Sunday, February 24, 2008

Academy Awards 2008

      I didn't watch the show because I don't care, but I do find it interesting that Marion Cotillard won for her scenery-chewing, embarrassingly over-the-top portrayal of Edith Piaf. Watching the film, I kept feeling like I was watching Nicole Sullivan doing her dim-witted MAD-TV character Antonia.

      Cotillard gave a gratingly showy performance stitched from ham-fisted affectation. The only time she actually managed to suggest a human being was in the scene where Piaf learns that her lover has been killed and she has an uncontrollable, guttural breakdown. As the children would say, the actress peed that scene. The rest of the performance is just plucking at the audience's heartstrings through shameless pandering. The two actresses who played the young Piaf were infinitely better.
      What I find most interesting about Cotillard's win is the selective moral and artistic outrage around the "truthfulness" of bio pics. Lady Sings the Blues was blasted for its devil-may-care approach to the truth of Billie Holiday's life and that (along with the Academy's supposed disgust with Berry Gordy's relentless campaigning for Diana Ross to get an Oscar) is thought to be one of the reasons the OG diva was shut out of the awards over 35 years ago. More recently, Denzel Washington was robbed of his Oscar for Hurricane after the film came under scathing, relentless media attacks for playing too loose with fact. It was open season on the film and it seemed that everybody had loaded weapons. Washington's flawless performance became a casualty of the cross-fire.
      But Cotillard and La Vie En Rose received raves and more raves, despite the fact that the film is factually bullshit. As I watched the movie, I kept thinking, y'all ain't for real with this nonsense are you? (Side note: Given the pains that La Vie takes to connect Piaf to Holiday, who also manufactured assorted distortions and misrepresentations around her life, the double-standard of the receptions afforded the two lying-ass films about the women's lives becomes... interesting.) The film is based on Piaf's own notoriously unreliable self-mythologizing, which anyone with a library card or the ability to google could dismantle. In biographer Margaret Crosland's excellent 1985 biography "Piaf," she takes apart one tale after another that Piaf spun, and that the film presents wholesale anyway. It's hard to believe that with the years of research and writing it took to get the film made, the powers-that-be didn't know they were shoveling, well... bullshit. (For example, in the movie, where young Piaf goes blind and lives in darkness for a long while, Crosland discovered that Piaf actually only developed an eye infection and had blurry vision for a few days. But the film milks that self-spun myth for buckets of tears.)
      That the Academy gave the award to a largely lead-footed, unintentionally hilarious performance is no surprise at all. That's what they do. I just find the double standard... interesting.

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