I’m not going la la am I?

It was the night of the BAFTAs and I found myself throwing screeners at the TV in rage and disappointment. What did my fellow members think they were doing? La La Land is not a bad film by any means. It’s OK for a Hollywood act of self-love, but a great film, made by a great director with a great performance by the lead actress? Great cinematography and music? You’ve gotta be kidding me. Yet, five gongs the film collected, none of them deserved. So why did it happen?

Recently I wrote about what it was I wanted from going to the movies. When times are hard or uncertain all everyone else seems to want is escapism. On April 4 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two months later Bobby Kennedy met the same fate. The US was in existential turmoil, both physical and metaphysical. It was a crazy year around the world. And what was the film that screened that summer and went on to win best picture in the Oscars? An entertaining, cheesy piece of musical escapism of a Dickens Classic, Oliver!, directed by Carol Reed. There was less emotional and subjective voting behaviour in the UK where Mike Nichols’ The Graduate picked up the most BAFTAs, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001- A Space Odyssey. These are two unforgettable, timeless classics that will for ever be cherished in the annals of cinema history. Oliver! received several nominations but no wins. Altogether a much more satisfying and sensible result.

I had no doubt La La Land would clean up at this year’s Oscars for similar reasons Oliver! did so well. I had prayed fervently that the 2017 BAFTAs could be remembered for recognising great talent, but I guess that will have to wait for another year. It would be mean-spirited of me to say that all the awards were given on the basis of public emotional need – an interesting consideration within the tenets of Film Culture I would posit – and many choices, although they were not mine, nonetheless were deserved. The categories were crowded places to be in 2017, which is why I am so pissed off with the results.

Looking back at 1968 and comparing both the social and political realities of then and now, I find it worrying that today my fellow BAFTA members seem more in love with Hollywood escapist pap than genuinely good films and especially directors. Sure, the USA was in greater turmoil and fear in ’68 than we were back in Blighty – although revolution was in the air and I, when not high on rock and roll was expressing a view outside the US embassy and getting a good kicking from our boys in Blue for the trouble. I blame the Media. The last few weeks has been a continual blitz of hype, adulation and verbal diarrhoea around the brilliance of La La Land. It has been a marketing triumph for Lionsgate who are the main distributors of the film. The Media was looking for a sweet bit of escapism to prime the pumps of audience need, and boy has it succeeded. Yet, when I had discussed voting intentions with fellow voters I couldn’t find anyone who rated the film at all. I fear that the arbiters of taste and quality amongst my peers are a different breed in the UK than they were nearly fifty years ago. I suggest that we are becoming more like the Americans in our taste and if that is the case, I am much saddened. I also wonder if, as in real life, I live within a neo-liberal, independent cinema-lovers bubble and don’t mix enough with the modern media air-heads who spend too much time drinking inappropriately at BAFTA HQ.

Escapism is a vital part of the experience of film and it is good for us to be able to spend those few hours in a darkened room forgetting about our troubles, our leaders, our neighbours; but when I Google for the ten best escapist movies of all time what pops up is Vogue’s suggestions, which are all to do with getting away from it all to some exotic location. So first perhaps, one needs to attempt to define just exactly what an escapist film is – and I don’t include John Sturges’ 1963 classic, The Great Escape, starring the ultimate movie heart-throb Steve McQueen – which, by the way, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing but didn’t win. Any ideas?


Also published on Medium.

6 Comments

  1. Jane Murdock 6 March 2017 at 12:30 pm

    This with all respect does not come across as a film critique but rather as a personal view jumping on the bandwagon of giving this film a bashing. I see no solid arguments to back your case – referring back to the 1960’s and what is deemed a classic film has no relevance and if you are comparing then maybe you should compare South Pacific to Les Mis’. If you feel that La La Land should not have won due to what you say i.e. escapism then The Artist or Lord of the Rings should not have won either. There are many films that some or indeed many people will feel should not have won Bafta’s or Oscars including the majority by Steven Spielburg because they are emotionally manipulative and are essentially crowd-pleasers with lack of depth. La La Land is a film designed to be a crowd-pleaser and is open in its intention from the outside unlike the others who manipulate the subject matter to give a feeling of false depth – it is a film to go and see just to sit back and loose yourself in something that is trying to pay tribute to the age of the great cinematic musicals in the same way The Artist paid tribute to the black and white silent movies.

    Reply
  2. Gareth 6 March 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Maybe things aren’t as bleak as you think Adam. La La Land didn’t get the biggest gong at the Oscars (eventually). Given the furore last year that, at least, might be a sign of progress.

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  3. adam Alexander 6 March 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Well, I was wrong about one thing. The Oscar for Best Picture this year actually went to a truly wonderful film. And yes, I did write a personal view, but certainly I am not one for jumping on bandwagons and I believe the political and historical perspective is relevant.. The critics,almost universally, adored the risible La La Land and if there are a few brave souls out there daring to diss said movie then I am proud to be part of their cohort. Said film was brilliantly marketed and the media duly lapped it all up. I could argue with you all day no doubt about the genius – or lack of it – that is Steven Spielburg, Time will tell whether his films will continue to be considered amongst some of the greatest out of Hollywood or the young pretender, Damien Chazelle will knock him off his pedestal. The Artist was a remarkably engaging homage and made by a Frenchman. It didn’t get my vote either but deservedly has rather more gongs than La La Land.

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  4. John276778 6 March 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Talking of truly great escapist films “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is exactly that. Seeing the Chief running off into the sunset has to be one of the greatest ‘feel-good’ moments in cinema history. As regards La-La I have to agree Adam, is was well enough made and indeed a film of it’s time, vacuous as opposed to say, South Pacific whose narrative is still being tested today.

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  5. Jane Edmonds 8 March 2017 at 9:40 am

    As someone who saw all the great musicals when they were first out, I’m afraid La-La-Land was a disappointment. The dancing was not very good or exciting and I have no memory of any of the music. But perhaps that is what it should be. The story didn’t grab me, though I thought the ending was appropriate to these times, whether you think they were solipsistic or realistic about the future. It wasn’t a great movie, but it wasn’t boring.

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  6. susan askew 9 March 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Absolutely agree. A mediocre film which in my view was not optimistic or escapism anyway. I actually found it rather depressing. And where was the dramatic conflict? The acting was ok, the music was totally forgettable and let’s not mention the dancing. Thank goodness that it didn’t win the best film at the oscars and thank goodness for the best actor going to amazing portrayal of a traumatised man in Manchester by the sea.

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