Hollywood Congratulates Self at Oscars, Forgets to Thank Unions

Feb 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

83rd Academy Awards

Only two people gave a shout out to unions last night at the Oscars, and they did so by deliberately thanking union crews but not mentioning Wisconsin. Methinks ABC put their fist down on the creatives last night.

First, to the winners in case you were too busy tweeting about how the Wisconsin workers needed a pizza delivery last night (good on you):

83rd Annual Academy Award Winners
The King’s Speech
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
“We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3, Randy Newman
The Social Network, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
Inception, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
Inside Job, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
God of Love, Luke Matheny
Strangers No More, Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Alice in Wonderland, Colleen Atwood
The Wolfman, Rick Baker and Dave Elsey
Inception, Richard King
Inception, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo, and Ed Novick
The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Christian Bale, The Fighter
In a Better World (Denmark)
The King’s Speech, Screenplay by David Seidler
The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3
The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Inception, Wally Pfister
Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg, Karen O’Hara

Each year, the Academy Awards have become more and more sterile until last night, when the sanitation dominated any glamor afforded by the show. Perhaps it’s because big corporations bought up all of the studios or because ABC hates unions (oh, sorry, they all hate unions) or because fear runs Hollywood (it does), or because Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globe performance scared the suits into white-washing the entire thing, or because after Michael Moore’s epic take down of President Bush during his acceptance speech scared the politics right out of the Oscar, but whatever the reason, the show was less engaging than a toilet paper commercial.

Here’s Michael Moore’s poorly received acceptance speech – for proof of just how cowed Hollywood is by the watered down messaging of corporations, watch the reactions of the crowd, most of whom agreed with Moore in private but sat there looking like Stepford trophies while he railed on correctly and accurately about an illegal war and an election decided by the Supreme Court:

Moore’s speech was moving. It was alive. It may not have been “appropriate”, but what is appropriate about an illegal war? We were a nation shamed into silence and we were all complicit, save for a few brave patriots who dared to speak out only to be punished for speaking what turned out to be the truth. This only goes to show you that popularity is no indicator of integrity.

I’ve actually cried during a few toilet paper commercials on a bad day. But last night, the only thing that moved me was relief when The King’s Speech won for best picture, terrified as I was that Black Swan would be rewarded for rehashing its pathetically predictable and boring – sans Mila – take on the female psyche. I do adore Mila, that girl has fire. But if I have to hear one more film student gush about Black Swan I’ll barf feathers.

Yes, we know, women who are uptight are that way because they need to have sex and of course they need to have it with a beautiful woman because all men fantasize about this so it must be the thing a woman needs to unlock her true potential but of course it must be lesbian sex without a real lesbian and after she has said sex, she must of course, kill herself because we can’t have a sexually powerful and awakened woman just running around being successful. Yada, yada, yada. I just want to tell those boys, it’s you, not her. You are the problem. Learn to listen and learn to kiss. But I digress….

Loved The Social Network, which was also ripe with possibility of becoming a patriarchal frat house but Fincher has way too much real talent to fall for clichés. Thank you David. I forgave you for Benjamin Button before I even watched it, the anti-“Pottery Barn life” theme of Fight Club sealed your perfection in my world forever and you can do no real wrong now.

But true beauty and nuance was found in both The Kids Are Alright and The King’s Speech; both of which burst with such richness that they could afford to show restraint. Nothing says you’ve arrived more than the ability to hold something back.

I was awed by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright, who played real lesbians sans the male fantasy gloss – and while it wasn’t showy, and therefore might go unnoticed, Igor Jadue-Lillo’s cinematography told the story so perfectly that I couldn’t breathe watching his choices, shooting from far away like a voyeur during one scene when the family is falling apart and then coming in during the dinner scene so that the camera felt like a member of the family. Lisa Cholodenko’s direction was impeccable (I would expect nothing less from the director of Laurel Canyon), the script a knife to the heart – it was all spot on. In the age of non-reality reality TV, The Kids Are Alright showed the quiet reality of our most intense longings, the need for connection and the importance of history in relationships. It was a searing, poignant and authentic entire film made on a smaller budget.

The entire production of The King’s Speech wowed, and on a smaller budget too. What could have been an ode to pretension was instead an ode to talent, to allowing each department to shine its creative on until it all came together in a rousing chorus of utter perfection. The only down I have for TKS is that it didn’t take the risks The Kids Are Alright did, since it had the refuge of English nobility to rest upon had it wanted to. It didn’t want to, though. I could watch that cast on auto replay and not be bored.

The most important award of Oscar Cojones, however, goes to a few folks — cinematographer Wally Pfister and sound mixer Gary A. Rizzo giving a shout out to unions. You know, the people who actually make films while producers run around video village barking at a dispirited screenwriter on their cell phone. Oh, I kid the producers whose talent for making money by squeezing the creative out of its own soul is praise worthy. There are good producers out there, there just aren’t very many of them you’d want to talk to, though I have to give kudos to Mike Medavoy (Black Swan) for his letter of endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, an endorsement he based upon his inherent desire to be able to trust government again. Integrity does matter.

Natalie Portman showed great grace in acknowledging her crew on Black Swan, especially the camera operators who hardly ever get a nod but who can make or break the inner circle with their attitude. I only wish she had used the word “union” in describing them.

But here’s the deal — hundreds of people make up a film crew and they work tirelessly for three or four months and that’s just during actual production; the months and years that go into pre-production are truly awe inspiring. During production, the hierarchy and order on a film set would make the military look relaxed. All those teabaggers claiming union people are freeloaders have obviously never seen a film crew in action. It takes a village to make a movie; a union village, that is.

Union rights were necessary in Hollywood and the battles were hard fought. Anyone working on a set knows the value of their union when the production goes into hour 22 and they can’t call you back to set in 4 hours because of your union turn-around time. They know the value of their union when they get fed on time instead of being worked 12 hours before eating. They know the value of their union because when the producer wants to run over but doesn’t want to pay for it, they can’t come and ask the worker if they’ll take the hit. They can ask if they mind staying later, but they can’t ask them to do it for free. In a business where talent is everywhere and the studios have so much power, unions mean everything.

The Oscars have become a popularity contest in an industry run by and for large corporations, where the messaging is so tightly controlled it should make the Republicans weep with envy. As such, true spirit is not welcomed in acceptance speeches and politics or anything remotely divisive needs to be left in the closet. You are allowed to say the F-bomb and to thank your gay partner, but only because Hollywood has deemed these things acceptable to the target demographic. You are not allowed to thank unions for protecting you from the awful man behind the curtain, or he won’t let you speak next year.

Unions were mentioned by only a few people, who managed to just squeeze in the words “union crew” without specifically mentioning Wisconsin because corporate messaging runs the show in politics as in Hollywood. And corporations no likely the unions as much as they dislike messy, authentic moments (aka, creative moments).

Send a pizza to the workers in Wisconsin today, or a tweet. Let them know we all thank them for our weekends and for our ability to bargain for a fair shake. Unions might not be perfect, but they are necessary. Without unions, we’d all be walking logos for corporations, like the Tea Party.

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