It was hard for Film Twitter not to take it personally, these awards announcements that came out of Venice. From the beginning, as soon it was announced that Venice was not only showing Roman Polanski’s movie but also showing Nate Parker’s movie, there was confusion about why the festival organizers on the Lido would have chosen these very prominent blackballed artists. It was interpreted two different ways: some said they were suddenly the worst film festival of all time, while others said they were the bravest.
It certainly looked like an awful lot like the pushback we’ve seen lately against sensitive and contentious positions stirred up at the hands of the hive mind on Twitter — you know, those mobilized voices towards action? Some of that action can be good and some can be pointless, and even petty. Twitter is like having a hundred million hammers where every topic looks like a nail. It is the power of a few users to induce their large number of followers to target, attack, and humiliate someone — either because the target opposes the ringleader or else the ringleader holds a grudge because of a past difference of opinion. It’s used to promote political views, it’s used to foment anger, it’s used for boycotts. It’s used to worship celebrities, it’s used to shame celebrities. It’s used to celebrate, it’s used to harass.
Millions of voices begin to sing the same tune, turn into hives and tribes that align like-minds for or against something. Most people try really hard just to avoid it. Most people actually think it’s all really icky, Twitter. Most people in the Hollywood film industry are afraid of the often reckless damage that the hive mind on Twitter can wreak, so afraid that some of them are willing take drastic steps and make dramatic concessions to please the loudest Twitter voices.
Many on Twitter, therefore, have mostly come to the conclusion that they have all of the power to decide who’s in and who’s out, what happens and what doesn’t. If they scream loud enough, hashtag broadly enough, hurl enough insults they believe they can move the needle, because often they have.
What speaks to them are stories and themes and casting choices that amplify their world view. For instance, Booksmart is kind of the perfect film to address those needs. Everything about it checks off the right boxes to reflect what the Twitter hive mind wants reality to look like, and what films need to reflect that reality. They believe that if they wish hard enough they can make films speak only to them. And THAT will fix the world. For those who came of age on Tumblr and under the two terms of Barack Obama, perfection is attainable. The Hamilton age of what it means to be a citizen of a new world that recognizes everyone as equal, marginalizes no one and never, for one second, shows the slimy dark underneath of who human beings actually are. Well, there are great filmmakers who DO that. Great films that DO that. They resonate because they tell the truth.
What has become of that utopian dream once Trump took office? It has turned its most strident activists on each other. There is no attacking Trump, or anyone on the right, so the attacks must land on those who live activist adjacent. Who don’t fit into the exact paradigms of the pure absolutism they believe in. They will aim their attacks on only those they can hurt, not those who ignore them. The choice, then, is either to join their new brand of religion or reject it. Since there is no middle ground – you’re either with them or against them – how many are going to choose to be with them? A few, at least on Film Twitter, which continues to be ruled by the rising alpha males and the beta males who trail them.
If you’re against them, though, you have to be able to withstand the attacks. There does seem to be an ever so slight wee bit of pushback of late. That was felt when Venice first decided to show those films and then the tension heightened when Venice handed out awards to Nate Parker and Roman Polanski. Thrown in the Golden Lion for the Joker in a stunning turn of events, and we had all the elements of Film Twitter’s very very bad day. You could watch the tweets pop like sputtering fireworks – confusion and anger and sadness and disgust. How could this be happening? How could anyone have not followed direct orders to comply with Twitter’s wishes? Well, they did.
The win for Green Book last year looked an awful lot like pushback too – like voters were saying, “You know what? You guys can’t tell us what we should and shouldn’t like or what we should and shouldn’t mark on our ballots, forced by your trial by fire.” Maybe it was that, maybe it wasn’t. We’ll never know. What we do know is that there was a monumental effort to bring down Green Book and its filmmakers, and that effort failed. It still resonates, though, as if it were Crash on Film Twitter. Because it isn’t something that they’re ever going to concede. They believe they won the war, and thus, they will continue to fight to expand their territory. Even if it’s just, you know, a movie and they’re just, you know, the Oscars.
Venice, though, is far beyond the boundaries of US capitalism. They don’t have to be afraid of boycotts. There is no leverage Film Twitter, or any political movement therein, can use against the Venice Film Festival to protest its choice of films. There is no money involved. The Polanski and the Parker films likely won’t get distributed here – or if they do there will be enough outrage to hold them back, certainly from any kind of awards attention, let alone box office. Maybe they’ll quietly show up on streaming at some point. Venice, though? Not a dime to be made or lost, especially for the jury members who have the sole power to decide. They did this on principle alone. Those judges just said, fuck it.
The list of demands keeps growing – from filmmaker (Polanski) to film content (Joker) – stars are vetted for their own behavior or choice or words or wardrobe. The power of Twitter when called to action is terrifying to those whose career depends on good buzz. It really is like the Twilight Zone episode where the kid holds all of the power and the adults are terrified because with one wave of his hand he can wish them out into the cornfield or turn them into a jack-in-the-box. The question is, are they pushing back and will others soon follow?
Twitter’s very very bad day didn’t really end there, though. The Joker won the Golden Lion. Why is Joker on the hot seat? Because, apparently, it will inspire incels to commit acts of violence? The anger seems to stem from two different branches of Film Twitter. One is the anti-white male, anti-comic book movie faction – which believes that fanboys and superhero movies have ruined everything, kept men in a state of immature regression, and in so doing have encouraged their treatment of women as … objects? The whole thing is explained here.
The other arm you see flailing are just your average film snobs who think a comic book movie is unworthy of such an honor, no matter how good it is. Five people or so made that call, so it’s hardly a large consensus. Still, it beat out some big prestige movies headed into awards season. Granted, the Golden Lion isn’t exactly an Oscar friendly win. The Shape of Water in 2017 was one of the rare matches in history. Roma won it last year. Brokeback Mountain won in 2005. Still, that Joker is really the first major studio film to win is a pretty big deal and certainly makes me want to see it more than I already did. I expect it will get pretty badly savaged over here, though, since it has awakened the film twitter hive mind and bad things happen when you awaken the film twitter hive mind.
I have not seen the film so I can’t really comment on content. What I can say is that it’s either really really good — or else Venice is pushing back HARD on the criticisms and grumblings against it this year. But it could also be really really good. Since a plot point of the film appears to riff off of Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy it’s a good time to remember how much shit Scorsese has gotten over the years for both Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. You can’t make films that tell the truth if you don’t make films that TELL THE TRUTH. In other words, at what point was it the obligation of artists to instruct American culture on how to behave? I’m not sure when that happened.
Either way, Twitter did not take the whole Venice thing very well. I suspect Toronto will be more in keeping with their sensibilities, although Green Book did win that audience award last year. Heck, maybe Joker will win there too. It looks like other films are more popular at the moment, like Waves or Just Mercy, or A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. None of those are going to be Film Twitter targets.
For our purposes, though, it’s time to think about Joker and its Oscar prospects. The Academy, unlike Venice, might be a slightly different ball of wax. Who knows where the whole thing will go? Before it even won the award it was looking like a contender to me. In fact, Joaquin Phoenix as Joker was looking a lot like a contender to me. If it tells the truth about a kind of person, a cultural footprint from 2019, then it is telling a kind of truth. That’s the job of art, right? Or one of its jobs, particularly in an era of aspirational content?
Are humans anywhere close to perfect? Nope. Do these types of men exist? Yep. I will have to hold off on a deeper discussion of Joker after seeing the film for myself.
Either way, Venice pushed back. Does that mean others will? Well, there has never been any time in history where the mob gets to decide for very long. They have enormous power but it is short lived, almost every time. Why, because the hive sacrifices individual thinking and common sense for extreme reactions, and often trades decency for dehumanization. And when you lose your humanity, you lose everything.