Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Read what Timothy Sparks had to say about The Oscars

In the Wings: A view of the Oscars
The Oscars night was very interesting especially because of Daniel Day-Lewis’ acceptance speech. Like his Father before him, Day-Lewis has a way with words: “A frost came in the night and stole my world and left his changeling for it- a precocious! Image of Spring too brilliant to be true,” (‘Hard Frost’- Cecil Day-Lewis). Day-Lewis’ son whose audacious career includes ‘Room with A view’, ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘Age of Innocence’ and the telling film ‘My Left Foot’ makes one fall in love with cinema and is probably the greatest actor in the English-speaking world.
The French film ‘Amour’ won the Best Foreign Film but did not win the popular envelope in spite of a strong story, and a sensitive depiction of the mental and emotional disintegration of an old couple in their twilight years. The film was forgotten before it was made, because real film art animates rather than smelling of burnt popcorn.  The glaciers of well-meaning nonsense passing as Art is wonderfully clear if you bear in mind all is a mirage. Escapism is always the main reason people go to films, as the saying goes. Disputing this attitude, a large dose of realism was served up in Los Angeles last night.
The usual suspects have won this year. A film without alterior motives is hard to find these days with ‘Amour’ being the only possible exception. Much as I love seeing the son of the Thirties’ poet, Cecil Day-Lewis receiving his Oscar for playing the role of President Abraham Lincoln I fear some torn pieces of paper will remain trapped forever at the bottom of the Arno River. Last year a modern Silent Movie was given the prize, but all lips are sealed in this one. What broke the camel’s back was not a cigarette, although there were some smoky passages in this desert-bound voyage in search of the oasis.
Inevitably, I cast my mind back to a night in the Durban International Film Festival last year, to an evening when I viewed the film ‘Amour’: one of the films nominated for this years Oscar Awards. The sweep of ceremony and platitudes that gives the Oscars its punch is in strong evidence. Nonetheless, worshipping the deity of high Cinema every year; in the first months of the year, burning incense in the footlights but also the altar, is really like playing charades with the lights off.
Having not seen Lincoln as yet I must say it is not the fault of Mark Twain. I would readily sell a horse for tickets if I could find one, in lieu of admission; but increasingly Spielberg’s films betray a formula that is working for him but not for most cinema aficionados. A frightening spectacle it is, or spectre of having one’s cataracts removed whilst watching, thus transferring one’s eyeballs to the liquids that water the brain, but not dimming the whiff of the burning of said, (latter) ornament. I had an odd feeling of de jevu while watching this sad species of cant rising from the left corner of the pantomime. Thinking there might be a few assassins lurking in the theatre, I watched the prizes change hands- several times, before landing, unexpectedly in the hands of the bearded face borne by the dapper Ben Affleck whose finest role, to date, was playing a bit part in the almost forgotten film, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ shown in South Africa in the late Nineteen-nineties.
A wonderful start to a career is now forever linked to the obscurely named movie ‘Argo’. Seemingly Mr. Affleck was not thinking of  Evelyn Waugh’s  ‘Brideshead Revisited’. Part One’s diction Et in Arcadio Ego (loosely translates as: “I too lived in Arcadia”) but is really an acronym for aggression. Aggression and its many forms violence takes on a very stylised form in ‘Skyfall’   though in ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Argo’ the directors reach for an high emotionalism that trumpets reason, but mesmerises the judges at the Oscars .
The South is aggressive and hate negroes, but the wonderful North with nothing to lose, except shares and factories  wears a fetching Dark Blue uniform that catches the eyes of the ladies. These heroes never disappoint but with faces hard as flint and as pure as mother of pearl earrings, these new-born titans seldom falter. Such is sham philosophy; and heavy is the yoke.
Uncle Lincoln’s calm purge of the South, sorting out the native problem has swept up all comers: fine acting on the part of Day Lewis, ignores the gentlemanly boos from the wings of Confederate soldiers who have tried to avoid the bathtub habits of the industrial North. We see little of the pain and duskiness of History, but a version found on the dirty hanky of a go-between ruffed up by studios wanting only one angle.
The actors pipe their tune, but the internal motivations are lost as Hollywood must entertain with showiness. ‘The Conspirator’ directed by Redford, about President Lincolns assassination is a recent film which is a triumph of characters driven by the action, not the actors driven by some vague political dogma trumped by preachy overstatement.
On the evening of the Oscars, every film is severely (superciliously!?) reviewed by all the actors, in slow motion; calculated with best grins being delivered for ‘Argo’. Seriousness is allowed in moderation because earnest effort means the film is “Art,” chiefly, and finally according to the quantity of the actors who film the actors filled with this seriousness. On the list, sadly, are few films that can lay claim to greatness.
Some reviewers suspect; probably correctly, that ‘Argo’ was made to fill the quota for numbers needed to join the Army in their Overseas Wars in the Middle East. A very interesting movie might have been made of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, but Marshalling such a plan would mean the focus might fall on some atoms of substance. A working title might be ’Hiroshima was a Point to Far’ with President Woodrow Wilson playing a latter-day Strangelove, destroying empires in his wake.
Explosions are often unpredictable but last nights’ “ode to excitement” was aimed at those people who love their stories with Histrionic links. I almost said hysteria. Yet that might be stating the point too much. I reach for my Charles Dickens in moments like these, where one is chained to Jacob Marley’s figurative chains, trapped in purgatory, or drowning in Hollywood’s vision of infernos and tragedies.
A reviewer in The Independent spoke wonderfully about acting on this stage. We are a step nearer oblivion, the chasm between taste on one hand and expectation on the other. At these Oscars I shall call Daniel Day Lewis’ image to mind. A man of substance as the reviewer writes that is the epogee of talent- “they don’t believe in fame, the religion of our era.” (The Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Article by Timothy Sparks

Timothy Sparks is a freelance writer based in Durban

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