Given that my computer crashed as I liveblogged the Oscars, I thought I would do a kind of reflections post on the celebrated ceremony. With errands, obligations and assignments (not to mention catching up), I fell behind and feared it might be too late for such a post. When, however, I realized that not only did one of my predictions bear out (that viewership would decline) but learned last night as well that the great Peggy anticipated (some of) my thoughts in her brilliant column,* I decided to post.
To be sure, the Oscars did have their great moments. Robert Altman (a great director despite his looney tune politics) delivered the classiest speech of the evening, eschewing politics and focusing on his craft. Jon Stewart actually showed class as well. And while I didn’t find him particularly funny, he did make one of the best jokes (I have yet heard) about the Vice President’s hunting mishap — and pretty much steered clear of divisive partisan barbs. A number of talented artists won much-deserved honors, including director Ang Lee, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, actress Reese Witherspoon, animated filmmakers Nick Park and Steve Box (Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit), documentary filmmakers Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau (March of the Penguins) and a few others.
But, in many ways, this year was George Clooney’s Oscars. With his three nominations, many entertainment magazines covers featured his smug mug in the run-up to the ceremony. It seems that Clooney’s stock has risen with the Hollywood elite in direct relationship to the decline of his box office receipts. He hasn’t made a genuine hit since 2001 with Ocean’s Eleven. (To be sure, that film’s sequel Ocean’s Twelve didn’t fare all that poorly at the box office.) His remaining great flicks (O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Out of SIght were in the 1990s). And even those movies didn’t do all that well at the box office.
Thus, although Clooney has failed to win the hearts of moviegoers, he has won the affection of moviemakers.
Welles had a canny respect for the audience while maintaining a difficult relationship with studio executives, whom he approached as if they were his intellectual and artistic inferiors. George Clooney has a canny respect for the Hollywood establishment, for its executives and agents, and treats his audience as if it were composed of his intellectual and artistic inferiors. (He is not alone in this. He is only this year’s example.)
Contrast Clooney, a Democrat, to Tom Hanks, who also supports Democrats. The former wears his politics on his sleeve while (outside his acting and producing responsibilities) the latter distinguishes himself by raising money for memorials honoring World War II veterans. The former is interested in showcasing issues which will increase his standing in the cultural left (which dominates Hollywood); the latter focuses on an issue to which all Americans can relate.
No wonder Tom Hanks’ films do better at the box office. It’s not just that people prefer his advocacy to Clooney’s; it’s what his advocacy says about him. Clooney understands what appeals to the Hollywood elite. Hanks understands what appeals to the overwhelming majority of Americans — regardless of their political affiliation. (Indeed, I think most moviegoers could care less about an actor’s politics so long as he does not allow himself to be defined by it.)
As Peggy puts it:
The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they’ve experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven’t experienced life; they’ve experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.
I moved to Los Angeles because I believed in the power of film to transform people’s lives and bring up together, reminding us of our shared humanity. And until Clooney and other leaders of the entertainment establishment understand that their — that our — shared humanity includes political and social conservatives, they will fail to make movies which resonate with audiences all across our nation (and around the world), the kind of movies that once Hollywood’s product among the greatest of American accomplishments.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
*Yes, I realize that calling a Peggy Noonan column brilliant is stating the obvious.
ADDENDUM: The adorable Matt Szabo calls Clooney a “Sanctimonious Hypocrite” for his “shamefully ironic Hattie McDaniel Remark.” As Matt puts it, “As Clooney demonstrated in spectacularly disgraceful fashion, Hollywood is not out of touch because it is thoughtfully liberal – it is out of touch because its ambassadors rarely know what the hell they are talking about.” Read the whole thing!