Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tonight: The Academy Awards

I'm digressing from my usual Myth and Science analysis to mention one of the major popular culture events that happens this time of year. In an annual gathering at my house, a handful of our friends get together to watch the Academy Awards broadcast. What can I say? I live near Los Angeles, which abuts Hollywood -- this is a Company Town. And a few of my friends work in The Business, which I've found over the years is pretty normal here.

We watch films for entertainment, for escapism, and often mistakenly, for education (can you really learn about history in a Hollywood film? This is a rhetorical question and you are not required to answer). But films have another function -- modern film making is a form of mythopoesis, creating myths. Not all "movies" have a mythopoetic element, but some do, and you know the ones: they stick with you over time, you analyze and re-analyze portions of it, and you have memorized large chunks of dialogue.

Pacifica Professor Glen Slater relates, in defining the difference between "movies" and "films" that:

"Film demands that its visual presentation serves hidden depth -- shaded, secreted, semi-conscious or unconscious elements, the presence of which is first felt or intuited but may enter our awareness more fully only upon reflection. Depth makes meaning and brings poignancy. It results from patterned complexity and backward gazes into cultural history, ancestry, and personal pasts. Depth also occurs in the basic movement of our mind from the simple to the nuanced and subtle. If the cinematic arts have any fundamental characteristic, it is the call to create depth. This call makes film and psyche natural kin." ("Archetypal Perspective and American Film" pg. 1-2. Spring Journal 73 Cinema and Psyche).

I was thinking about Glen's distinction between "movie" and "film" as I pondered my own Oscar ballot for tonight's gathering. Which of the 5 nominees for Best Picture are "movies" and which are "films?" Which of the 5 stayed in my head the longest, was discussed the most, analyzed several times over several days, and has left lasting images in my mind's eye. Here they are, in order:

The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Milk
Frost/Nixon
Slumdog Millionaire

Each of the titles above is linked to the respective official site. I am reasonably sure that my list of nominees is not going to reflect the outcome of the awards tonight. There are also obvious mythic elements and conflicts in each of these 5 that are still operative in the American collective psyche today:

The Reader -- the Holocaust, personal responsibility, racism
Benjamin Button -- racism, ageism, the cult of youth
Milk -- homophobia, sexism, cultural exile
Frost/Nixon -- the Vietnam War, political corruption, power
Slumdog Millionaire -- racism, classism, materialism, violence against children

One thing that all of these have in common is that all of the main characters in these 5 works are trapped in a form of ghetto. Your opinion and your mileage may vary. Enjoy the broadcast tonight.

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