Oscar Night is about marketing Hollywood. It’s a seamless blending of several hundred Hollywood-inspired commercials with other film clips, celebrity bits, and Vegas-style performances—basically three hours of product placement. The whole thing, which goes down fine with a bag of potato chips and a salad bowl of ranch dressing, can be run off in about three days.
The goal on all counts is to dummy-down the viewing audience, the audience for images. We are watching more commercials now than ever; they are the real viruses that invade all our media, including now our theater screens. Perhaps as a consequence, we are actually watching fewer movies, which is one of the reasons why Hollywood is making more movies, like Oscar-nominated "Avatar," for foreign markets, which are growing and, we want to believe, are no smarter than we are. We send the rest of the world our worst, and luckily, we get a few of its best in return, films like "The Lives of Others," "4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "Walk on Water," "A Christmas Tale," and this year, the masterpiece "The White Ribbon," several of which have managed to slip under the cultural barbed wire we’ve surrounded ourselves with and have won Oscars.
How do these superb films from abroad get made in the first place? Where’s the audience for them over there? It’s an audience created, at least in part, by commercial-free, state-supported television, whose funding is approximately five times the level of our own PBS stations, television that screens films, often made with public and foundation money, that are both compelling and of genuine artistic merit. Some of these television films, such as Britain’s "The Red Riding Trilogy," are appearing in Seattle’s movie theaters.
What’s to do? Let’s at least bring visual literacy into our curricula at every educational level, including our University Core. Our new B.A. in Film Studies is an effort in that direction.
But we can self-educate, too. If you haven’t already, join something like Netflix and frontload your queue with film titles you’ve carefully researched from the best reviewers and film critics and from winners of a wide range of international film festivals. And make a commitment to attend festivals locally, including the upcoming Irish Reel Festival (March 12-14) and the Seattle International Film Festival (May 21-June 14) which this spring will highlight new films from Spain. If you’re interested in what our younger generation, youths under 22, are creating in film, check out the local NFFTY (National Festival for Talented Youth, April 29-May 2 at the Cinerama) or The Northwest High School Film Festival (May 18). The Film Studies program is a co-sponsor of all of these festivals, so think of them as an educational extension of our Seattle University campus.
(Thumbnail photo courtesy of Francesco Marino)