Academic Writing

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hurray for Hollywood!


From as long as I can remember I have been affected by the visual image projected on screen. When I was seven I wanted to be Ariel and one day find a Prince Eric of my own. Later that year I learned the lines between good and bad aren’t always so clear when my parents showed me West Side Story. To this day when I enter a theater, and sit there as the lights dim and the screen fills with images which come together to form a cohesive story I get the same excitement I did all those years ago. What am I going to come away with this time? Will I learn that there’s truly no place like home and does a spoonful of sugar really make the medicine go down? Will I fall in love with a performance that touches me and so deeply affects me like the first time I saw James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, or just the performer (ahem, yes I’m talking about Leo DiCaprio from his Titanic days)? To this day when I see a movie and I get lost in the narrative and I feel like a child again. For me, when I watch a movie I believe that anything is possible and dreams can and do come true. Maybe it’s a bit na├»ve, but over the years it’s become who I am.

Although many are credited for saying it, it’s unclear who actually came up with the phrase, “trust the art, not the artist.” Despite its murky origins I think this phrase is what has guided my love of the movies even before I had heard it actually articulated just a few years ago. That phrase is all about the essence of the movies. While volumes have been written about theory, aesthetic, thematics and history of film, dissecting scenes frame by frame, applying to the era from which it came, I think the spirit of film and what makes them so popular is ultimately its ability to relate to their viewers, and it might not have even been the intention of the filmmaker. When someone walks out of a movie-going experience and is able to take something, anything, away and relate it to their own personal experiences and is what makes a film a success. I recently walked out of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland inspired to follow my heart and dreams rather than what might be someone else’s. I felt encouraged to be courageous and do what’s right to me in my heart even if it’s not the safest or even popular decision. Had I not been entrenched in a life guiding career decision, I might have walked away with a completely different lesson from the film.

Oscar night, for this reason, is one of my favorite nights of the year. I sit down with my ballot all set out in front of me. One highlighter reserved for who I want to win, another who my prediction is for who will actually win and then finally, the actual winner. I laugh, I cry and I cheer as names are rattled off. Tears stream down my face during the “In Memoriam” portion of the evening as the industry, so often concerned in the here and now honors those who’ve paved their ways and innovated films and built the empire on which they stand and rely. This year two memorable names stood out to me. I got particularly choked up as Carl Malden and Bud Schulberg’s names and faces graced the screen. Respectively they were an honest and graceful actor and trailblazing screenwriter who helped shaped the place of films in the cultural zeitgeist. Furthermore, every year in addition to the excited anticipation, I hear the same complaints from friends and critics alike that the speeches are boring, the show drones on forever, and who cares about the random technical awards. For me it is just the opposite. Of course the “big” awards are important to me, but the so-called smaller awards are just as central to the Oscar night experience.

It’s generally the sound mixer or editor who goes unnoticed during all the glitz and glam of Hollywood. They aren’t known for their good looks, who they are dating or who they are wearing. Rather, it is these unsung heroes who are making the images we see pop on screen both visually and audibly and come together seamlessly. They are also those who often have some of the most inspiring stories of them all. Personally, as someone trying to navigate her way through a career in entertainment, desperately trying to find my way in such a volatile industry, I love hearing those speeches. Tonight, one of my favorites came from Michael Giacchino who won the Oscar for Best Score for Disney/Pixar’s Up. In his speech he told children, but also people in general, to never let others tell them that what they’re doing is a waste of time and not useful. He spent his childhood experimenting with cameras and being creative and he was lucky to always have people around him encouraging that creative spirit. What a wonderful message to send people today – that what you do matters. In an era of twitter and constant facebook status updates and people looking for that instant gratification that what they are thinking at any given moment is important, what really matters is the positive enhancements you bring to this world, the creative energy you bring to the table and to believe in yourself.

Another theme of the night, which is piggybacked on this one, is one that was reinforced time and again. It’s that you should always follow your dreams. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Take Katherine Bigelow, tonight’s winner for Best Director and the first female to take home the prize. She’s been working in an industry which tends to be male-focused and male-centric and she even made a “male” movie but she did it her way and she had been honored with the industry’s top awards for doing so. All the other winners from The Hurt Locker praised Bigelow and spoke to her unwavering integrity to her work and her vision. And this is something important to take away from how to live life and guide one’s career. Now, again, these are all themes which I took away from the show and the power of cinema because those are themes I am dealing with directly in my life and career right now and it’s something perhaps I needed to hear.

As anyone who knows me knows, I am pretty much unreachable during the Oscars. Phone is on silent, computer shut down and door locked, just like the movies which I have come to love and admire, so too the show which honors their achievement is a site for my inspiration. I get lost in the show just like I get lost in the movies and the power of film reaches me today the same as when I was just an impressionable child. I guess not all that much has changed.

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