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David Poland

By David Poland

Goldman On The Gold Man

I read William Goldman’s first public comments on the awards season this year in Variety and just after, some nasty comments about him on a site with message boards that are endlessly amusing this time of year.  And what hit me first about the response to some tough comments by Goldman was…

People prefer to be lied to.

It is more complex than that, but the punch line is that people prefer a lie they agree with to a truth that goes against what they believe. 

In particular, Goldman brutalizes Martin Scorsese a bit for the second time in three years.  But in the Gangs of New York debacle, Scorsese and his Oscar Svengali, Harvey Weinstein, had it coming.  Moreover, there is no one who I know who works or closely covers the Oscars who knows, to this date, where the votes for Gangs’ 10 nominations came from, with a couple of exceptions (Daniel Day Lewis amongst them).

What Goldman, who has not seen The Aviator yet, jumps on this year is that critical hysteria has started and is expected to continue on that film, in spite of a pleasant, but hardly overwhelming response from most audiences in town.  There are people who adore The Aviator.  But there seem to be an equal number who despise it. 

But Goldman’s core issue, even if he slams Scorsese a bit hard for me, is that the hysteria about getting Marty “his” Oscar would not be happening had he simply won the Oscar he most deserved 25 years ago, for Raging Bull.  I am not as tough on later Scorsese as Goldman.  I truly love Kundun and I see great work even in his failures, like Gangs.  That said, Goldman is 100% correct – and I don’t think anyone without blinders on or a vested interest would suggest otherwise – in saying that Scorsese’s greatest work was 20 years ago.   

I like a lot of The Aviator, but in so many ways, this is not amongst Scorsese’s best work as character studies go.  You can’t get much darker than Scorsese got in Mean Streets and Raging Bull.  You can’t get much more complex than GoodFellas, which travels roughly the same amount of time as The Aviator.  But the work in those films was innovative and really brilliant.  In The Aviator, he made a conventional film.  It’s beautiful at times and truly exhilarating at others.  But I can name 20 directors who could have delivered it as well if not better. 

When I read Goldman writing about the word of mouth, “…The first hour is terrific. But Scorsese has never been at ease with story, and the rest of the film just does not measure up. You watch — when the gushing starts, that decline will be buried,” I feel a little like I am having déjà vu.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote of Todd McCarthy’s review in Variety and how it accurately described a part of the film… and how it blatantly left out 40% or more of the film from the discussion.  You can read the reader responses for yourself, but they ran from anger at me, to disbelief, to some in agreement.  But it was really simple, however you feel about the film… it was consciously or unconsciously incomplete.

Goldman goes on to wonder if Million Dollar Baby is the big threat to The Aviator (it is), even though he has not seen that film either.  Of course, as his bashers say, he has worked with Eastwood.  They also rage that he is against The Aviator without having seen it.

But what I read there is what is a very real view in town… the Scorsese hysteria is different than, say, talk about Alexander Payne or Michael Mann. It’s not “great work… let’s celebrate,” but “let’s celebrate his career… the work here is good enough not be embarrassing because damn, he earned it over his career.”  This nomination was being assumed long before anyone saw the film… and so few people have seen it as of now, critical mass is building still.

It is, of course, possible to believe that The Aviator is better directorial work than Sideways or Collateral or Million Dollar Baby.  But the haze of the Oscars is quite often more about the things around the work than the work itself.  I look forward to reading Goldman on the F9/11 campaign effort

But back to the original thought… people like to be lied to. 

How many journalists and critics have I read this season who are taking positions that are not just about the films involved.  There is one major columnist who ripped into The Phantom of The Opera after refusing to attend one of a number of screenings to which they were offered access.  No disclosure in the column.  Others hated this film or loved that film and then tout or tear those titles as though there was industry “buzz.”  (I have been accused of this at times and take great offense at the notion, since I work endlessly to avoid this.)  You may disagree… you may disagree to the point of rage… with Goldman’s take here.  But you have to admit, it’s honest.  His cards are on the table. 

And with little bitterness at all, he points out that his favorite film, The Motorcycle Diaries, is sure to miss the boat.  Another bit of truth.

Oscarwatch’s "William Goldman, can’t we just strangle the man" chat board

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13 Responses to “Goldman On The Gold Man”

  1. Mike says:

    “But there seem to be an equal number who despise it.”
    I have no clue what vibe you’re getting from the Academy voters you’ve spoken to, but could you please point me to any high profile haters of The Aviator” – besides Jeffrey Wells.
    Because I’m not seeing it.

  2. David Poland says:

    Few Academy members have websites or broadcast their opinions.
    The point is, relentless, over-the-moon opinions are rare… and so are severe digs… 80% of the people I have spoken to are somewhere in the middle… which is a pretty wide middle. They lean positive, which is why I have the film so high on my charts. But there are plenty of people who think the film fails. And none, so far, who seem to think it worse than Gangs.
    Does that help?

  3. Neal says:

    Goldman is a dirtbag. Plain and simple. You say Scorsese “had it coming” for Gangs, when really it was Harvey that deserved the backlash, if any. Scorsese just made a film the best way he thought, and perhaps had to compromise along the way to even get it released. Then he promoted it, as any director would. I doubt he was the one who bribed/threatened/cajoled Robert Wise into writing anything. I’m sure Marty was embarrassed about the whole thing.
    But back to The Aviator. David’s exact words were: “There are people who adore The Aviator.  But there seem to be an equal number who despise it.” Do you REALLY believe that? Who’d you talk to, 2 people? That speculation seems based on VERY little evidence, and especially as the public hasn’t even weighed in on it. While I’m sure people aren’t drooling en masse over the thing, I have yet to read one piece that tore the film to shreds.
    And as you pointed out, there is a difference between Best Achievement in Directing and Best Film of the Year. That’s why there’s TWO awards. I can’t imagine how anyone could give a directing award to Alexander Payne. Yeah, the guy can direct actors. That’s it. That’s not enough to win an award. It’s like giving an award in Art Direction to the guy who’s just a great painter. I loved Sideways but I could name 10 directors who could have directed that screenplay just as well if not better, to use your own line. Perhaps The Aviator isn’t perfection. Few masterpieces are because they involve big risks, innovation, and ambition. And while Scorsese may appear to be ultimately responsible for the film as a whole (something really shared with the Producer, or Harvey in this case), he should be judged on his direction solely by the images you see on the screen and how well the actors are used in those images. By those standards, he could easily have 5 Oscars by now.
    It really pisses me off that those who aim low and succeed brilliantly are championed over more ambitious artists who fail to deliver a concise piece. I’d rather see a mess by Scorsese or Kubrick than a perfectly done Eastwood picture. While Clint is a legend in his own right and has turned out some very well crafted films (and one masterpieve in Unforgiven), he’s not one of the all time great filmmakers. It leads me to believe that critics resent having a hard time nailing that blob to the wall, and take it out on the filmmaker. I’m sure that Million Dollar Baby is a very good film. And maybe it’s not easy to direct a smaller, character-driven piece and have every mark hit. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than juggling a historical epic with grand set pieces as well as intimate psychological drama. Are you the kind of person who would have awarded an Oscar to George Stevens or Elia Kazan over Orson Welles?
    I think a little bit more respect should be shown. And by agreeing with Goldman that Scorsese hasn’t done anything great in 25 years, you’re slamming GoodFellas, which really stands up there with any of his “classics”. Most importantly, when was the last time WIlliam Goldman wrote a great screenplay? I’m seeing three Stephen King adaptations in the last 15 years, the most recent being freaking DREAMCATCHER. He also adapted The General’s Daughter and a John Grisham novel. Could he be more of a studio hack? Where this guy gets off judging Scorsese’s career is beyond me. Does it take one washup to know one? And ironically, he adapted Absolute Power for Clint Eastwood, Scorsese’s likely main rival this year. Conflict of interest?
    Shut this guy up. He’s worthless.

  4. Mike says:

    Dave, I’m just reading the reviews and noting a “very positive” vibe for The Aviator so far. Especially in comparison to the reception for “Gangs”. It doesn’t seem “in the middle” to me.
    One thing is for sure – not one review has called it a failure or piss poor. It’s all either been great, great-but-flawed, or very good. If I had read even one review which evoked hatred, I wouldn’t wonder so much about these folks who seem to despise the picture.
    But like you said, academy voters don’t proclaim their opinions on websites or newspapers – and considering they’re the only vote that counts…..

  5. viktor says:

    Ha the spontaneous generation advocates of righteous thinking! Big words and little thought. Thanks Neal, you’re a worthy crystal-clear bag.
    Well, Dave, maybe you have a better word for people eager to be lied to?

  6. bicycle bob says:

    he should have won for goodfellas. then this convo is a mute point. but since he got screwed worse than neal by his husband, we’re gonna have this argument every time marty has a flick out.

  7. jeremy says:

    I’ve yet to encounter a truly harsh word for THE AVIATOR in conversation or print. Even those with strong reservations seem more than willing to concede that the film has moments of greatness, while avoiding GONY’s lows. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on the other hand… seriously, where is this outpouring of love? Outside of the standing ovation at the MCN screening (and didn’t BEYOND THE SEA receive similar adoration?), word-of-mouth continues to be toxic. I don’t doubt that the film has its advocates, but is that camp really strong enough to put one of those five Best Picture slots in play? It seems more like a long shot than a frontrunner to me.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    Neal said it. But I’ll say it again.
    One word: “Dreamcatcher.”

  9. Mark says:

    I think he just likes riling people up. See? We’re discussing a has been screenwriter right now. What other screen writer, who peaked in 1975, has his name in public?

  10. TheBrotherhoodOfTheLostSkeletonOfCadavra says:

    David, even if Scorsese had won for RAGING BULL or even GOODFELLAS, do you really think the fervor would lessen all that much? Spielberg “finally” got his Oscar for SCHINDLER, then won again a mere five years later for RYAN. And let’s not forget that Marty’s principal competition, Eastwood, has also won before (and certainly would have again last year if not for the RINGS juggernaut). Oh, there may be a little “he hasn’t won so why not now?” in there, but not to the extent that you think. Even if he had won twice before, I still think he’d be a front-runner this year.

  11. joe says:

    I dont see sideways winning the oscar.
    I see the aviator winning the oscar.
    I see, also, million dollar baby winning it.
    And yes, I do see th phantom of the opera getting it to.
    I dont see alexander payne winning the oscar.
    I dont see joel winning either
    But I do see both, Clint and Martin, with the oscar in their hands.
    I really dont want Scorsese to win, because the aviator (even though it looks very good) seems a little….
    ..Hollywood for him. Yes, we all know he deserved a lot of other oscars, but for movies that looked he have done.. you know..movies with the martin scorsese´s style
    And on the other hand, I would like Clint Eastwood to win, because even though I am not american (I am Mexican but please dont hate me) I think Clint has made very important American movies (maybe only to foreign eyes) lately; And with mystic river, he did it again,
    and maybe with MDb…again.

  12. bicycle bob says:

    make up ur mind joe.

  13. austi22 says:

    I concur that mr. goldman should just keep his pie hole shut and let the film speak for itself, good or ill. I would hope that the academy members can figure it out on their own anyways. It seems odd that every time a new Scorsese flick comes out these days, he’s right there to stick his finger in the hole of the dam of righteous guilt about not giving the guy his due. I don’t agree that Scorsese’s best work was 25 years ago. I’ve seen all those films and some that came after that I really really thought were great, not all of course, but several that I keep seeing pop up that turn out to be much more than I initially thought. I even remember you, Dave, yeah you, saying that Bringing Out the Dead would be studied for years to come in one of your columns somewhere. Were you smoking something then or are you smoking it now, bro? What the heck is it? Anyways, I’d still go watch any Scorsese flick, flawed or whatever, any day of the week over most of the stuff that comes out any given year, whether it’s proclaimed to be the next coming or whatever. But that’s me. Cheers..

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