It's Not the Awards That Matter | Pushing the Wave

It's Not the Awards That Matter

Culture, 25 January 2024
by L.A. Davenport
Marty the Dapper Wolf by LA Davenport
Marty the Dapper Wolf by L.A. Davenport, 2008, from The Marching Band Emporium. How might he have fared on the red carpet?
As regular readers of Pushing the Wave will be more than aware, I am something of a cinephile, and not just for the movies themselves, although the silver screen is a deep passion of mine, but also for the glamour and intrigue that surrounds them. And no time in the year captures that richness of the cinematographic universe more than the awards season.

It’s not the awards themselves that interest me so much, as I find the idea of ranking artistic endeavour and the giving out of statuettes faintly ludicrous, even if it does tickle some inner human need to identify the ‘best’ of anything, whatever that may mean. Rather, it’s the award ceremonies themselves that fascinate me.

The giving of awards is of course a very theatrical affair that is layered with ritual and hidden meaning, from the opening dialogue to the entrance of the award givers, to the cameras trained on the nominees trying to look utterly at ease, to the hushed tension of the opening of the envelope, to the bellowed announcement of the winner, followed by often the most anticlimactic part: the acceptance speech.

But of course I’m missing out the raucous celebration of the winner with their family and friends, the walk up to the stage to a hammy version of the film’s soundtrack played by the house orchestra, and the cutaways to the losers, who attempt, but fail, to show that they are good sports.

It’s all very entertaining, and the inherent drama of the occasion perhaps explains why there are so many videos of previous awards ceremonies on YouTube, in some cases years, even decades, after they took place.

But yet that is not for me, I have to confess, the most compelling part of the awards ceremony.

That distinction goes to the red carpet, where the nominees and other invited luminaries get to show off their chosen outfit, for the world to gawp at and comment upon, like a cinematic Miss World, but without the bathing costume round.

I shouldn’t like it so much, but I adore poring over photo after photo of celebrities major and minor strutting their stuff before the world’s press, and dissecting their fashion choices.

They know they are going to be photographed, and discussed, so they clearly put a lot of thought into how they will present themselves (although it doesn’t always seem that way), and for anyone who, like me, never shuns an opportunity to dress up, this is, frankly, catnip.

Recently we had the Golden Globes but I found myself disappointed by many of the ensembles worn. However, the recent Emmys delivered in style (Yes, I know these awards celebrate the small, not the big, screen, but it is increasingly hard to say where the line between cinema and television is drawn nowadays. That’s my excuse, anyway.)

I am not going to comment on any individual outfits (although shoutouts to Suki Waterhouse, Aubrey Plaza and Coleman Domingo are merited) but merely observe that there was an interesting split between the coverage in the New York Times and Vanity Fair.

By a long way, the New York Times wins in terms of their often wry comment on the photos, while Vanity Fair carried far more images (although more effort to identify, for example, ‘partners of’ would have been appreciated).

Regardless of publication, it was fascinating to see how the fashion choices differed between stars, leaving me wondering, as always, how much time some of them spend in front of the mirror before they leave their hotel suite.
It is bit late in the day to be giving a review of a movie I watched only earlier this week, but as I have mentioned elsewhere, I am hardly up to date when it comes to film watching, and at least this one was released in the last 12 months—something of a record for me. In any case, it is in the running for several Oscars, so my lateness suddenly seems up to date.

If you are not aware of it already, Killers of The Flower Moon is an epic Western crime drama financed by Apple TV+ and directed and produced by Martin Scorsese, who also co-wrote the script from a non-fiction book of the same name by David Grann.

I will try not to give any plot details away but it stuck me is a remarkably even-handed film that never once falls into the oh-so easy trap with this kind of topic, and with the huge weight of cinematic history behind films of this kind, of exoticizing either Osage Nation or midWest 19th century White society and culture.

This is no mean feat, considering how far removed both are from our daily lives and understanding. We the audience needed to be educated about both if were to understand the attitudes of the Osage and White Americans towards both each other and the discovery of oil, and the corrupting influence of the money it brought.

Much has been made of the runtime, but watching it at home I didn’t find the film particularly long. I was assuming I would watch it over two nights, but the pacing was perfect to sustain the plot for 206 minutes. The build-up to the climax was so well-judged that, by the time we reached the round up at the end, I felt as if I had watched a film of around 90 minutes, not one of more than double that length.

I quote here from two reviews I found particularly apt (I felt the same and could paraphrase, but that would be cheating).

In The New Yorker, Richard Brody said: "Scorsese's control of form and tone, and the bold yet subtle way that he marshals incident, signal that he is intent not merely on narrating history but on troubling the conscience of his (doubtless largely white) audience".

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón added in Variety: “As opposed to the visceral approach of most of his films, Scorsese has chosen a distant and reflective stance, favoring atmosphere over narrative, denying us the easy satisfaction of moral superiority to the men on screen who managed to justify their hideous betrayals of their loved ones and still pretend to have a soul, and confronting audiences with the sin by omission that must rightfully haunt the American soul.”
But it was not all good. Among the leads, Leonardo Di Caprio was oddly flat, and seemed to spend his time searching for the character rather than expressing it. There was little consistency in his acting or what he wanted to do with Ernest Burkhart, and it was hard to see a clear development in the man as he aged, and grew as an individual.

The things Burkhart did and said were remarkable but the way Di Caprio performed them was not. It was almost if he was going through the motions. I could also see almost no difference in his appearance or mannerisms from one scene to the next, and that made it difficult to understand the distance in time between events.

On the other hand, Robert Di Niro was the very essence of quiet menace. Everything he said was layered with double meaning, and every time he was on screen one was compelled to watch him to discern any clues as to what lay beneath his apparently reasonable words.

So much of his drama happened off screen, but he brought enough nuance and subtlety to the role that his obviously manipulative ‘celebrating’ of the Osage people became nauseating. Moreover, Di Niro’s steadily increasing frailty over the course of the film added an urgency to the idea that he should face justice.

The greatest praise should be given to Lilly Gladstone, however, who fully deserved her Best Actress award at the Golden Globes earlier this month for a performance that will be talked about for years to come. She inhabited the role so completely, and her poise and ability to convey a sense of sophistication that was utterly absent in the characters around her stole every scene she was in.

She was the centre of the film in every way, and in my opinion made Di Caprio look ordinary, from the initial courtship scenes to their denouement. It was impossible not to be drawn into her character’s suffering and her desire to carry that suffering with grace. Without it the film could have come across as a reconstructed documentary, especially with the rather unvaried pacing in the first two thirds of the film.

Besides the three central performances, there was much to appreciate in the supporting characters, and the cinematography was beautiful. I also appreciated Scorsese’s lack of trickery in his direction.

The score, by composer Robbie Robertson (who died two months prior to the film's release), was atmospheric and haunting, and successfully married musical elements from both cultures.

If this is the kind of film Scorsese can bring out at 81 years of age, I wish him a long and fruitful career to come.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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It's Not the Awards That Matter | Pushing the Wave