Awards Are Political
“As a measure of just how absurd the Academy Awards are (even at its primary function of being a slick marketing gimmick for the reissue of films that most people have already seen) consider the fact that the two greatest directors ever to work in Hollywood, Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock–both of whom were workhorses who made popular films that were also cinematic masterpieces, all of which made money for the studios (Bringing Up, Baby and Vertigo, excepted)–never won an Oscar for directing.”
— Jeffrey St. Clair
Who indeed are “the greatest,” in any field? And how do we know?
Cary Grant never won an Oscar despite being a consistently popular leading man (over 30 years, 1930s-1960s), and big money-maker for the studios and theater chains. He retired in 1966, was given an Honorary Oscar (you know, an ‘Ooppsie’) in 1970, and died in 1986.
All awards (Oscars, Nobels, etc.) are political. Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921 (100 years ago), for his discovery in 1905 of the law of photoelectric effect (which is an aspect of CCD devices today, like solar cells and digital cameras). But pointedly NOT for his revolutionary theories of relativity (the special theory related to light, speed and time; and the general theory that includes the effects of mass and gravity, and the law of mass-energy equivalence that is the basis of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion). Einstein’s papers on relativity were all published before 1917, the first in 1905. Einstein’s 1921 Nobel was an Ooppsie.
The giving of awards is more often about the “needs” of those awarding, than the merits (often ignored even when exceptionally worthy) of those being awarded. When you explore any field you find that there are many workers in it of admirable character and exceptional skill, and who have accomplished wonderful things deserving recognition, but who are more conveniently ignored by “the management” that doles out rewards, and by “the audience” that is mainly fascinated by the tinsel of fame, notoriety and popularity (basically: money wealth) they wish dearly to camp onto even if even just virtually.
Great artists, poets, singers, musicians, actors, thinkers, writers, scientists, engineers, naturalists, and gifted goofballs (our societal court jesters) are all around us all the time, but you will not see most of them if you rely solely on “the management” (‘the capitalist management,’ as a good Marxist would justly correct me) to ‘award’ them for you to notice and fan-cult onto them (“branding”).
We are always happy when by coincidence one such worthy has the official award spotlight placed on them for merited wide acclaim, but don’t expect such justice to be routine to the operations of the politics of awarding. In general, politics is the defense of mediocrity.
So enjoy your movies, insights from engaging and even philosophical writers, music from poetic architects of soundscapes, and humor from our societal court jesters with deep understanding of human emotions. “The greatest” are those who move you to knowing more and being better than you were before becoming aware of them; and you discover more of these authentic luminaries as you expand your own appreciative awareness. Don’t take my word for it: try it.
By the way: Jean Renoir was the greatest director to ever work in Hollywood, even though all his great films were made in France and India.
In 1968 I saw “2001” in huge Panavision, a curved widescreen that extended out to your peripheral vision. I was in the first row of the balcony, center. Awesome. I was IN space. I saw it again in 2018 on a big screen in Oakland (Grand Lake Theater) for a 50th anniversary showing. Still awesome, but now as a memory relived instead of an orgasmic expansion of imagination. In 1969 I saw “Casablanca” on a big screen at college (a theater in the University of Pennsylvania), and it was awesome. The close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Rick’s upstairs man-cave were luminous, captivating, rapturous, they were so much larger than life that they engulfed you; nothing at all like you could ever get from a home TV screen (I had already seen Casablanca many times on TV by then). In all these events the sound was enveloping (“surround sound”). In 2012, I saw a 50th anniversary showing of “Lawrence of Arabia” (in San Francisco, I’d seen it originally in 1962). During the “Blockbuster VHS and then DVD Rental Era” I had seen these movies more than once on my home TV (a 1989 CRT model, just replaced with a flat screen 2 months ago), which was always fun but never like the experience of being in a darkened theater (mimicking the immensity of Outer Space) with a truly big-screen big-sound projection of them. Even such boyishly delightful fluff like “Goldfinger” (the best James Bond movie) and “From Russia With Love” (the most amoral and 2nd best James Bond movie), the big-screen theater experience of them is superior to any home TV (“home theater”) experience of them. I stopped going to movie theaters mainly because it was too much hassle (where to park?), too few movies of the kind I like these days, age-related laziness, and COVID-19. Maybe someday I’ll go back, but for now the new (considered small) flat screen at home is nice, alcohol drinking can occur, and piss breaks are more easily accommodated. And it has always been the forlorn hope of the adults of every era for “the young” to awaken to their formative and expressive experiences in the same antiquated ways as these adults did; but it’s pointless for us ancients to grouse about the kids today watching “streaming content” on their smartphones with “ear buds” (for peephole sound): it’s there world now, we had ours. In 2018, I took my younger daughter to see the 50th anniversary big-screen showings of “2001” and “Yellow Submarine.” She was excited, impressed and delighted by the experience. In 1968, a few months after I first saw “2001,” I took my father to see it (in NYC, big screen) and he was thrilled, excited and animated; one of our best father-son days ever, and maybe the best. I did my duty of “cultural transmission” and still try on occasion, but I also know it’s past time for me to let go. You can remember memories for your own delight, and you can recount them to others (most of whom have scant interest), but you can never transmit them INTO others as felt experiences. Much of the magic is lost when the experience is “guided” rather than one of self-directed discovery — even if haphazard and by happenstance. “The African Queen” was phenomenal on the big screen; so were “The Grand Illusion,” “Rules of the Game,” and….
Awards Are Political
30 April 2021