I don't often get involved in blog-spats. My first show-runner, Norman Steinberg, once killed a television in-joke with a grimace and a head-shake. "Television referencing television ... a bit too much like a dog eating its own vomit." Always what blogger -to-blogger sniping struck me as. We need to strike at the arguments, hone our ideas. THAT's how we arrive at truth.
However, I think I finally understand -- exactly --the tone of voice General Tommy Franks used when describing the REMF-platonic-ideal Doug Feith as the "fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." It is not a snarl, nor a roar, but instead a sort of exhausted awe. Because I must say, I do think Jason Apuzzo of Libertas, the wee conservative film movement, possibly may be -- and I do not offer this lightly -- the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.
First, apologies to TBogg, but he neatly excerpted Jason's latest essay on the Oscars, and I'm going to borrow wholesale as the Libertas website seems to be crashed right now (CORRECTION -- there it is now). Now, from Jason, with a few small comments along the way:
JASON: Everyone in Hollywood loves to spot trends, myself included. So now that this year’s Oscar nominees have been announced, everyone around town is reading tea leaves or examining entrails - all wondering what this particular constellation of nominated films ‘means’ for the movie industry.
KUNG FU MONKEY: No. No we're not. We're all arguing over simultaneous theater and DVD day-and-date release, DVD residuals, and what the hell Big Momma's House 2 opening at $28 million dollars 'means'. Because we are in the business of making money. Seriously, the grown-ups who actually work in Hollywood who don't have any movies in the Oscar running, we nod politely and get back to work. The nominee folk cackle at the uptick in box-office they hope to garner as a result of the nominations, and the DVD bump they'll get with a win. Do you see a common theme there?
JASON: My sense is that the Academy’s selections this year will ultimately ‘mean’ very little. Why? Oscar season is no longer the rite of passage it once was for genuinely great films like “Gone With The Wind,” “On the Waterfront,” or “Lawrence of Arabia.” Instead, today’s Academy Awards have devolved into just another marketing tool for ‘indie’ films nobody’s seen. (italics mine)
KFM: Okay, let's go with this, ignoring the fact that the people who vote for the Oscars are not movie executives with their agenda, but cranky older actors who watch screeners at home. Basically, the people who PROFIT from the movies are not the people who VOTE on the movies. This conflation of different parts of Hollywood, typical of an outsider's view, we'll let that pass. Jason's theme here -- his veritable raison d'etre, crucial to his slot in the conservative milk teat line -- is that Hollywood is a.) a single organized business/social/political entity and b.) it not only posesses but pursues successfully a single liberal socialization agenda.
Now, I have dealth with this before, smashing down that idiocy with little things we like to call facts. But Jason has stumbled back to his feet, unwilling to surrender to the sweet asphalt embrace of the truck-stop parking lot. Why, why must he still try to rise?
JASON: Instead, today’s Academy Awards have devolved into just another marketing tool for ‘indie’ films nobody’s seen. (worth repeating) The tipping point in this process probably came in 1998, when Miramax’s low-budget “Shakespeare in Love” stunned the industry by beating out Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture. Oscar season hasn’t been the same since.
KFM: "Oscar season hasn't been the same since." The "tipping point". Remember, Jason's staking his Hollywood savvy on this idea. His credibility as a filmmaker and commentator. Hold that phrase in your mind ...
Yes, since 1998 Oscars have been all about indie films that nobody's ever seen. How in the name of God did Saving Private Ryan, which grossed over $216 million dollars at the box office, get beat by the scruffy little "indie film nobody saw" Shakespeare in Love, which limped across the finish line with the pathetic indie film gross of $100 million dollars. I mean, that's practically community theater gross! Peh. Spielberg was totally shut out -- all he won was Best Director that year. That's ALL. Con-so-lation prize. Just that sad little Best Director Oscar and ... five of the eleven Oscars for which his film was nominated. Granted, Shakespeare did win seven of the thirteen for which it was nominated, two more then Ryan. However, those extra two were for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, and seeing as Saving Private Ryan had, um, no actual female roles in them, I think those were kind of gimmes.
To hammer home the point -- the 16 films between Ryan and Shakespeare in box office that year? Since "how many people have seen the film" is an important metric, according to Jason?
Saving Private Ryan ... Armageddon, There's Something About Mary, A Bug's Life, The Waterboy (?!), Doctor Dolittle, Rush Hour, Deep Impact, Godzilla, Patch Adams (?!?!), Lethal Weapon 4, The Truman Show, Mulan, You've Got Mail, Enemy of the State, The Prince of Egypt, The Rugrats Movie ... Shakespeare in Love.
With the exception of The Truman Show, not a lot of Oscar competition in there. And trust me, you do not want to see the next twenty. No, as a matter of fact, do. Go find me a single other movie in the top fifty of that year that deserved an Oscar nod.
But you see, according to Jason and his folk, that's all part of the conspiracy. We in Hollywood are intentionally making shit movies that are profitable and then making good movies at low budget that don't gross a lot in order to advance our agenda of ... I mean, we make big movies that are profitable but then manipulate the voting process to scorn them -- and therefore ourselves to ... wait, for this to even work, we need to nominate not only our little indie films, but also some big film for it to humiliate (so wait, who votes for the indie and who votes for the blockbuster, do we get memos or signals ...?) and then somehow make sure the second round voting falls toward the indie ... I don't know. It all gets too crazy to even satirize at that point.
Now, if Jason had any skills, he'd counter my Kung Fu with "Shakespeare in Love came out during December of that year, and so a big chunk of its profits would have come after the nomination." So, given that Shakespeare had made about $40 million bucks by that point (still, hardly shabby) -- oh, wait, about $17 million dollars of Ryan came after the nominations, too. Seeing as Ryan had been out since July, does that mean we can call the Oscar bounce $17 million? Or is it $60 million? Which? And for Jason's argument to make even a shred of sense, you also have to ignore that 1998 was the year the Weinsteins essentially invented Oscar pimpage, spending millions of dollars in advertisements for their movies . You know why they did that? To advance the radical liberal agendas of Shakespeare in Love and Life is Beautiful? No. TO. MAKE. MORE. MONEY.
To wit, any of this discussion outside the specific context of the Hollywood power game in each and every specific year is essentially useless. But -- Jason's the one who introduced the rules to this retarded size comparison game. So we'll play by them. Poor bastard ...
Does this shocking trend of tiny movies grossing only $100 million dollars upsetting the big moneymakers at Oscar time continue, as Jason -- drawing on his insight into the film world -- predicts? Well, just looking at Best Picture (his metric, not mine), and going by box office gross :
1999 nominess: American Beauty ($130 million gross) wins over Green Mile ($137 million), Cider House Rules ($57 million - slacker) , The Insider ($27 million) and The Sixth Sense ($294 million).
2000 nominees: Gladiator (ah yes, that little indie, $188 million boxoffice, #4 for the year) wins over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($128 million), Erin Brockovich ($125 million), Traffic ($124 million) and Chocolat ($71 million). That's right -- the #4 movie, mainstream big-budget historical drama, dominated the 2000 Oscars.
Wow, 1998 certainly was "the tipping point" of a trend ... that lasted ... sort of lasted ... ONE. WHOLE. YEAR.
But no, don't stop now! ...
2001 nominees: A Beautiful Mind (Who was going to see this? It only starred Russell Crowe, directed by arthouse fave Ron Howard. Thank the Oscar Gods for its $170 million dollar take!) wins over The Fellowship of the Ring ($313 million), Moulin Rouge ($57 million), In the Bedroom (which is guilty of the sin of not making a lot of money, no more than $36 million, but just instead being a FUCKING FANTASTIC MOVIE) and Gosford Park (which was indeed a little indie ... directed by Robert Altman, one of the greatest American directors. Weird how the Academy seemed swayed by that)
2002 nominees: the first year all the nominees came out in December, by the way, use that lens on these numbers as you will -- Chicago (starring indie nobodies Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellwigger and pulling down $170 million dollars) wins over The Two Towers ($340 million) and The Gangs of New York (Martin who? Leonardo Di-whosy?) at $78 million, burying The Hours ($41 million) and The Pianist ($33 million).
2003: Oh, this is the masterstroke for Jason's argument. This is the CLOSER, baby*. Tiny, shoestring-budget Return of the King ($377 million dollars) beats Master and Commander (there's indie-cellar-dweller Russell Crowe again, netting a pathetic $93 million), feel-good period piece Seabiscuit ($120 million dollars), ensemble-cast-of-the-gods and directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood Mystic River ($90 million) and Lost in Translation (the only real indie in the bunch)
Yes, Mr. Apuzzo. That is me beating you with your own idiot stick.
2004: Now here's where we let Jason kneel in the metaphorical parking lot, spit out some teeth and collect himself. Jason might grab a weak, weak handhold here in his half-assed data scan. By the time Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, and Sideways were nominated, none were considered blockbusters. They were all indies that were then picked up and marketed by majors. You can absolutely argue that the Academy nominations were crucial in getting more people out to see these movies -- although only Million and Aviator broke the $100 million mark, Ray and Sideways hung out in the mid $70 millions, and Neverland topped out at $51 million. All of these movies are remarkably politically/socially neutral, however. And, even we Hollywood folk admit, 2004 was a shit year for film quality. You want to argue Shrek 2 should have gotten the Oscar nod that year, you go nuts. **
So, let us proceed, already having established that Mr. Apuzzo's very first paragraph is damn close to the fucking stupidest thing any single human being could have said, and well past the Event Horizon of Stupid for someone who allegedly works in the industry.
JASON: Nonetheless, a new trend is developing in what ‘indie’ films the Academy honors.
KFM: If by "trend" we mean "just this year" and by "what indie films the Academy honors" we mean "indie films the Academy almost never honors".
JASON: This year the Academy is hot for left-leaning, ’social issue’ films: “North Country” (sexual harassment), “The Constant Gardener” (evil pharmaceutical companies), “Good Night, and Good Luck” (evil Republican Senators), --
KFM: -- I'm sorry, I just want to chime in here. Are you trying to play that McCarthy was just a well-meaning Senator who's just now being maligned by revisionist liberals, and that his vicious drunken smear tactics, abuse of his office and treason-mongering are only being made subject of the film because he's Republican? Seriously, you want to live in that camp? ... oooookay. Just checking.
JASON: --“Syriana” (’it’s all about oil’), “Brokeback Mountain” (gay cowboys), “Munich” (the ‘cycle of violence’), “Transamerica” (sex change operations), etc. --
KFM: wait ... Transamerica? What the hell category is that -- oh, Best Actress, Felicity Huffman. One nomination in the Big Six. Actually -- the only nomination the movie got. Is the Academy really "hot" for a movie it nominates only one performance for? Well, maybe it's indicative of the problem with all the nominees. Who else is in that category ....
Goddamit, he's right! Charlize Theron for North Country is in here! This entire category has been co-opted. Look, Keira Knightley in the socialist manifesto Prise and Prejudice! Fiery narco-feminist Judy Dench playing an old English lady who runs a theater in Mrs. Henderson Presents! Reese Witherspoon in WALK THE GODDAM LINE! Did you see that? It was about how God and love saved Johhny Cash from drugs! BASTARDS!
Of course, Ms. Huffman may win. When she does, it will because we are advancing our evil Hollywood agenda, not because her performance, in which she's an actual woman who manages to make you believe she's a man who's not a woman trying to be a woman and failing is in any way a particularly difficult or virtuoso piece of acting. Please.
JASON: Taken together these films embody an important new Hollywood trend I’d like to call: The New Triviality.
Hollywood, you see, has become a lot like the Democratic Party - namely, a loose coalition of aggrieved constituency groups requiring representation. And just as in the Democratic Party, these groups will now get to fight it out over the next few weeks over who gets Oscar gold ...
... But let’s back up for a minute. What characterizes a Trivial film? A good place to start is whether the film was produced by eBay co-founder Jeff Skoll’s Participant Productions ("Good Night, and Good Luck,” “North Country,” “Syriana,” the forthcoming “Fast Food Nation"). Participant’s films received 11 nominations this morning. And for those of you who don’t know, Participant’s avowed purpose is to produce films around which social activist (read: ‘left wing’) campaigns can be organized.
As Participant vice-present Meredith Blake put it in a recent interview, “Our product is social change, and the movies are a vehicle for that social change.” Participant is essentially the MoveOn.org of Hollywood.
KFM: Okay, now the joking is over. Jason Apuzzo, who runs an organization called Libertas which has as its explicitly stated purpose the promotion of conservative political thought in Hollywood, the independent financing and production of films showcasing conservative values he holds dear, is calling bullshit on a group of producers who are independently financing and producing films showcasing political values they hold dear.
We are left with two alternatives here, people, neither pleasant. In my completely unprofessional and personal opinion, either he is a breed of idiot so magnificent that he can genuinely not see the parallel and resultant hypocrisy -- scary -- or he is willing to be that openly and unrepentantly disingenuous -- scarier.
JASON: ... So, for example, in the case of “Syriana” - an infinitely trite thriller about the ‘relationship’ between oil and terrorism - Participant uses its film to encourage the online purchase of ‘TerraPasses’ to help reduce auto emissions. If ‘TerraPasses’ aren’t your thing, Participant’s web site for “North Country” cheerfully encourages visitors to sign a “Women-Friendly Workplace Pledge” and “implement a sexual harassment policy at your school.” Yes, comrade!
KFM: Because me not wanting you to grab my wife or daughter's ass while she's trying to earn a living is socialist. You are the FUNNY!
God, seriously, let's just put this guy out of his misery. Back to you, Jason.
JASON: I don’t recall whether David Lean bought any ‘TerraPasses’ while shooting “Lawrence of Arabia,” be he certainly made a better film than this year’s Oscar crop.
KFM: Sweet God.
Are you honestly, shamelessly a.) claiming to know how to write a film and b.) can't see the enormous structural and thematic parallels between Lawrence of Arabia and Syriana? Are you actually claiming to be a film-maker but you don't realize, as does every single wee amateur Spec-Monkey reading this column, be they a UCLA film grad or a part-time Mom screenwriter in Oregon, that you picked the two most similar films in your rant list to set up your dichotomy? How in the name of Pauline Kael's Haunted Panties do you critically analyze cinema? By film stock? By the number of tracking shots? By counting the number of words in the script without the letter "e"?! HOW?
Okay. Okay. Deep breaths. He's got to pull it out somehow. For chrissake, the man's got a PhD from Stanford and a philosophy degree from Yale. It cannot get worse. Sure, Jason Apuzzo has shown he is ignorant of how Hollywood business works; completely clueless on recent film and Oscar history; either an idiot or a hypocrite when it comes to the purpose of the very foundation he has set up; and revealed with, I must admit, breathtaking efficiency, he has no critical film analysis skills whatsoever. There is no way this can get any uglier. Let's dive back in where we left off:
JASON: I don’t recall whether David Lean bought any ‘TerraPasses’ while shooting “Lawrence of Arabia,” be he certainly made a better film than this year’s Oscar crop. And so, by the way, did George Lucas.
KFM: RACK FOCUS on John Rogers, his eyes widening in a Cthulhoid mix of delight and horror ...
JASON: You may remember George Lucas. Some thirty years ago he made a little film called “Star Wars” that revolutionized filmmaking, inspired a new generation of filmmakers, and saved Hollywood’s finances. Lucas recently revolutionized filmmaking again by pulling Hollywood kicking-and-screaming into the digital age. In 2005 he made a little independent film called “Star Wars Episode III” that was the year’s box office champ, received some of the warmest reviews of Lucas’ career, and successfully rounded-out the most popular and influential film series in movie history.
George’s thanks for all this? “Star Wars Episode III” got one nomination this morning, for Best Makeup. Lucas wasn’t nominated for Best Director, although George Clooney was for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” “Star Wars"’s Ian McDiarmid, playing the deliciously wicked Chancellor Palpatine, wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
So sorry, George Lucas. If your film doesn’t get us angry at Bush, Oscar just doesn’t care. Why? Because we’re now in the era of film as social activism, The New Triviality ...
... I ...
... let me walk that off. Let Jason wrap it up while I ... wow.
JASON: The Trivial film, you see, is merely an occasion for social activism or celebrity posturing. For example, on accepting a Golden Globe for his role in “Syriana,” --
KFM: Hi, me again. I don't think we can go on. I could never, in my wildest dreams, have nailed the close to this discussion like that. It's ... sublime. It's like looking into the solar corona of hackery, eclipsed only by the lunar body of cluelessness. Even when you go into the comments on his own right-wing site, you read things like: "I too believe Hollywood is filled with perverts and socialists. But an Oscar for Episode III? Are you high?"
I am usually very leery of criticizing fellow artists, and there are quite a few people who I disagree with politically -- Warren Bell for example, over at The Corner -- who I will tell you right now, is a helluva screenwriter.
But Jason Apuzzo, although he may well be a fine man, father, husband, uncle, businessman, friend, patriot, devoutly religious ... in my opinion Mr. Apuzzo has just proven himself to be, in this Feith-ian context, "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."
(NOTE: Yikes, Firedoglake is like a storm surge. All you newbies, please go here for an index of similar stuff. And thanks for swinging by)
* honest to Christ, I actually started giggling as I typed this.
** there is, of course, a separate discussion on whether Passion of the Christ deserved any Oscar nominations that year. I think that's fair. I don't think it did, but it's arguable. If you feel it was robbed, get in line behind Bill Murray for Lost in Translation, and Val Kilmer for Tombstone, oh, and Paul Giamatti for Sideways. This shit happens, it's the Oscars.