by John Villeneuve
With the films, A Prophet and The White Ribbon, can AMPAS continue to ignore the best that this art form called cinema can aspire to? Can they smugly rationalize to themselves that they may see the merits in such films, yet, for whatever feeble reason, toss them to the junk heap while coddling mediocrity? Should they be allowed, without consequence, to promote their ignorance and irrelevance? No.
Not long ago this body of “arbiters?”, “number crunchers?”, “artists?” awarded the Best Song Oscar to a documentary for the first time in their history. A song which included the phrase, “I’ve been asleep, and I need to wake up…NOW!”. Hmmmm, somehow that resonates. A documentary, with a progressive song, that embraced our evolutionary times. It’s akin to Plato’s proverbial man who has melded new knowledge with the ancient, and, now, is ready to leave the cave.
You may have guessed that this is a rant, a primal scream of sorts, but this shriek is not intended to evoke allegiance to progress. Nor is it a Darwinian raspberry blown in the face of Intelligent Design. Fuck it…I can’t lie. It is! Do I want to be provocative? Hell yes.
It is no secret that a certain voting block in AMPAS is reluctant to evolve, to exchange their blinders for glasses, and open themselves to suggestions on how to see things afresh. Of course, they are not alone. Resistance to change is commonplace. My grandmother, a staunch Catholic, who died at the age of 90, three months ago, was married to her floral house coat in her final days. Alzheimer’s assured her that this old garment was constantly new. No one could convince her that it had worn out it’s welcome. In fact, she died in it. With grace, mind you. But I still could not help lamenting that she was trapped, against her will, in a static world. There was no hope left. She was comfortably numb to innovation. Change was her enemy.
Ultimately, she refused to be influenced any more. Her timing was in unison with the barrel approaching the edge of Niagara Falls. And, yet, a few days before she died, I experienced a sort of break-through. While she was laying in her home-care bed, oblivious to the mass of loved ones, coming and going, I found the opportunity to whisper to her, “are you ready for this”? And her voice trailed off as she murmured, “More, more”.
More? I will interpret that word as I chose. It is my prerogative. I believe she wanted more time to experience, to change, to look at things anew, like she had done when I was in my 20’s and had revealed to her that I was not the man she thought I was. For me, the moment of her meeting my partner, sly-eyed and without fuss, was cathartic. For her, I think it was like opening a window, because later she confided that she was learning to fly. Made me question if she had a secret stash of Tom Petty records.
Her growth was an elixir of sorts. It permeated, like perfume, everyone who shared my genetics and environmental space. Suddenly those aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were so close-minded and resistant, opened like an e.e. cummings rose.
So, what does any of this have to do with two sublime films? Nothing, I suspect. The question in this context has more to do with a willing voice, a voice with power, that can influence the minds of a seminal family unit, or to a grander extent, an assemblage of supposed paragons. For such privileged people, supposedly still in charge of their faculties, the choice between a dangerously new coat or a garment with faux flowers should be a foregone conclusion. And yet, my neurosis causes me to labour the point. So, my plea to these Zeus’ and Athena’s is this: please consider, seriously, A Prophet and The White Ribbon. Whatever your answer is, warranted and/or not, will color the course of cinematic excellence. Your response may be predictable. It may be a voice that stubbornly says, “I have the final word, and my vote is for the status quo”, or, “I like the familiar and the familiar likes me”. My answer to that is simple: midgets don’t stand on the backs of giants, unless the giant hoists them up.
Of course this powerful and storied group could continue to promote their inability to grasp innovation, audacity, and the bliss of originality. In fact, they may even get respect for their resistance. One thing that is certain is the birthers, tea-baggers and Glen Beck aficionados will be welcoming, with empty wallets, empty heads, and laurels for slight-mindedness. They will even help you to dust off your 6000 year old fossils and classic movies. If that is the legacy you are comfortable with, and believe in, then, by all means, stick to your convictions. But remember you will die. And when you do, you will be judged by your acceptance of, your recognition of, your lionization of, an old floral house coat. Only in de-evolution can a moth say “away with my brownness, give me my orange and purple spots…I want to be eaten and forgotten”. Ridiculous negations that proclaim and fetishize reluctance to change, risk being associated with obscurity. A kind of equivalency to margarine vs. butter which, surely, was at one time relevant. But, I am speaking, here, to the captains of industry, the makers of history, who, of late have promoted grilled cheese and pyrite. Are you at peace with honoring your self consciousness, your simplistic moral code, or, do you want to be remembered for “more”? More.
Whatever your answer is, I will still pull back the curtain (it has flowers on it), and present to you:
The White Ribbon, and,
For your consideration (of course).