmmakers to go up on stage and even start to make their acceptance speeches!
In “Moonlight” we are into the life of Chiron, the small, sensitive bullied son of a single crack-cocaine addict mother living in a tough Latino-Black area of Miami Florida. It traces Chiron’s life from a young bullied boy, through to his teenage years and finally his drift into being a drug dealer as a young, confused and mentally bruised adult.
We see the realities of life as one of the underclass in modern U.S.A. It does not hide us from the anger, the degradation, the poverty, the crime, the addiction to drugs as a way out of a living hell. It is what I have always called a “hedge backwards” film in that it has the effect on your mind of having had a harsh physical work out, such as being dragged through a hedge backwards.
Going into a cinema to see this film would be like taking the harsh world outside in with you to our Rust Belt film-goer. It is not an easy watch, it makes you uncomfortable as it lays down a harsh slice of real life for you to see and think about. But, to my mind, it is all the better for acknowledging the realities of life in the U.S. (and many other countries) today.
It was a trailblazing film in that it was written by, directed and starred predominantly black actors (or Latino ones). Following the last two years where no black actor, writer or film had been nominated for any sort of Oscar, it could be seen as Hollywood’s attempt to even-up things from a publicity point-of-view.
I think that, if it were only seen in that light, then it would be a real shame. Is it the best film ever made? No. Is it the best acted? No. But, in my opinion, it is light years better than “La La Land”.
On a personal note, I would have given the best Film Oscar to “Lion”.
This was a real life story about a young Indian boy who finishes up on a train that takes him nearly 1000 miles across India to the teeming city of Mumbai where he mixes in to the street urchin life until he is rescued by an orphanage that eventually gets him adopted by a childless couple in Tasmania, Australia.
The boy grows up to be a very sensible and accomplished man who has an obsession with finding his real mother in India. Through the help of “Google Earth” and much painstaking research, he eventually manages to track the village where he was born.
The cinematography was brilliant, the acting was superb and it had a feel-good ending, that was not made up but really happened! Something for the rust-belt cinema-goer to feel pleased about when they emerge into their reality.