Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'The Artist' and the Big Lie

So I'm channel-surfing last night, and I see a commercial for "The Artist," the 2012 Oscar-winner for best picture. I would love to think the audience watching "Body of Proof" on ABC would embrace an arty, black-and-white movie written and directed by an unknown Frenchman, but I know this is impossible. So do the people promoting "The Artist," so they use only action sequences in which nobody's lips move, in order to conceal the fact that the movie is silent.

What's the point of selling people something they don't want? They'll come away from the picture annoyed, like the Charlotte woman who left a screening midway through because she hadn't realized there was no dialogue. Ads for foreign films use this same marketing trick, cutting together sequences where no one speaks because -- gasp! -- we might hear a bit of Italian or German and be scared away.

I understand the distributors' anxiety. By and large, American audiences are timid and lazy. I can't count the number of times college-educated, presumably open-minded friends have uttered some variation of the phrase "I don't go to the movies to read." They're perfectly happy missing out on film culture from any part of the globe that doesn't speak English.

That always seems odd to me: As the world gets smaller, and the Internet links us Earthlings inextricably, U.S. moviegoers curl up in their own comfy corners and tune out ideas from 90 percent of the planet. And all the misleading ads that network TV can show won't wake them up.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Goodbye Oscars, hello new blog

Readers who e-mailed me this morning all wanted to talk about the Oscars, so how can I start my new blog with anything else? 

Wait a minute. That's rude. I should start by saying hello. Hi, there! Pull up a chair. I'm the grinning guy in the picture, minus a few pounds (as readers of last year's Pounding Away blog may recall.)

I'll be talking every Monday, Wednesday and Friday about something to do with culture. That should be a broad enough topic to let me ramble on happily about whatever catches my fancy. I'll be happy to answer questions, field criticism -- I have the skin of a rhinoceros, so fire away -- and pontificate about anything under the artistic sun. For instance...

...the Academy Awards. First, Billy Crystal needs to be entombed again. I would rather have Uggie the dog, unheralded star of "The Artist," bark an opening monologue than listen to Crystal croak through "It's a grand night for Oscar" and make bad puns again. The show moves reasonably well when he's in charge, but that's a low standard; it's like thanking a short-order cook for not dropping your burger on the floor.

Second, the show needs to dump Cirque du Soleil fireworks and restore the Lifetime Achievement Award to its proper place. Someone who didn't know the work of James Earl Jones would learn nothing by seeing him beam from his seat, but proper film clips might inspire people to dig into his work. I realize producers are desperate to make the show exciting -- restoring live performances of songs might help -- but it's fundamentally an orgy of back-patting. Let it be one, and pat the right back!