Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Sunday, February 25, 2007

And the nominees are....

Below is a little think piece about tonight's nominees that I'd written for my place of employ, but it never made it in the paper, so I offer it here. All the more relevant perhaps after the recent Obama-Geffen -Clinton "incident."

Also, I was feeling like most people had seen my "Dreamgirls" piece, but something I saw on a friend's blog the other day made me feel like maybe some folks haven't. So here's a link to that.
Effie versus Deena.

If awards shows indicate anything beyond the machinations of the culture industry, then this could be Barack Obama’s year. Or Hillary Clinton’s. It’s striking how the list of nods reflects the brewing race for the Democratic presidential nomination: one set pointing toward a multiracial, internationally focused future, the other representing the long climb of women toward something like equality, and the resulting triumph of the “mature” female powerhouse.
Beyond these simple divides – “Babel” squaring off against “The Queen,” Djimon Hounsou sharing the podium with Helen Mirren – the nominations reflect the latest shape of Hollywood’s social conscience.
What’s pricking Hollywood’s hearts this year? Globalization is the major thing, and not only because filmmakers working beyond the big-budget system tend to take more risks. The very structure of “Babel” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s storytelling, his sticky narrative webs uniting total strangers, hits hard now that big oil, Walmart economics and the Iraq conflict make it impossible for anyone to deny that we’re all world citizens.
“Blood Diamond” confronts these issues, too, and twin noms for Leo DiCaprio and Hounsou toasts the kind of interracial, international friendship liberals dream of in the face of Guantanamo and Mel Gibson. Forest Whitaker’s very possible Best Actor win would reward a complex portrait of a dictator colonialism brought to power (Saddam, anyone?) Then there’s Clint Eastwood, making a war film that asks us to sympathize with America’s enemies – what plea has more power as public confusion about our involvement in the Middle East multiplies?
This international fixation shows how the culture has shifted over a year of intensifying international crisis. Last year focused heavily on matters at home, with “Brokeback Mountain” telling of the tragedy of the closet (and indirectly advocating for gay marriage) and “Crash” preaching against taking too much stock in feel-good rainbow politics. Twelve months and thousands of Iraqi and U.S. casualties later, Hollywood is looking nervously beyond its own backyard. Even Borat, the awards’ season’s bikini-thonged surprise, makes fun of the less savory side of racial and ethnic difference.
More optimistically, the nominations also promote a vision of not just a multiracial, but a multilingual, immigrant America. What could be more appropriate as the field of presidential possibility widens to include not just the son of a Kenyan-born father, but a Latino from the Southwest, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson? The strong Latino presence throughout the Oscar list reminds us that this year began with a surge of immigrant pride, as the shout of “Si se puede!” extends to the red carpet.
So much diversity lends this year’s Oscar race a milk chocolate, café con leche hipness not unlike the glamour that makes the unseasoned but promising Obama such a star. The overall triumph of “Dreamgirls,” despite the hard-to-swallow snub in the Best Picture category, makes a similar assertion: here’s a film with an all-black cast, written and directed by white men, whose music marries black pop with the Broadway tradition, which itself was born when mostly Jewish composers blended African-American vaudeville and European operetta into something new. Talk about multi-culti!
And then, slightly in the background, there are women who’ve worked hard for years, endured ups and downs, and defied the odds to do their most exciting work in what could have been their retirement. The Hillarys – Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, and Helen Mirren. Here’s betting that they show up wearing something more glamorous than blue suits with gold buttons on February 25.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the link to your "Dreamgirls" piece. It sums up perfectly my problem with the movie.

I've never understood the too-common dismissals of Diana Ross's singing, particularly as compared to Florence Ballard. The same topic was discussed recently at Popular, the site where all British Number One singles are being reviewed in chronological order. I wrote there:

"Diana Ross didn’t have a conventionally big soul voice. She did, however, have an instantly recognizable voice, which is always a tremendous asset on the radio. Even more important, I think, was her ability to sing the emotion of a song while also seeming to wink at it, as well as us in the audience. This gave a subtle fizzy sensation to the best of her work with the Supremes that may have been the element that set that group’s work apart from the other top Motown acts.

It’s true that Diana Ross couldn’t do what Florence Ballard did. It’s also true that Florence Ballard couldn’t do what Diana Ross did: provide a voice and an image that made the Supremes stand out from the crowd. And she did more than make them a commercial force, in my opinion: the humor and timing in her delivery of the opening “Oooh” in “Baby Love” was one of the resources that made the Supremes special. Listening to Ballard’s lead singing, I hear no evidence that she could have supplied the same."


1:15 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home