Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Note to the caption: Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes in "The Constant Gardener."
Note to the caption: The director Ang Lee, left, and the actor Jake Gyllenhaal on a set for "Brokeback Mountain."
January 18, 2006
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 17 - The preoccupations of the Golden Globes are generally frivolous ones. Who are you wearing? Where are you going? Did you ever dream you would actually win?
But backstage at the Globes this year at the Beverly Hilton, entertainers spent an awful lot of time talking about gay-bashing, about the role of film in public discourse and whether the president should be impeached.
"I think we could all agree that this is not the spot to have a conversation about issues like that," said George Clooney, who won for best supporting actor for his role in the politically charged "Syriana."
"This was not an attack on the Bush administration, it was an attack on 60 years of failed Mideast policy," he said, and then tried to change the mood by mentioning he was contemplating using the Globe trophy as a hood ornament on his car.
Mr. Clooney, who is also in the running for an Oscar as the director of "Good Night, and Good Luck," a meditation on the role of the news media in turning back an intrusive government, should not be surprised that the press, and in some instances, the public, is treating this year's hopefuls like so much homework. Hollywood, which tried in vain to use money and might to influence the last election, is thinking aloud and has a lot on its mind. Only after dealing - or not - with those issues of public moment did the stars head off to party their hearts out.
And then the industry retreated to form for a few hours. The preening "Mean Girls" version of Hollywood - "Reese is so, so cute!" and "What in the world was Drew thinking wearing that!" - was everywhere to see and hear. At parties after the event on Monday night, replete with the vogueing action figures of Paris and Nicky Hilton, various studios and publications teamed up to serve up enough vodka, shrimp and bad D.J. music to make the Iraq war and a political culture beset by division and scandal seem distant.
The industry and some of its increasingly important voices feel some dissonance, no doubt. Ang Lee, who received both a best director's Globe for his "Brokeback Mountain" and a handoff of the torch from the western icon Clint Eastwood, spoke from the dais with obvious sincerity about "the power of movies to change the way we're thinking." But in the pressroom afterward, when he faced persistent efforts to force him to declare his film - it is both marketed and described as "a universal love story" - as a Message Movie, he gently but firmly resisted.
"We'll see how it plays out, but it's not why I made the movie," Mr. Lee said. "Whether it's a cultural milestone, it's not for me to say."
Philip Seymour Hoffman confronted a similar gantlet of questions, about whether it was difficult to portray Truman Capote, a man who was out and gay when that was a difficult choice.
"A role is difficult to play because of the internal drama of the character," he said. "Those are the things that are scary, not his sexual preference. Later, when asked about the treatment of gays in America, he added, "I don't think this film really takes a side."
But of course, we live in a time when taking sides is what people do. It is an odd moment in cultural history, with the year's string of weighty contenders, plus less-heralded efforts like "Munich" and "Jarhead," doing their own form of reality programming. (Imagine: Only two years ago, our big Oscar-film issue was whether Frodo and Sam would destroy the ring.)
The current movie mood was probably inevitable. In an atomized news media culture, Jon Stewart is not the only nontraditional source of political thought. His selection as host of the Oscars can be read as one more reaction to the shock of the election to the industry's liberal elite and perhaps a sign that it may be willing, for the moment anyway, to grab that opportunity with both hands.
"With 'Syriana,' 'Good Night, and Good Luck' and 'The Constant Gardener,' some people are saying it is almost a 70's revival in terms of political movies," said Rachel Weisz, who won for her supporting role in "Gardener." She was asked about her wishes for the coming year.
"A healthy baby, of course," said Ms. Weisz, who compared baby bumps with Gwyneth Paltrow when they saw each other in the restroom. What else? "Hmmm. I feel like a candidate for Ms. World - world peace and the troops to come home," she said, laughing at the cliché but maintaining the sentiment.
What's easy to forget in all this is the fact that Hollywood - with a lead time of well over a year when it comes to making a major film - generally follows, but does not lead, cultural and political trends.
That means the movies honored at the Globes offer a peek into the industry 18 months ago, when film executives were on high alert about the war, about the election, about the growing divide in the country.
It was way back then that feel-good, the vibe that Hollywood is largely in the business of manufacturing, took on this new gravitas. After years of angst and conference calls over what 14-year-old males will come out to see, major studios like Warner Brothers were saying yes to films like "Syriana," an ambitious, prismatic look at America's foreign policy means and objectives.
We, the viewing public, now get to feel good about ourselves because we are watching movies that take on actual issues, and then take a stand, at least until its time to market the film or accept an award. "Brokeback Mountain," "TransAmerica," "Syriana" and "The Constant Gardener" - all honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - reflect on hatred, greed and poverty. "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Capote" use the past to reflect journalism's shortcomings. (Meanwhile, "King Kong," the ultimate escapist fare with a Gable-Lombard overlay on an old-fashioned monster movie, has been all but ignored this season, and even "Walk the Line," which surged at the Globes, carries a significant message abut the wages of fame.)
But just as inevitably, the pendulum will swing back of its own accord. After all, portent and meaning do not always sell a lot of popcorn, and can create some indigestion along the way.
So the new seriousness was probably at a peak, or close to it.
Remember, in the 1980's, Hollywood was all about the Benjamins. In the 90's, it was more about the stars, who received a lot of Benjamins.
The latest big thing has been true stories about real events that engage adult audiences. And the coming year will see a few more of those, including Oliver Stone's look at the attacks of Sept. 11; "Sicko," another Michael Moore broadside; and the delayed "All the King's Men."
But new versions of Superman, X-Men and Spider-Man films will soon swoop in to rescue the day, and perhaps the industry, from a persistent bout of heavy thought. It is fun, or at least interesting, while it lasts.
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