Tuesday, February 13, 2007

OPEN FORUM: OSCAR CATEGORIES and DVD M.I.A.


Best Comic Performance Winner 1974?:
Madeline Kahn as Lily Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles


The Oscars are less than two weeks away, and anybody’s who has any interest at all in the ceremonies, either as the supreme gesture of rewarding artistic achievement in Hollywood, or as a flaming train wreck of fashion faux pas and award-centered misdemeanors that will be forgotten by Ron Howard’s birthday (March 1), has an opinion who should or shouldn’t or will win. So I thought I’d open the forum up this week to thoughts, expanded or otherwise, based on a question from Professor Dave Jennings’s recent quiz: What new category would expand Oscar’s effectiveness at rewarding the truly deserving, staying at the forefront of trends in film, or just being complete in its approach to the awards. Here’s how I answered the Professor when he asked, “Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner”:

”How about a nod to the changing landscape of movie technology and create a separate category for Best Videography to coexist alongside Best Cinematography, which would retain its historical association with recognizing achievement in the use of film, a far different medium. I think this kind of recognition might encourage, at least in the beginning, a more thoughtful use of this technology, whether it is to invoke the kind of grungy, grainy disorientation that David Lynch embraces in Inland Empire, or to inspire directors to use the more mobile format to more accurately replicate the tones and textures of film more affordably. I’m thinking of the goal here as being something like what Robert Altman, with videographers Andrew Dunn and Ed Lachmann, did with the visually stunning The Company and, more subtly perhaps, A Prairie Home Companion.It wasn’t until sitting through the end credits a second time that I even realized that Altman had used high-def video for Prairie. I saw pristine projection of that movie twice and would have sworn it was film. This is an achievement distinct too from what Michael Mann currently uses the format for—the discovery of the various levels and textures unavailable to film to reveal in the hidden information in the nightscapes of Los Angeles (Collateral) and Miami Vice. So there are three different ways, not even including the more purely functional DYI-aesthetic of most indie features, in which video has already found to expressively flower on the big screen. That, to me, seems worthy of attention, if we can believe for a second that the Oscars are dedicated in any way to the art of film. (I know, I know… You can stop giggling now…)

And here’s a blog entry from The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle that suggests that a new acting category might stir things up a bit.

What new category could the Academy implement that would either be fun to see or might even goose the Oscars toward relevance?

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If you saw my previous post, it’s pretty clear that this week has been an exceptional one for DVD releases, ranging from Paul Robeson to Sofia Coppola to Martin Scorsese to Neil Jordan and a whole lot more. But as good as Tuesday was to DVD collectors and film buffs, reader Joseph B. reminded us in the comments for that post that there is still a ton of good, worthy and just plain odd film that has not yet found its way into the digital domain. Joseph offered up a link to a frequently updated column at the essential site DVD Journal which will put you in touch with hundreds of yet-to-be-announced titles for DVD, and even a short perusal of this list will fire off plenty of connections to other titles in your head that are likewise still buried in the home video graveyard. The list is called DVD MIA. Take a gander, see if it reminds you of anything you’re particularly pining for that has as yet gone unnoticed, and let me know what it is you really want to have for your very own DVD that you can buy yet. Not that I can do anything about it, of course. But we can dream, can’t we?

15 comments:

Paul C. said...

While no amount of awards could ever compel me to watch NORBIT, I agree that comedy is woefully undervalued by the AMPAS. Watching Zero, Gene, and friends in THE PRODUCERS tonight really put the Oscars into perspective. How often do the films that were nominated for Best Picture the year that THE PRODUCERS was released even get watched anymore, aside from classroom screenings of ROMEO AND JULIET? Whereas THE PRODUCERS is a movie that's still enjoyed- nay, revered- by comedy lovers.

As for your videography category, I'm with you there too. It's been around almost a decade now, with varying degrees of success, but seeing CACHÉ really proved that it's here to stay. So many movies are shot digitally anymore, both in Hollywood and overseas, that this medium is becoming as rich and diverse as film. Of my three personal Muriel Award nominations in the best cinematography category, one (MIAMI VICE, which got top points from me) was digital, and my #4 choice in the category (Nuri Bilge Ceylan's CLIMATES, which I wish I could've found room for) was digital as well.

Finally, another suggestion for a great film not on DVD- Chantal Akerman's nigh-canonical JEANNE DIELMAN, which as far as I can tell has never been released legally in the USA in ANY video format. A towering masterpiece that really deserves better.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, Paul, it really strikes me that in a year when Miami Vice, A Prairie Home Companion and Inland Empire all use video in service to completely different ends and artistic goals, and when a viewer like myself realizes only six months or so after seeing it that Superman Returns was shot on high-def video, the debate over whether or not the use of video is an act of aesthetic blasphemy is, or should be, at its end of usefulness.

I love your point about The Producers, one that nails the durable tendency of a good comedy and the gossamer value of the Best Picture Oscar. The Academy went nowhere near The Big Lebowski, even when it appeared immediately after the Coen's big score with Fargo. Yet how many personal all-time best lists do you think that movie will eventually end up on? A damn sight more than The Full Monty, As Good As It Gets, Good Will Hunting or even L.A. Confidential and Titanic.

And if your DVD wish comes true, that would mean I'd finally get to see Chantal Akerman, something I've wanted to do since reading the original reviews for it in the Village Voice all those years ago.

I may have to revise, or add to, my own pick though, as I've heard rumors that Ace in the Hole may be out on DVD soon.

Adam Ross said...

It's not on the MIA list, but on the top of my list for DVD is the obscure and horrifying 1974 television movie Bad Ronald.

Paul C. said...

Another Oscar ceremony change that I'd be happy to see isn't an addition, but a subtraction. During last year's zombies-escaping-a-flaming-car-in-slow-motion production number for the lame CRASH song, I began to think that the AMPAS really should get rid of the Best Original Song award. To begin with, there aren't very many good original songs in movies nowadays, and when there are, they tend to get put in the end credits. Personally, I don't think the award was made for music that was designed to be aural wallpaper for customers exiting a screening. Personally, I think that for a song to be nominated in this category, it has to genuinely assist the film in which it's featured- think the songs in NASHVILLE or even "Save Me" from MAGNOLIA- hard to imagine that final shot working without Aimee Mann behind it. But now, nominated songs like this are pretty rare, and the category is filled largely by credits accompaniment and filler music for adapted stage musicals. Anymore, the show seems to keep the category around to justify televised performances from stars of the recording industry- remember Beyoncé singing ALL FIVE songs a few years ago? Yeah, that's really what this award is about...

Chris Oliver said...

Looking over that list of MIA films, I saw Skidoo, which was on my list of white whales for years. I finally did manage to see it, and it's not quite as great as the movie I had imagined in my head, but anyway, it reminded me of another film from about the same time, which I really, really want to see: The Bed-Sitting Room. And I want a big box set of the complete Betty Boop, and Fleischer's earlier Out of the Inkwell series, and a complete box of Tex Avery's MGM cartoons. John Kricfalusi's The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse has been on my list for years. And, although I know it will never happen, I really want to own Tod Haynes' Superstar.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Paul: I gotta believe that in this, the Year of the Hudson, they'll have to limit Beyonce to just one. I have to believe. And I think your assessment of what should considered a Best Song is spot on.

Adam: Bad Ronald! Oh, my God, you've just opened up the Pandora's Box known as the ABC Movie of the Week. How about Olivia De Havilland obsessed with hearing the cries and whimpers and, yes, the screams of The Screaming Woman? Or Killdozer? Or that great suspense thriller starring Robert Culp and Eli Wallach, where they're stationed at a remote outpost in the Antarctic and something goes terribly wrong? It's called A Cold Night's Death.

Chris: It's a shame that MGM hasn't rereleased that wonderful Avery box that came out on laserdisc in the early 90s. That's one laserdisc that I won't give up, no matter what. As for Superstar, I know you said you want to own it, on DVD presumably. And you probably already know this, but when I used to work in your neighborhood years ago (about 12 of 'em, I guess), there used to be a copy of Superstar on VHS at that video store on Hyperion Avenue called Videoactive. Might be worth a call!

Chris Oliver said...

Yeah, I actually found both Superstar and Skidoo! at Jerry's (Hillhurst x Franklin). Great little store. I've been inside VideoActive once, but never got a membership there.

Joseph B. said...

Thanks for opening up discussion on this, Dennis! I already mentioned that filmmaker Nick Gomez is greatly under-produced on DVD, and I was always curious as to why Michael Mann's brilliant TV show "Robbery Homicide Division" was never placed on DVD. I had HDNET until last year, and they were showing episodes (some new that were never on TV) up until then. With Mann's success in HD, I'm surprised it was never released. It's got quite the cult following.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

As voraciously as studios are pipelining TV on DVD these days, I can't imagine that it's much more than a matter of time before Robbery Homicide Division gets its day. I'm looking forward to seeing it too, although my Netflix queue is already so clogged that it has been rapidly reduced to a mere list of reminders of things I want to see... someday...

Personally, I'd love to see Robert Altman's '80s TV movies bow on DVD-- The Dumbwaiter and The Room, both based on Harold Pinter teleplays, The Laundromat, and his brilliant The Caine Mutiny Court-martial. My old Betamax copies of The Dumbwaiter and The Room have deteriorated into flakes, and my VHS of Court-martial is not much better.

benaiah said...

Does anyone have a pick for Best Original Song for the purposes of winning office Oscar pools. I couldn't care less about the category, but surely there is a favorite among the Dreamgirls songs. One of them must be a standout. Right? Someone? Please?

Flower said...

I would love to get a chance to see Altman's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial again - mostly because I've only seen the last twenty minutes or so and didn't realize it was an Altman movie at the time! I remember remarking on the Altman-esque style of the piece, but it was only during the Altman blog-a-thon last year that I finally put the two together (hangs head in shame). It was on one of the half a million Encore channels, and I go through the program listings every few days hoping it'll be repeated - no such like so far.

Of the DVD Jouran list, I'd love to see a decent version of Chimes at Midnight. I managed to get my hands on a video copy a couple years back through the local library system, but the image was so bleached out entire sequences were rendered unwatchable - just abstract grey blobs moving against a staticy white background - and the soundtrack was so degraded that I don't think I made out a single line completely. This was a terrible disappointment at the time that has only amplified my desire to see the film.

And to the Oscar categories - I always thought there should be some sort of recognition for music supervision. Honoring an original score or song is a no-brainer, but how many movies rely on pre-existing music to equally important effect? Granted, it's not necessarily a craft in the way that sound effects editing, writing, acting, etc are, but it can still be a vitally important part of a film's success and deserves SOME kind of recognition, doesn't it?

Joseph B. said...

As lazy as this sounds, I'm beginning to think that a majority of our hope for MIA movies to find a home on DVD will be driven by curators and critics... certainly not the movie companies. There are 2 examples- last year's explosion of renewed interest with director Jean Pierre Melville due to the release of his 1969 film "Army of Shadows". This has opened up the floodgates and several unreleased Melville films (particularly "Leon Morin") will soon be worked out.

Secondly, when you organize an event such as the Film Comment Selects series, there are always hidden treasures that see the light of day, both theatrically and on video. One of the films listed on DVD Journal's MIA list is "Play It As It Lays", which is included in this FIlm Comment series, given a worthy write-up in the latest issue and almost assuredly will see some type of home video release in the future now. It's frustrating that it takes a small minority to champion a given film, but at least someone is doing it and more importantly, they are the type of people who have some clout with the movie companies and distributors.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Fortunately, Joseph, it's a silent minority, meaning that a critics group or band of curators which might not conceivably be big enough to represent much in the marketplace, especially to studio eyes, are still able to marshal enough interest to get a small theatrical push, but more importantly, a more widely available DVD release mounted. This is, I think, the glory for specialized film in the digital era-- 20 or 30 years ago, I would read about all kinds of limited releases and re-releases in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or the Village Voice and hold out very little hope of ever seeing them myself, either in a theater or on Beta or VHS. DVD might not be the best place to see Princess Raccoon or the new Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie. As you say, at least somebody is doing it, and keeping the hopes for seeing more and more world cinema alive for us all.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Benaiah-- I have done an Oscar pool for 20 years and I have won it exactly once-- two years ago-- so you may wanna take my prognostications with a huge truckload of salt. But I get the feeling that Dreamgirls, especially since it was shut out of the Best Picture/Director/Writer race, is not going to make a splash in the Best Song category, despite its three nominations there. I don't know if the three songs will cancel each other out, or whether (more likely) voters will listen to the Randy Newman/James Taylor song from Cars and realize how more vitally integrated it is into the body and themes of the film itself, and therefore cast a vote its way, but I think Cars is going to come away with its second Oscar of the night in this category. Dreamgirls's Oscar hopes are pinned entirely on Jennifer Hudson and Norbit.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Joseph, that last sentence should have read, "But as you say, at least somebody is doing it, and keeping the hopes for seeing more and more world cinema alive for us all." D'oh!