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Hollywood insanities / Follow-up: Various

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As a follow-up to some earlier discussions on the influence of the actor and the part on the performance resp. politically correct distortions (e.g. through undue alterations of fictional characters) and countless texts dealing with inappropriate (and especially PC) criteria (e.g. a call for more discrimination):

I just encountered a very depressing text on affirmative action in Hollywood, which I strongly recommend reading—and which makes me, for the umpteenth time, marvel that this type of nonsense has not been struck down by a popular protest. What is described here is insane even by current U.S. standards, e.g. that “best picture” Oscar candidates must have:

o At least one actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group must be cast in a significant role.

o The story must center on women, L.G.T.B.Q. people, a racial or ethnic group or the disabled.

o At least 30 percent of the cast must be actors from at least two of those four underrepresented categories.

Apart from the problem of “underrepresented” (cf. excursion), this forces enormous compromises in artistic integrity/quality and distorts the playing field to such a degree that the the award might be entirely spurious—as if the Superbowl invitations would ignore all teams who did not have a significant number of female players, even if the ignored teams had actually had significantly better results. (Note that this applies even if we assume a similar skill level among “represented” and “underrepresented” actors resp. male and female football players. Cf. excursion.) In fact, it codifies a problem that is already having a massive negative impact on TV and movies.

Moreover, it introduces an implicit near-mandatory political message and risks a continuation of the trend of “best actor” awards being awarded not just for the performance but for the part or the movie. (The above criteria, in my understanding only applies to “best picture”, but being in the “best picture” is an advantage, there is bound to be some indirect influence, and, as evidenced by the following, there are already strong PC pressures on “best actor” too.)

Another telling quote is:

A white actor, Anthony Hopkins, beat out the favored black, the late Chadwick Boseman, for best actor. Boseman supporters say he was “robbed.” If Boseman had got the award, would anyone dare say Anthony Hopkins was robbed?

Well, I have not seen the movie for which Boseman was nominated—or hardly anything of his other works.* However, there is a fair chance that I would have both dared say that and would have said it: Hopkins’s performance was monstrous. The “I’m losing my leaves”** scene is as close to perfection as I have ever seen, down to such details as the shaking of the hands. Indeed, after having watched “The Father”, my first impulse was to write another Oscar prediction—ten months in advance. (However, I soon learned that I was not ten months in advance but rather two months behind.) Of course, I have seen a great many of Hopkins’s performances over the years, and he is widely considered one of the greatest actors of our time. Boseman? Well, he has tons of nominations, but appears to have won next to nothing, and most of even his nominations are for his works in 2020, where both a “was Black” and “just died” bonus is likely to apply—not to mention that his main movie had a “Black icon” topic.***

*Going by Wikipedia, “Gods of Egypt” (only the vaguest recollection), an episode of “Castle” (no recollection), and a few minor appearances as “Black Panther” (left me cold; however, note that I have not seen the actual “Black Panther” movie).

**Reservations for the exact phrasing.

***Possibly, with other aspects like “mistreated by Whites in a less enlightened era”. I have not seen the movie and I do not have the time for detailed research.

Then we have issues with further “black-washing” and whatnot:

Most of the upcoming Marvel movies will star non-whites and have POC in important supporting roles. The new Captain America, one of Marvel’s most popular characters, is black. The most famous superhero, Superman, will also be black in his next film.

As to the aforementioned criteria, I have long considered writing a “turn the TV of if” post, as I am highly annoyed by many issues with modern film and television, including the artificial introduction of various “underrepresented” (or, better, “PC-favored”) characters in e.g. TV series. I will not go through with this (for now), as this blog is supposed to be closed, but I give as examples of what I had in mind:

  1. If there has been more than marginal changes in the racial-or-whatnot “make-up” of an original work, e.g. through recasting Superman as Black or having a female Doctor (in the “Doctor Who” sense); or compared to the realistic historical proportions, e.g. through having a Victorian setting with as many Black or Indian characters as White*.

    *Unless the work actually has a topic that makes this plausible.

  2. If there are PC-favored characters that seem to have been added for no other reason that PC conformity, e.g. an overrepresentation of gay couples in a work with no obvious gay connection, a cast where “ethnic” characters are severely overrepresented, or where all or almost all protagonists have a union card*.

    *I.e. is at least one of non-White, non-male, non-hetero, non-whatnot.

  3. If there is a gratuitous sex scene within the first ten minutes. (My motivation is rooted in fears that the rest of the work will be equally wasteful—as they usually are.)
  4. If homosexual or interracial kissing occurs within the first ten minutes. (Because this is likely done for the specific purpose of pushing a “look how enlightened this work is” agenda—not because I would view it as worse than other instances of kissing. Also note that I would prefer less onscreen kissing in general.)
  5. If a female protagonist has been raped or lives/d in an “abusive relationship”.

Excursion on “underrepresentation”:
The underrepresentation angle is usually complete garbage. Often these claims are based more in Leftist rhetoric than in actual facts, even to the point of being less a matter of underrepresentation* and more of a general “have it worse than they deserve”, which, in turn, is also usually a misrepresentation. When an apparent underrepresentation is present, it usually arises from looking at the wrong baseline. For instance, if there are fewer Black Oscar-winners, senators, or whatnot than predicted by population share, is that really because Whites are deliberately oppressing them or because there simply are fewer qualified candidates? Mostly, the latter. (The same applies to e.g. female senators, board members, whatnot.) Look at e.g. U.S. colleges: Blacks are given an enormous leg up with preferred admittance with worse SAT scores, they are often graduated from high-school with better grades (or at all) than they have earned, etc. If they still trail in academic accomplishment, it is mainly** because they have not managed (or been willing) to take the opportunities provided them.

*Indeed, in the specific case of TV and movies, “underrepresented” groups are usually overrepresented.

**There are secondary complications like schools with more Blacks tending to be more violent, have more unruly classrooms, and similar. However, this usually goes back to the Blacks, themselves, and not to e.g. White supremacists trying to push them down. In doubt, colleges should not be punished for a failure in the school system.

To this might be added problems like a usually undue focus on the group instead of the individual, a focus on potentially wrong groups (e.g. through grouping by race rather than e.g. college major, profession, interests, IQ, or what might be relevant in a given context), and a strong risk of destructive and dehumanising “identity politics”.

Excursion on negative effects of artificial limits:
Artificial limits, e.g quotas, are almost always harmful even when the groups involved seem fungible (and the more so when they are not fungible). Consider, as a very neutral example, the hypothetical regulation that “best actor” awards must be equally divided based on what day-of-week actors were born, and that this is implemented by only considering candidates born on a Sunday this year, only those born on a Monday next year, and so on, in a seven-year cycle. Now there is roughly a chance of 1/7 that the respective winner actually was the legitimate “best actor” of the year, and 6/7 that he was merely the best of those born on the same weekday.* The risk that a relative dud, e.g. the 10th best overall, manages to win sky rockets compared to a system without quotas.** Etc. To make matters worse, there is now a risk that the entire system is changed, e.g. in that actors born on the “wrong” day are not even cast in parts that might be award relevant to begin with, or that the release of a movie is artificially delayed to ensure that it matches the year that the lead actor is eligible.

*Assuming that the awards are otherwise objectively and competently decided, which is dubious.

**I do not want to get bogged down in math, but broadly speaking: Without a quota, number 10 would have to unfairly beat out nine others (as well as, fairly, those behind him). With a quota, it is enough that the best of the current day-of-birth is ranked no better than 10, which is not that unlikely, or e.g. that the number 2 of that day-of-birth beats out just one higher ranker instead of nine.

Excursion on “The Father”:
While Hopkins performance was monstrous, he almost certainly had the benefit of having the right part in the right movie, in a manner similar to those discussed in my first text. The movie, as a whole, might have been better, had it stuck more strictly to the perspective of the protagonist. This both to improve the overall effect and to avoid confusion about what is real and not real through showing other perspectives (as opposed to confusion caused by the protagonist’s failing memory).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 17, 2021 at 3:57 pm

Follow-up: The influence of the actor and the part on the performance

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To briefly follow-up on my thoughts on actors and performances:

The 2020 Academy Awards have been awarded, with outcomes perfectly supporting my text.

Best actor: Joaquin Phoenix

Best actress: Renee Zellweger

Written by michaeleriksson

February 10, 2020 at 2:46 pm

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The influence of the actor and the part on the performance

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A few recent movies have brought me back to the question of when and to what degree a great acting performance is to be credited to the actor and when to the part (and/or, possibly, something else yet). Moreover, to what degree the accolades for the performance actually match the performance and to what degree they are influenced (a second time) by factors like the part.

An excellent (non-recent) example is Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”: Would she have won an Academy Award playing another part in another movie in that year, had she been cast in another lead? Could someone else have been found for the part in “Black Swan” and won in Portman’s stead? The answers are “probably not”* and “almost certainly”**, respectively.

*She is a legitimately good actress, and a bit of a personal favorite, but there are others as or more skilled that she would need to overcome. Also note that this currently remains her only Academy Award.

**There might not be many candidates, seeing that the average “waitress/actress” would be well out of her depth, that Judi Dench would have been too old and Jessica Alba too unskilled, etc. There would almost certainly be some, however. (I am too uninformed to judge who might or might not manage the ballet part, and refrain from specific suggestions.)

On other occasions, it might be a combination of actor and part. Consider Marlee Matlin: She won an Academy Award at 21, spectacularly young, and might have seemed destined for a great career. The problem? She won as a deaf woman playing a deaf woman … Her deafness might have been a major asset for this particular part and movie*, but more of a liability for most other parts. Actingwise, she does not appear to be anything special based on the few things that I have seen her in (including a recurring minor part on “My Name is Earl”)—decent, yes; special, no.

*“Children of a Lesser God”. Note that I have not seen this movie and cannot, myself, judge the quality of her performance.

Then again we might have performances that are highly overrated because of the part or the movie. Russel Crowe in “Gladiator” springs to mind: not a bad performance by any means, but it was not even the best performance of the (extremely well-cast) movie. Joaquin Phoenix, as his counter-part, did a better job in the second largest part; and, even off the top of my head, I would mention at least Richard Harris as better too. (Neither was, obviously, eligible to compete for “best actor”, but they did not win “best supporting actor” either.)

The recent performances, whose fate at this year’s Academy Awards will be interesting*:

*Note: The first draft of this text was written before nominations were available. Reading up on past winners (cf. below) I note that Sandler has not been nominated. Phoenix and Zellweger, however, are both in the respective short-list of five. Of the other movies involved, I have only seen “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and have no objections to DiCaprio’s nomination.

  1. Joaquin Phoenix* in “Joker”: A quite good performance, but not perfection. There are dozens of others who might have achieved a similar level, actingwise. Throw in the part and the overall movie, and this changes. This is, I suspect, a very strong victory candidate. (But see excursion.)

    *No, I am not a Phoenix fanatic (although I do consider him one of the best of the current actors). “Gladiator” was brought to my recollection because of Phoenix already being present in this text.

  2. Renee Zellweger in “Judy”: The performance is first rate. The movie is a weakish, but the topic (Judy Garland as a tragic figure) added weight to the performance and the “sentimentality bonus” that might play in with the judges could very well clinch the victory.
  3. Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems”: A crappy performance by a (still) crappy actor—but one apparently lauded by many. Why? Most likely the part. (With e.g. Joaquin Phoenix or Gary Oldman, or any number of considerably better actors, even comedy rival Ben Stiller*, this might have been a strong victory candidate. Should Sandler win, I will be truly depressed.)

    *Who is strong both as a comedian and as an actor, while Sandler is only good at comedy (and possibly even just a certain type of low-brow comedy).

Excursion on “Joker”:
I remain somewhat skeptical to the movie as a whole, because it feels redundant: A lot of the ground that it covers has already been done better in “King of Comedy”, to the point that it felt partially like a weaker copy. At the same time, the whole “Batman” franchise, the Joker included, has been done to death at the movies (and elsewhere). In the choice of movies for a second viewing, I would definitely prefer “King of Comedy”.

Excursion on brilliant actors:
Of course, a brilliant actor might bring a brilliant performance to a less than brilliant part and a weaker actor might bungle the brilliant part. Daniel Day-Lewis seemed to be an Academy Award candidate almost by default, if in part because of his selectivity. Gary Oldman’s recent Academy Award was a big “finally” moment for me—he has been a threat for decades, with quite a few lesser winners before him. (The win was also personally satisfying to me, because I had called it immediately after watching the movie.)

Excursion on other Academy Award factors:
Sometimes, the Academy Awards seem like a game of pin-the-donkey, leaving me with the suspicion that other factors play in, e.g. personal relationships or a wish to push a movie. (Hardly controversial ideas, admittedly.) This particularly for “best picture”, which lost all credibility with me when a “Lord of the Rings” movie won. However, even the list of “Best Actor/Actress” seems odd at times.

Excursion on other examples:
I trail behind in my watchings of recent movies, especially of the “artsy” type. However, looking from 2010 and onward, the winning roles for male actor seem to support my hypothesis that the part is of great importance. Consider names like King George VI, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Hawking, Winston Churchill, and Freddie Mercury—all important (within their respective field) historical characters, all house-hold names, all with an interesting story and strong “human interest” opportunity. To boot, at least two (Lincoln*, Mercury*) died highly prematurely and at least one another (Hawking) unusually/tragically. The lesser names involved include Hugh Glass and Ron Woodroof—lesser known, but otherwise of a similar character and both non-fictional. (The remaining two, George Valentin and Lee Chandler, are likely fictional. I have only a vague recollection of “The Artist” for Valentin and have not seen “Manchester by the Sea” for Chandler, so I will not make further statements.)

*Or is the true explanation some form of subtle product placement by Ford? A long term plan to build interest for the recent “Ford v Ferrari”?

Written by michaeleriksson

February 6, 2020 at 4:06 am

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