Monday, February 27, 2012

Nostalgia, The Oscars and "The Artist"

LAST night's Academy Awards confirmed expectations that movies pining for the art of the past (the French past, in some cases) would walk away with the most trophies. The big winner, of course, was The Artist, which snagged best actor for Jean Dujardin, best director for Michel Hazanavicius and best picture.

Scorsese's Hugo, set in a Paris train station in the '30s and with a backstory involving early, experimental French cinema, picked up five technical awards, and Woody Allen's deeply nostalgic Midnight in Paris won best original screenplay.

Douglas Fairbanks, a model for Jean Dujardin's Artist 
At about the same tine, a recent LA Times story looking at the demographics of Academy voters -- as heavily weighted toward older white men as the Iowa caucases that often help determine the presidential races -- shows that some voters have quite a direct connection to the art of the past.

On Friday I was part of a good group -- including the Times' John Horn -- on Warren Olney's To The Point -- discussing nostalgia and the Oscars. Here is a link to that show.

We only scratched the surface, especially since I took the conversation a bit off track, into music and politics -- but I think it was lively. I should point out that I think The Artist and Hugo are very fine movies and do not need nostalgia to make them appealing.

(When I met with Michel Hazanavicius, the writer/director of The Artist, for a feature on the film, he talked about his love of Murnau, Fritz Lang and other silent filmmakers. But he didn't see the movie as being entirely about the silent era, but rather about a character caught in a universal struggle. "I think he's afraid of changing. One of the themes of the movie is a man in a transition -- something we all go through. It's something that happens to everyone at least once in their lives." And Hugo was, its setting aside, more deeply about a search for the father and the origins he represented.)

But with Academy voters, pining for the good old days didn't hurt, especially these anxious times.

The issue helps explain why otherwise strong films -- Bridesmaids, Melancholia -- were virtually shut out this year.

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