Hollywood's Prom Night

Hiya folks, the Butcher here.

Well, it's almost Oscar time. Not that I give half a damn about the Oscars. Personally, I find the Oscars to be a rather meaningless popularity contest among Hollywood's "in crowd". I never went to my high school prom for the same reason. However, the Oscars do serve as a useful barometer to illustrate the prevailing attitudes toward film. It's not that I feel that every person or film that was awarded an Oscar didn't deserve one, but there are several examples of skewed Oscar voting. Henry Fonda's Best Actor Oscar for "
On Golden Pond
" wasn't for his performance in the film - it was given to him for all the films he didn't get an Oscar for. His performance in "
On Golden Pond
" was touching, well-acted . . . and served to remind the Academy that he was an old man not long for this world, and he had never gotten an Oscar. So he got it. Likewise "
Citizen Kane
", generally referred to as the best American film ever made, was completely snubbed at the 1941 Oscars for political reasons. Not only did the Academy not want to piss off Hearst, but the Hollywood establishment hated Orson Welles' guts because he was a smartassed kid from the east coast who not only got full control over his very first film and used mostly non-Hollywood talent, but had the audacity to make a brilliant film on his first try. How dare he.

So, the Oscars are skewed. Not fixed necessarily, but skewed. This is further illustrated by the fact that in seventy-odd years of Academy Awards, no animated feature film has ever won an Oscar in any category besides music, and only one film has ever been nominated for Best Picture. The only time an animated film has remotely been honored by the Academy was when Shirley Temple gave Walt Disney a special Oscar with seven tiny Oscars for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", in acknowledgement of completing the first feature-length animated film. The only other venue for animation in the Oscars is the specific category for "best animated short" - but it seems that the Academy doesn't want animation sitting at the big table with the adults at Thanksgiving.

However, the Academy is not solely to blame. The United States has a unique attitude that animation is strictly a medium for children. As such, it is not recognized in this country as a legitimate art form. Animation is highly regarded in Japan, with as many animated films made for adult audiences as for children. By the way, when I say "adult audiences", I don't mean pornography - I mean mature, dramatic stories presented in the form of animation. The National Film Board of Canada considers animation such a part of national culture that it devotes as much support to animators as it does to live-action filmmakers. Is there any such support of animation in the US? Nope. Not even from the animation industry itself, as far as the big studios are concerned. All of them, with the exception of Disney, seem to regard animation as filmmaking's ugly sister and do little to promote their animated projects. Even worse, many studios don't even take their own projects seriously, cranking out mediocre-to-awful projects like "
Quest for Camelot
" and "
The King and I
". Meanwhile, Disney takes a minimum of effort to create formulaic but nonetheless well-crafted successes like . . . well, do even have to name them?

I'm not even sure how this whole animation-is-just-for-kids attitude got started, but I think that it might have something to do with when TV stations started running the pre-1948 Warner Bros Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons on saturday mornings. Ironically, these films weren't even originally meant strictly for kids - if you watch them as an adult, there's some really sophisticated and even suggestive humor in these things. These cartoons were added attractions to round out the whole moviehouse experience when you'd get a feature film, a cartoon, a newsreel, and maybe even a mini-travelogue thrown in to the mix. The cartoons were there for the kids, but they had to appeal to adults as well. And they did. But somehow since that time, if you were an adult who liked cartoons, something was wrong with you. And if you were a cartoon that liked adults, you were trying to subvert America's youth. Case in point - people still freak out over "The Simpsons", saying that it's bad for children, despite the fact that it has been in a prime time slot for ten years now, airing against all the other "adult" dramas and comedies that no one complains are turning kids to Satan. However, because it is a cartoon, it's must obviously be aimed at children. God forbid that our kids should learn the words
hell
and
damn
from Bart Simpson rather than the cast of "
Friends
".

Further proof that all animation is lumped together in people's minds as kiddie flicks: Go to almost any video store, find the "animation" section (or in some stores, the "Disney" section), and I'm sure you can find such children's classics as "
Fritz the Cat
", "
Heavy Metal
", and "
Akira
" right alongside "
All Dogs Go to Heaven
", "
The Lion King
", and "
Rugrats
".

Where am I going with all of this? I don't know. I'm The Butcher - I'm just here to rant. But I can tell you of at least two critically acclaimed, well-received films that won't even be mentioned within a few miles of the Shrine Auditorium when Hollywood comes out to honor it's best and brightest: "
The Iron Giant
" and "
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
". "
South Park
" is one of the most biting social satires to come to the big screen in a long, long time. It's also one of the few films I've been to in my life where the audience was laughing hysterically out loud. Oooooh, but the Academy can't even mention such a film! It's so obviously designed to twist the impressionable minds of our children! Yeah, right. That's why it was rated R and not shown in matinees. I also haven't seen a whole lot of kiddies in the school yard singing the "Uncle Fuka" song. The film was never meant for kids, dammit! "
The Iron Giant
" was certainly suitable for the entire family. It had a bit of edginess to it: the occasional hell and damn, not to mention the dose of cold war paranoia and the specter of nuclear holocaust. Sound like a strictly-for-the-kiddies film to you? I didn't think so. Will it get any recognition from the Academy? We'll have to wait and see. But don't hold your breath.

The Butcher

2/3/2000




*POSTSCRIPT FROM THE BUTCHER

Well, sprinkle my words with brown sugar and call 'em breakfast - I stand partially corrected. A week or so after my last rant was posted, the Academy released their list of nominees for this year's Oscars, and - I'll be damned - the song "Blame Canada" from "
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
" was nominated for Best Song. Still, I saw no mention of "
Iron Giant
", which could conceivably been nominated for best adaptation...

I don't think that it has a hope in hell of actually winning, just as the unpopular kid who comes to the prom alone wont get to dance with anyone, but at least it will be amusing to see how the crowd at the Shrine reacts when they announce the nominees. Maybe there's hope.....but probably not.

The Butcher

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