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Thu 27 June 2019
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Journalist and DJ Chris Sullivan on the tired “magic formula” for gaming the Academy Awards system

Undeniably, there are recipes for many things. Success, failure, curry, cake and even the perfect holiday.

But most people would presume that in great art, even though there might be a certain nostrum, one expects that extra added ingredient which, virtually indistinguishable, enables said work to stand out from the crowd.

Indeed, few seasoned critics were surprised when The Green Book – directed by Peter, one of the Farrelly Brothers who directed Dumb and Dumber – won the Oscar for Best Film. The honour is, in theory, bestowed on movies with a degree of artistic virtuosity. Certainly, the performances in The Green Book are flawless but the movie itself and its substance seemed tailored to impress the Academy.

How it Works

The plot runs thus. Put two very different people from diametrically opposed back grounds- preferably one black, one white – on a journey from A to B. Throw in a few pitfalls along the way, a bit of peril, pull in the best actors money can buy, write a script that’s predictable and at times funny, and release just as the right-wing thrives and the liberal class gather to determine their nominees. Bob’s your Auntie Doris – it’s Oscar’s a-go-go!

Now that is has won Best Picture it does however question what Hollywood and the Academy Awards are all about.

Indeed, this is more or less, Driving Miss Daisy all over again – except that, this time, the driver is a coarse Italian-American nightclub bouncer not unlike Tony Soprano. Meanwhile, the passenger is a cultured, erudite but irrevocably condescending homosexual Afro-American pianist. In Driving Miss Daisy, of course, the passenger (Jessica Tandy) is a wealthy Jewish retired school teacher – and the driver a wise middle-aged black man played by Morgan Freeman.

‘Daisy’, directed by Bruce Beresford, also won the best picture Oscar in 1989 while Tandy won best actress. At the time the whole world was reeling from the actuality that the very right-wing former director of the CIA, George H. W. Bush had been voted in to replace the very right wing (and senile) former actor Ronald Reagan as President of the United States. Undeniably back then, the Academy voted for a nice film with a strong anti-racist message – just as they have this year with the very right wing Donny Trump at the helm.

Driving Miss Daisy’ a 1989 American comedy-drama film starring Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy and Dan Aykroyd.

Of course, it wasn’t Beresford who first employed said connivance. Another film that fits into virtually the same brief, The Defiant Ones – directed by Stanley Kramer in 1958 – ticks all the boxes. It too received a couple of Oscars, as well as nominations for all and sundry. It too was released during the term of another Republican President former Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who compared to the above was a liberal), and in an era when racial tension was peaking.

Here, our two protagonists are white Tony Curtis and black Sidney Poitier. They are escapees from a chain gang, and physically handcuffed to each other. Cue the release of all the same dramatic tools. All the prejudices are spewed out, and allowed to breathe the fresh air as the two men initially despise each other. But soon – surprise, surprise – they learn to respect each other, and animosities dissipate.

Arguably the first movie that used, or perhaps created, this cunning stratagem was It Happened One Night, produced and directed by the great Frank Capra. This classic set snotty heiress rendered by Claudette Colbert, on the road with hard-nosed and working-class newspaper reporter, Clark Gable. At first they abhor each other and all they stand for. But after much to do and immense prevarication worthy of Mary and Joseph, they fall in love.

The film won Oscars galore – Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay. At the time, the president was Roosevelt – a Democrat – and the USA was in the midst of the Great Depression, when class division was at its highest, banks foreclosed on more homes than ever and those who robbed banks, such as Dillinger, were held in high esteem because the public blamed Wall Street for their misery. The USA was in turmoil – just as it is today. In many ways, It Happened One Night was a most deliberate panacea which broadcast the notion that not all rich people were that bad!

Few seasoned critics were surprised when The Green Book won the Best Film Academy Award.

Even though The Green Book follows this now-tired blueprint to the last semi-colon, it is not a bad film. It’s the type of film that might’ve been made in the fifties – that your mum would like, and that you could take your kids to see. But it certainly does not break any new ground. IT is not a work of art and doesn’t say anything particularly fresh or interesting.

Now that is has won the Best Picture Oscar, however, it raises the question of what Hollywood and the Academy Awards are all about? Are they concerned with the art of movie-making, or just purely about “bums on seats”, how much Coca-Cola or popcorn they can sell? Judging by these last Oscar winners and Hollywood’s recent output, I’d say the latter is the case.

The Green Book is showing in most multiplexes now. Chris Sullivan’s book ‘Rebel, Rebel: Mavericks who Made our Modern World’ will be published by Unbound.

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