| August 2, 2021
I love an industry rogue. Always have.
George Christy died less than a year ago. Loved him. And I knew what an absurd pain-in-the-ass he could be. I understood his arrogance. I saw the man. Lived to 93 and still felt compelled to pretend to be straight. He carried a lot of baggage. He wasn’t even a gossip, so much as a part of the well-constructed furniture on which the industry sat comfortably. He had amassed so much goodwill over his years that he had a fortune in art given to him by friends that was sitting in his garage and he didn’t even really care. He wanted the cute busboy to bring him a plate of food from the buffet and to have the host come to him.
But what is my point?
Watching the Golden Globes made me sad.
HFPA was an industry rogue. They have a long history of bending their rules to their own favor. One’s view of their history has a lot to do with when you got to know them. It’s been almost 25 years for me. Before that, I has read stories about bribes. I knew about Pia Zadora.
Dick Clark Productions, which still involved Dick Clark, took on the Globes show and got it on NBC in 1993. The Best Picture winners were Schindler’s List and Mrs. Doubtfire.
About a decade later, it stopped being the boozy, silly high school dance where leaving to go to the bathroom could become a feature of the show and became a full-fledged part of the Oscar Industrial Complex. Standoffish actors now had to show up. The internet hive of Oscar obsession started to monetize, a sidebar to the trade ads, but growing fast. And The Globes had a substantial and growing audience on NBC, perfectly perched between the end of the year and the Oscar nominations.
Oscar had taught me, in the 90s, that being in the press room was weird and silly. So I never sought press room access at The Globes. I covered it from the bar. I’d see everyone I wanted to see. I’d watch entire casts of TV shows scramble for their cars right after losing. I’d share a drink or two with someone coming up in a third hour category. But before long, you needed to fight your way into the Beverly Hilton for a “viewing party” or after the show with tickets from studios and metal detectors and eventually, shuttles bringing you to the building from a half-mile away.
After the show, there were a couple parties… then a couple more parties… then everyone had to have a tent and/or a party. And for a while, that was fun, the losing studios more fun than the winning, as the pressure was off.
Personally, I enjoyed the charm of the David Carr Carpetbagger window. He was one of the lovable rogues of all time. I got to introduce him to the Lord of the Rings team and sure enough, sober as a churchmouse, he managed to end up dancing with Phillipa Boyens as though he had known her forever. By the time we were hanging around an empty Beverly Hilton ballroom for the year of the Writer’s Strike, he was done with being The ‘Bagger and bored by the conversation about how corrupt the Globes were. That was 13 years ago.
“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a nonprofit organization of about 85 international entertainment journalists, last year received net income of approximately $6 million from the ceremony’s network license fee, table sales and other receipts, according to statements filed with federal tax authorities.”
– Cieply & Carr, NYT, Jan 8, 2008
That fee from NBC went to an estimated $21 million a year in a 2010 deal to an alleged $60 million in their current deal. (I think it’s more like $40 million… which still ain’t chickenfeed.) More money = more problems.
I often think of “Hollywood” as a human body. It heals from injury. Sometimes it needs serious medicine. Sometimes it loses a finger. But it intuitively and intellectually recovers from body blows. It also wants to be fat and comfortable. No one cares what movie and TV stars make when everyone is driving Bentleys with the seats stuffed with $100 bills.
There is not only more money being spent on the creation of film and television content right now than ever in history… the expenditure is a multiple of the historic highs. Netflix, in trying to create its own insta-library, spending anywhere from $8 billion – $16 billion a year on content in the last five years, has killed Fox and dragged Disney/ABC/Hulu/Star, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia/AT&T into spending billions more annually than ever before considered sane on both the film and TV sides of the companies.
We can get into what the amount of cash being spent on production is one way of measuring the health of the industry and that the returns on that expenditure and how we treat the unbolded names in the industry are another altogether… but not right now.
The point I am coming around to is that with the amount of money being spent these days, the cost of “owning” the HFPA doesn’t seem high. $5 million a studio or so. What is worth more, twenty primetime TV spots OR months of publicity around a nomination, a night with the entire industry watching your talent get a chance to shine, and the possibility of being able to advertise a win or wins? And that is before counting up the ego points.
Try to pull off the same trick with, say, the Critics Choice Awards… it would cost 4x as much. $20 milion. Now it’s looking expensive.
Watching the show made me sad rather than angry because the absurdity of it all was the most transparent it has ever been. And with the industry playing along as best it could. But not just The Industry, but the Black part of The Industry, rolling out as presenters, performers, and winners with barely a word said about the white elephant in the room. But even less was said by anyone of any color about the financial scandal that now is HFPA.
Performers gamely put on their best face and tried to look like they were having a good time. Almost anyone is delighted by being honored, no matter who is doing the honoring. And there were winners of awards who suggested to the world that The Golden Globes are unbiased. But the non-too-subtle reality is that HFPA is so historically biased and corrupt that all thinking people need to seriously consider the sincerity of every single choice they make as a group.
Could you ask for more progressive honorees than Norman Lear and Jane Fonda? But both got sucked into the machine, seemingly unaware of where they were and what they were representing.
I am not even going to bother complaining about the tech issues. They did okay. They made some terrible choices (like keeping the four losers on camera through the winner’s entire speech). Who cares? This is what we’ve got.
Is there a way to fix the show? Well, you can make better choices. But unless The Academy somehow convinces some percentage of nominees to show up at an outdoor venue, widely spaced, with plexiglass and masks, their show is going to be the same… as this was mostly the same as The Emmys, back in September.
Is there a way to “fix” the HFPA? No. They can revamp in some way and keep the ball rolling, breaking their rules to avoid being crushed by their rules. But the organization was built for speed. The question is whether there is now so much money in play that it isn’t all that cute anymore.
You know why Eddie Murphy’s career took a bad turn in the late 90s, just as one of the greatest movie actors and stars in history was at the height of his powers? Because he was as great a charming rogue as the movies has ever seen and once he was hugely successful, people stopped believing in him as the underdog. And so he had to hide. First, in the amazing make-ups and multiple characters and then in family films and animation. He never stopped being a genius performer. But he outgrew our willingness to not see him as a top. And as the top, he was overwhelming. What was charming as the little guy seemed almost abusive as the big guy. (This is also why we have rarely seen Tom Hanks as anything other than the regular Joe trying to overcome overwhelming circumstances or Tom Cruise showing any weakness he can’t overcome.)
Hollywood has a bad habit of forgetting what made things so popular in the first place and overplaying their hand until they turn their biggest winners into disappointing losers.
Has HFPA jumped that shark, going from just taking money from studios to “attend junkets” and the like to paying itself millions every year on top of taking from studios on top of demanding first position in screenings and talent access without showing any earned media value on top of being racially insensitive, at best, etc, etc, etc?
Probably not. Because it has become a habit. And breaking habits is hard. It’s not very different from an abused spouse who is unable to disconnect from their abuser. “They only hit me once in a while… and I can take it… because they give me what I need.” Hollywood will stick with a bad idea until it kills institutions. And even then, it is loath to change.
One of the saddest things about The Globes is knowing that The Academy is walking into a similar buzzsaw.
In April, opposite Major League baseball and serious reopening of movie theaters (we hope), The Academy will celebrate a movie year where no one saw anything at The Movies, where the films are much more of the independent spirit than The Academy red carpet, with people still uncomfortable or unwilling to share the same oxygen as their brethren for more than 30 minutes and with four months of streaming product already rolled out between the end of 2020 and The *Oscars.
“The show must go on” is not meant to be a threat.
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The Staff And Board of The Canyon Cinema Foundation Address SFMOMA On Planned Elimination of Film Program
"SFMOMA’s recent decision to eliminate its Film Program (among other vital, inclusive, and community-focused programs) is a stunning disavowal of its own history. Moreso, it is a shocking divestment from SFMOMA’s stated commitment to “exhibiting film as an essential medium of modern and contemporary art” and to fostering a vibrant film culture in San Francisco. Following the renovation of its state-of-the-art Phyllis Wattis Theater in 2016, SFMOMA has demonstrated the ability, and financial willingness, to present film at the highest quality. Combining excellent film curation and world-class projection, SFMOMA has become a flagship of cinema exhibition in the Bay Area, which makes the decision to cut its Film Program especially puzzling. It is disappointing and disheartening to learn that a museum that claims to be a center for “the most innovative and challenging art of its time,” now holds the medium of film and the projected moving image in such low regard..." [More here]
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