Seeking Oscar’s gold

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 15 Feb 2022

The enchanting thrill of going to the movies seems like a thing of the past. Theatres may be opened, but they might as well not be.

Oscar
This combination of photos shows promotional art for the films nominated for an Oscar for best picture, top row from left, Belfast, CODA, Don t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, bottom row from left, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. AP

Traditionally, this is the most exciting season in Hollywood, the world’s largest movie industry, held annually from November to February. Filmmakers pat each other’s back for a job well done and hand out awards to the best of the best.

Whatever happened to the rumpus and rumble of tinsel- town? It should be running at full speed by now after the 8 February announcement of the Academy Awards nominations. The tingle and titillation, the hustle and bustle, the betting, the guessing, the screening and dreaming have evaporated.

The air is still, the mood, sedate. Oscar season has lost its lustre. It is affectionately known as Oscar season because that little golden statuette has become the most prestigious prize in the world of film. Much like a noble title, it precedes the name of those fortunate enough to have received one. Hollywood nobility come out en masse to celebrate filmdom’s most lavish annual soiree.

What happened is the pandemic that choked the air out of Hollywood. For the second year in a row that pesky little virus has cast a giant shadow on the sunny season of awards and rewards for a year’s hard work. It has even dulled the glow of Oscar gold.

Award season is more than a self-congratulatory event. It is also about the box-office. Revenues dropped from $11.5 billion in 2020, which barely escaped the pandemic, to $5 billion in 2021. That is a 58 per cent loss and theatre owners are screaming at the top of their lungs.

Even the number of TV viewers who made a feast of Oscar Night dropped to less than 10 million according to Nielsen ratings. It was higher than 40 million only a decade ago.

Stephen Galloway, Dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, laments the fate of the industry. “The movie business is the gigantic rock and we’re close to seeing that rock crumble.”

We hope not. Yet according to a recent study, 49 per cent of pre-pandemic movie-goers are no longer buying tickets; eight per cent say they will never return.

For many, the pandemic is already over or soon will be, or whatever poppycock they come out with, but it is still wreaking havoc in the Entertainment world. The entire industry is reconsidering its fate, in a year that was supposed to mark the return of Hollywood’s glitz and glamour.

Are we as reluctant to go to a movie today as we were when the pandemic first hit in 2020? Indeed we are, with all the confusion of the vaccines and the mutations of the virus that keep popping up. The output of 2022 looks eerily similar to 2020, worldwide. Bollywood is suffering even more than Hollywood and China, the No.1 cinema market in the world, has closed down 40 per cent of its movie theatres.

Awards give a boost to the industry and clout to the stars, directors, screen-writers etc. Without them the hype loses steam.

Big movies, such as Stephen Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, flopped at the box-office for lack of attention. Will an Oscar win make up for the loss? How can it if nobody is watching.

The Golden Globe Awards, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the second only to Oscar, usually kicks off the award season and is often a precursor of Oscar wins. It was not even televised this year. Second in line is the Critics Award, scheduled for January, that has been pushed back — to when? No one knows.

A most prestigious academic award given to the likes of Hitchcock and Chaplin is the America Film Institute, (AFI) award. Has it been cancelled or held virtually with less fanfare?

Even the Grammy Awards have been postponed for the second year in a row and Broadway shows are being delayed or cancelled.

As sad as all this sounds, the saddest are the movie theatre owners. Many were forced to close. The culprit is what is known as streaming. Few of us had not even heart the word, now it is common in movie vernacular.

Netflix is everywhere, but soon it will be competing with other streaming services like Disney Plus, HBO MAX, Viacom, Peacock, and more will be sprouting, giving Netflix a headache.

Studios have escaped the devastation of the pandemic. In fact they are shooting more than ever films for TV as well as accelerating streaming and more virtual screenings.

Have we given the impression that Hollywood is breathing its last breath? We beg to be excused. Despite the fact that there is little joy in Hollywood now, for decades the film business has been resilient to change. It was thought the advent of TV, was the death knell of Hollywood, but within little time it came roaring back with its musicals and extravaganzas. It has survived wars, terrorists, and the prediction is it will survive Covid-19 and all its mutations.

The chairman of Sony, Tom Rollman, reminds us that after WWI came the Roaring Twenties, “there’s a pent-up desire to get out of the house, away from our TVs and experience life with others.”

Are you ready to get up from under your blankets, dress up, take a trip to a movie theatre, sit in the dark and relish buckets of popcorn, in anticipation of watching a movie? Indeed we are.

 

“There’s no business like show business.”

 Irving Berlin (1888-1989)


*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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