My boyfriend is really into movies, so every year he hosts an Oscar party. Sometimes he tells me they’ve been black tie affairs, complete with an actual red carpet (so fun!)… but this year we were staying in a cabin in the mountains, so I was in my yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Oh well. (Next year, I’m getting an old prom gown from a thrift store and going all out.)
Anyway, this was actually the first year I’ve ever even watched the Oscars. I like movies a lot too, but I’m never really up to date with them. I only see a couple of movies in the theater per year, and wait for the rest to hit Redbox. The ones I see don’t tend to be “Oscar material”, either—they’re more like superhero movies, or chick flicks, or the big summer Blockbusters. Predictable, entertaining, but by no means earth-shattering. I choose movies either because I’ve seen the previews and thought they looked decent, or because of word-of-mouth from someone who enjoys the same movies I do. Both strategies tend to keep me within my typical genres, though. If I know nothing about it except the title, I’m not likely to take a chance on it.
Watching the Oscars made me realize I’ve been missing a lot.
For one thing, I don’t usually think about the movie itself when I’m watching it, because I’m too busy engaging with the storyline. But the the camera angles, the costumes, the score, the way the film is cut, and in some cases the computer-generated scenery… it’s kind of spectacular when you think about how many different elements have to come together seamlessly to make a film happen. And (very much like the narrative voice in a novel), the goal of each element is to enhance your experience of the story without directly calling attention to itself. How humble. I love the fact that the Oscars honor those behind-the-scenes artists too, not just the actors and directors.
Even more than movies-as-art, though, host Neil Patrick Harris made the point that movies are important because even though they’re not real, they tell us how to see the world.
That’s some serious power right there. The film industry is a platform with the power to change culture—even more so than books, because they reach a much wider audience. Most of us hate being preached at, but a good story can slide right past our defenses, making us feel the emotional side of an argument.
…Because there usually is an argument. Maybe not in your average Disney movie, but most Oscar-nominated films had some kind of an agenda, I noticed. Even when I don’t agree with it (and I often don’t), I still find that concept intriguing—to look past what they are trying to say and deconstruct the way they are saying it. Is it effective? Is it not? Do the various cinematic components enhance the message, making it more emotionally impactful? Or do they pull me out of the story, detracting from the message?
I used to analyze novels like this all the time in college, and sometimes movies too. I had one English course that even looked beyond novels and movies to other mediums of culture—even magazines and video games! The producers of a medium may not have a direct agenda beyond making a profit, but I would argue that all of it impacts the consumer in some way. Even those summer Blockbusters tell us something about what we should value and what’s important in the world. If we consume enough forms of media with the same message (whether the message is good, bad, or morally neutral), we will eventually begin to believe what they’re telling us.