The Academy Delights

In many ways I dread the Academy season. Movies become over-hyped with the expectation that they will sweep the Oscars and we drown in anticipation, discussing movies we haven’t seen, and give opinions on actors and directors as though we know as much as the protagonists.

I am normally not a fan of the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes or the SAG awards. To my inexperienced eye, it is just a chance for Hollywood to pat themselves on the backs and look on the world with a supercilious eye, as though they were predestined for greatness.

Like most people, I enjoy a range of movies, and I can wax lyrical about the best of them, admiring, as the Bard would have it, this mans art and that mans scope. I can acknowledge the great performances from people like Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson and Robert de Niro. The range of talent displayed by actresses like Barbara Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor can transport you to another place and time.

This years awards ceremony was different from those in recent years. For a start, there was no Ricky Gervaise making unseemly remarks with poorly crafted comedy that just did not pass muster. Instead, the MC was polished and amusing, no small feat for a single evenings event. The criticisms of Seth Macfarlane were, to my mind, unfounded. He did a sterling job on the evening.

The entertainment during the evening was particularly well crafted and choreographed, again, considering that this is a single evenings entertainment. The number from Les Misérables was particularly well done, as was the piece from Chicago, the musical.

My problem with the Oscars is not the movies that are produced during the year. There are enough well-produced movies to satisfy even the most cynical movie critic. While I have not seen any of the current crop, this years Oscars , like those of prior years, left me wanting to spend a few weekends with some of these movies.

From Django Unchained, the story of a man whose goal in life is to free his wife from terror and the depravations of a slaves life, to Argo, the story of a man attempting to smuggle Americans out of Tehran during the embassy crisis there is much to enjoy in this years crop. Les Misérables, the classic tale of a man convicted for twenty years for a petty offense is  a movie I have anticipated for months. After seeing the Broadway version twice, I imagine that the screen version is equally enthralling.

The purpose of Oscar winners is not just to entertain, but to give us pause, to make us think, to introduce us to worlds that we do not normally enter, to see our world with another’s eyes. The movie makers art can produce a fantasy like The Life of Pi, or something as close to reality as Amour.

The power of these movies is not something that I can deny, but there is a reality that transcends the glitz and glamour of these artificial events. My contention with events like the Oscars comes down to just one thing, the conspicuous consumption.

Hollywood loves to glorify wealth, which it does superbly well. We see series like the regurgitated Dallas, or the seemingly interminable soap operas that show a life of sumptuous luxury to which the proletariat, and by that I mean those people without property, cannot aspire. While they do exist, very few movies showcase the grinding poverty, medical insecurity and ill-education of much of the worlds population.

Those movies aren’t popular, or glamorous, they show a world that creates fear in all of us, the fear of losing a job, a home, a family, of being homeless and eking out a living on the streets and alleyways of large cities, living with crime and violence, a knife wound away from death.

This detachment from the realities of many lives are reflected in the Oscars, where a woman can wear a dress that would support a family for a year, or jewelry that would support a dozen families in comfort for the remainder of their lives.

There are many talented actors, great directors and producers, and we shower them with accolades, pat them on the back, want their autographs, or to be seen with them. How many people does it take to create movies? One needs only to watch the credits at the end of a movie to have some understanding of the small army of people who work hard to make stars a success. These people are seldom acknowledged.

These are the people who will move on once a movie finishes, to other movie sets, often working for starvation wages. While the stars of the movies buy multi-million dollar yachts, live in a dozen houses, and waste their riches, the guy that holds the microphone, puts make-up on the stars, sets up the sound stage, brings doughnuts and coffee for the crew, and earns enough to pay for a small tenement apartment sees none of those riches.

The stars live in Beverly Bills, or Malibu, or Hollywood Hills. Steven Spielberg, Aaron Spelling and others live in homes that dwarf Versailles. Oprah, a single woman lives in a palace that makes Buckingham Palace look like a country cottage. One person, who appears to care so much for those around her, show so much compassion for others, yet lives in a home that would suffice as a school building for hundreds of children.

Few would deny the talent of many actors and actresses, but my question must be, do they really deserve the vast sums of money that people throw at them? Do they work harder or longer, are they more intelligent, or more attractive than others?

As a programmer/designer, I have written software systems that enable large institutions like banks to better understand their customers, offer better service to their clients, secure their systems, produce flexible demographic reports, extract taxes from people and dozens of lesser projects.

Despite the range of people that benefit from these products, people in the software industry do not receive the accolades, the approbation, the awards and the seemingly endless remuneration packages extended to actors, and CEO’s and hedge fund managers. They work long hours just to maintain a basic middle class life style and perhaps have a retirement one day, if they are lucky and save their money.

Most workers do not flit from San Tropez to Cancun to the Algarve, and yet they support their favorite actors and actresses by attending performances of their movies. Without those fans, without those customers, the film stars, the executives, the tycoons would have nothing. They do not create wealth, the people make them wealthy. They do not create, they live on the creations of others.

Actors, talented or not, rely entirely on the people who think up the stories, plots and screenplays, the people who make their lives possible, the people who make them seem more than human, the special effects and cinematographers, the cameramen, the stunt doubles. Without these people, there would be no Terminator, no Avatar. Even the most ordinary movie or TV show relies on dozens of people to make it possible to have a show. These people are not in the limelight, and perhaps they should be.

Is it right that an actor can make a single movie, and live comfortably for his entire life on the proceeds of that movie? He worked no harder, or smarter, he was not more talented than vast numbers of people who go to work every day, living, in the words of Thoreau, lives of quiet desperation, waiting for life to deliver the blow that shatters what there is of their lives, or extends the hand of fame and fortune.

I love the movies, and I am thankful for the temporary release that they offer, but I do not believe that the actors deserve so much more than their fellow citizens receive. That they should be rewarded for their perseverance and dedication, talent and hard work is clearly fair, just not the vast sums that they receive.

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