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By Other Voices

A Civil Year

My immediate tendency when the Oscar nominations are announced each year is to place everything into a specific context. What is this the “year of?” What is the Academy trying to say with their choices? What’s it all about?

Many opinions have been offered and digested in the last week about the niche this year’s announcement may or may not carve into the history of cinema. The experience has been a polarizing one to say the least. There are many who consider 2005 to be the weakest year for films in a long time, less-filling, nothing more than a sampling of lesser content. And there are those – again, many – who seem to view it as one of the most resilient, triumphant, with something more beneath the surface.

It is far too easy to filter everything down to a cinematic year of “political” or “social” statements. Those sentiments are obviously happening on the surface, but the deeper you look, especially within the Academy’s Best Picture candidates, the more the focus seems to tighten. More than any year I can think of, this year’s nominees are representative of the human experience as it relates to civil interaction and personal relationships.

In Brokeback Mountain, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are two men drawn together in a world that admonishes their attraction. They are two pieces of a puzzle that fit together in a story that dictates the endurance and importance of love and the boundaries it doesn’t know.

In Capote, writer and journalist Truman Capote manipulates and connives his way through relationships with those who can assist him in reaching his ends. He is a man skilled at the art of the relationship – at the art of human interaction – and he knows how to use discourse and sympathy to get what he wants.

In Crash, Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco tell a story about the fear we have of one another as individuals, and how that fear keeps us from forming solid, or at least trusting, relationships with one another. The sprawling and disconnected setting of Los Angeles is used to further prove their thesis that people long for that interaction and yearn for any connection, despite their fears. Notions of race merely float on the surface of what Crash is really talking about.

In Good Night, and Good Luck., George Clooney brings to the screen the story of Edward R. Murrow‘s stand against civil injustice. The yarn is at once cautionary and familiar as it presents the notion that a government is not meant to impede on a civilization’s rights to interact and to engage with one another as they see fit.

And, in MunichSteven Spielberg tackles the ages old debate over the Middle Eastern conflict. Realized in a similar stylistic vein as the greatest of 1970s cinema (The French Connection, The Godfather, Serpico), the film asks more questions than it answers (or even wishes to answer) about what two races of people are to do if they are to co-exist. The film therefore deals heavily with the ultimate civil struggle, in many ways serving as a microcosm for the rest of the line-up.

It’s also interesting how the above-mentioned theme of fear can be threaded throughout this list of films in some way, small or large, and even how that thematic is present in some of the year’s most diverse offerings (Batman Begins, A History of Violence, Cinderella Man, The New World).

It is often said that socially and politically conscious art comes to the surface most emphatically under a conservative regime of government. More than that, though, we live in times of uncertainty. We live in times where, unbeknownst to us, our telephone conversations might be tapped, a portion of a terrorist cell could be residing in our neighborhood. As Murrow recognizes in Good Night, and Good Luck., the fear is right here in this room.

Whether you agree with Oscar’s eventual choices or not, this is a year the Academy has, consciously or not (likely not), dedicated to the examination of homogeneity. Considering the times in which we live, I think it is always important to look beyond what seems the easy classification. Just as each of the films nominated for Best Picture, regardless of quality, is about something much more than its logline, the line-up itself is equally representative of depth.

February 7, 2006

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon