Belated reflections on the Academy Awards

By now, everyone who cares has read accounts of the event – the winners and losers, the fashions, and the host.  It’s tempting to add my own $0.02, but that’s not my purpose in writing this.  It would be easy to get sidetracked if I tried.

With the glaring exception of failing to nominate Ben Affleck for Best Director, I thought the Academy had a number of worthy candidates to chose from and did a credible job in selecting winners.

This year, like most others, the major awards didn’t interest me as much as the “small” ones.  Music, makeup, costumes.  Screenplays, cinematography, film editing.  The last three were tasks I learned while working on a student production in college – they are critical, difficult, and we hardly ever notice the names when the credits roll.  These awards always remind me that movies are collective efforts.  You see it especially in the memorials to those in the industry who died in the previous year – when they did their work well, it was seamless and we barely noticed.

In contrast to the production of movies, the myth of the solitary genius still lurks in our psyches.  As far as I can tell, it’s an artifact of the 18th and 19th western romantic imagination.  It has never appeared in the east at all, and the works of the Renaissance masters were mostly collective efforts.  Leonardo, Michelangelo, and all the others had workshops where apprentices stretched the canvas or mixed the pigments, and journeymen painted the drapery.  Then the master stepped in to finish the hands and the face of the virgin and child.  Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel was an exception.  I bet he would have advertised on TV it he’d had it available, like James Patterson, whose sometimes excellent novels are now collaborative efforts.

Old myths linger.  In the early part of the 20th century, when movies were young, writers dreamed of the Great American Novel.  Hollywood was a place where ill-starred authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald went to complete their fall from grace and die.  Nowadays the fantasy is to write the next Twilight or Hunger Games and get the novel optioned.

Let me be explicit.  Sometime during the last 50 or 60 years, movies became our most important artistic medium.  Never mind that there’s lots of chaff in the wheat – across the globe, movies are where most of us go, most of the time, to find inspiration and learn about ourselves and the world we live in.

With this in mind, watching the Academy Awards made me sad when I thought of the future of the medium.  During the past month, the local Board of Education announced 11 school closings.  Parents and students showed up at several meetings to protest, and with its usual flair for drama, the paper published a photo of a girl with a sign saying, “Please don’t take our music department away.”

I thought about her on Oscar night.  She probably won’t grow up to work on movie scores.  How many other potential writers, musicians, artists, technicians, and designers who will do something else because our bureaucrats limit their options in the name of pragmatism?

Pragmatism is necessary but it doesn’t nourish the soul.  I hope the next generation of dreamers continues to dream, against ever worsening odds.  I hope we never look back on this year’s Oscars and think, “Ah, those were the days…”

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4 Responses to Belated reflections on the Academy Awards

  1. Rosi says:

    The news on the schools is so sad. All the programs that keep creative kids engaged are going or already gone. We are losing our future. But I write a great deal of it off to poor management. There is so much waste in school spending, and I don’t see that changing, although charter schools give me hope. My grandchildren go to a charter where art and music are still part of the program. Lots of parents (and grandparents) volunteer to make sure teachers have time to teach beyond the test. Every year the school district tries to close down the charter, but people fight the good fight. It takes a lot of dedication to make it work.

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    • I know you are seeing it from a teacher’s perspective, but I keep thinking some of the contraction is deliberate. It’s hard to think of educational “leadership” without remembering this plank in the 2012 Texas GOP party platform:
      “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

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  2. Music is math, physics, philosophy—disguised as fun.
    Music notation requires counting (math), and fosters an understand of space, time, and distance (physics). The space between the notes are called rests, but resting does not mean that the resting space is “emptiness or “nothing” (philosophy). Rests are an integral part of the rhythm of life–as is vibration (music).
    To remove music from the schools is simply stupid. Children love music and it (consciously or unconsciously) helps to attune the mind to all of the other subjects that are deemed so important and necessary..
    I believe you are correct, Morgan.
    The education system is more an indoctrination to a set system of predetermined values, than an institution that teaches students to think and create.

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    • I remember reading recently that the average congressional pension is six figures for life, plus full health benefits – so clearly we can’t afford frivolous things like education in the arts…

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