Superpac-sponsored TV spots pillorying Mitt Romney as a tax-evading French-speaking hippie have nothing on the dirty tricks campaigns being perpetrated against the front runner in the Oscars race: The Artist. Before the nominations, the negative campaigning focussed on Kim Novak's assertion that she felt "raped" by The Artist's composer, who had quoted from Bernard Hermann's Vertigo score. This hysterical interview was pitiable as a comment on a once famous and now forgotten actress' desire to get back into the headlines by any means necessary. It was also a risible mis-reading of a film whose exact purpose is to repackage Tinseltown's history.
Post nominations, the campaign stepped up a notch. The Artist had only been surpassed by Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" in the number of noms, but this was offset by the fact that "Hugo" didn't have anyone competing in the major acting categories. Evidently Berenice Bejo wasn't going to unseat La La Land's darling, Meryl Streep, but Jean Dujardin was becoming a real threat to "Gorgeous" George Clooney, nominated for The Descendents. The response was swift: PR agency prepared talking points urging the Academy to vote American. Counter-publicity reminded voters that despite the nationality of the leads The Artist remained a US financed film with a US crew, US extras and US sets.
Protectionism, while unsavoury, is mild compared to the deliberately generated frenzy doing the rounds in LA this week. Campaigners have accused Dujardin of misogyny, citing posters publicising his forthcoming US film release, "Les Infideles", feature a leering Dujardin peering through a woman's long be-stockinged legs. Once again, this is a spectacularly moronic mis-reading of the film and its poster. Loosely translated as "The Players", it's a comedy that satirises the typical boorish unreconstructed French man, rather than celebrating him. Moreover, in the nastier strains of LA gossip, Jean Dujardin is now being equated with Dominique Strauss-Khan: the former IMF Chief infamously perp walked to prison on what turned out to be flimsy allegations of rape. In the batshit crazy logic of the negative campaign, scratch the surface of any Gallic charmer and you find a sexual harrasser.
All of this low-rent nastiness is far from edifying and stands in stark contrast with the carefully manicured conservative glamour of the Oscar ceremony itself. That said, this contradiction works well as an analogy for Hollywood, and the wider LA media industry. Dining at Capo in Santa Monica or Fig and Olive in West Hollywood or at Bazaar at the SLS in Beverly Hills, this week, I was shocked anew at the dangerously forced beauty of the diners putting on a show around me. They reminded me of that line in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night, referring to Violet McKisco "all the prettiness had been piped to the surface of her". That's La La Land in a nutshell: a desperate and delusional battle to affect apparently effortless success.
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