Monday, February 23, 2009

It doesn't take an "Orchestrated Campaign" to Know....

If you wonder where this "orchestrated campaign" line comes from, look no further than the Daily Telegraph, which has characterized historian Ron Rosenbaum's critical review of The Reader as a cabal set to deny Kate Winslet an Oscar.
I don't agree with Rosenbaum on much, but the characterization of an article in a newspaper as an "orchestrated campaign" strikes me as well, anti-semitic. After all, therewere actual demonstrations against Milk - and I haven't seen any coverage of that at all, except that Sean Penn mentioned people with "hateful signs" outside the theater in in his acceptance speech for Best Actor.

But the theme of two of this year's awards seem to be that for the Oscars, anything that even mentions the Holocaust will do.
The obvious one is The Reader, aka, "the poor little Nazi": Anthony Lane's reviewin the New Yorker back in December said what needed to be said:

[the novel it was based on] was pernicious from the start—a low-grade musing on atrocity, garnished with erotic titillation... Imprisoned for life, Hanna must read to herself, but are we really supposed to be moved by the thought—or now, in Daldry’s film, by the sight—of an unrepentant Nazi parsing Chekhov? That is not culturally nourishing; it is morally famished. There is a fine scene, near the end, when a survivor of Hanna’s crimes (the great Lena Olin) tells the middle-aged Michael (Ralph Fiennes) that “nothing came out of the camps,” that they “weren’t therapy.” Quite true, so why has the film pretended otherwise?

The less known Holocaust movie award winner this year was a German film called Spielzeugland (Toyland) - which may be among the most mawkish and manipulative few minutes of film anywhere. The story? During the war, A German and a Jewish family live next door to each other and the two young children take piano lessons together. One day, the German mother tells her son that the family next door must go away, he asks where and she answers, "to toyland." Little Heinrich sneaks out of bed and tries to join the family as they leave for the camps, thinking fun awaits. His mother finds him missing and goes on a search for him. Finally, the SS actually let the haus frau right onto one of the Auschwitz-bound trains, where she does not find her own son, but rescues the neighbor's child, pretending he is hers. (Heinrich wound up somewhere else). The two boys grow up in wartime Germany together as brothers and both survive the war. Presumably, the neighbors never rat them out. hmmm. It doesn't matter: a Holocaust film with a happy ending. As Art Spiegelman said when Schindler's list won, “The main dream image the movie evokes for me is an image of 6 million emaciated Oscar award statuettes hovering like angels in the sky, all wearing striped uniforms.”

Beyond the larger historical or moral problems, it's disappointing because not only were their great performances in good films (like Ann Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married and Melissa Leo in Frozen River) but there some quite good live-action shorts this year. One was the unnerving Auf Der Strecke (On the Line), which (unlike the Reader) showed real moral complexity. Another was the very artful Manon Sur le Bitume (Manon on the Asphalt) which developed several characters in such a short time that I found it simply brilliant. Similarly deft was New Boy, which won the Tribeca Film Festival short film award last year.

But no, the Oscar goes to: A hackneyed, completely unbelievable Holocaust tear-jerker!

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