Awards season. Easily the most spectacular part of these bleak first few months of the year. I feel like shouting it from the rooftops, upon the street corners like a Victorian paperboy who understands intuitively the beautiful harmony of film and fashion, pissed celebrities and press adulation, theatre, television and soundbited talent, that wraps itself around these normally distinct modules of the famous world: “all is not lost! There is still some colour and some glamour and some creativity to be had against this cold, grey sky! Come buy a piece, an opinion, the rumour and gossip! Come buy, come buy!”
Of course, there are two binary aspects within this neat wrapping up of the creative year. The genuine celebration of outstanding achievement in various fields – come at me BAFTAs and OSCARs – not long now; and the so-called “backdrop”, the setting of the scene: red carpet build-up, best dressed, drunken antics of the people we deify in the process. In 2011, the National Portrait Gallery ran Glamour of the Gods, a collection of Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s celebrity portraits from the 1920s to the 1960s. It has always stayed with me, these perfect images of immortalised stars, each seemingly encased within an ethereal light, skin like molten gold, reclining, doe-eyed, in a meticulously-composed frame. Men kept postcard versions in their back pockets as they sojourned off to war, and women painted their lips each morning in emulation of their own Hollywood goddess. The essentials haven’t changed. An actor’s job has always been the same, and it is not simply to convert and make-believe into another person and be praised for doing it well, but to live and talk and look so that another person wishes to become the actor himself. It’s part of the play and the money. And it’s so very, very glamorous.
The awards season is the pinnacle of this moment, when the public is separated symbolically from the fame hegemony by a royal red carpet upon which they place they dainty feet, dressed to the nines in needle and thread that cost more than a year of my degree, and fawn to cameras in a way only a celebrity and an insecure pubescent girl with an iPhone can. I realise I sound cynical and disillusioned but must assure you, like Katrina never gave Juno the stinkeye (“it’s just her face, y’know”), unfortunately my tone of writing cannot change. I promise, I’ve tried. Again, as a Victorian paperboy, I’ll happily stand on street corners and jingo-call “Jennifer Lawrence, words cannot express how much I love you!” At the Golden Globes she sprawled across Buzzfeed and YouTube and W Magazine in a sweet-wrapper, marshmallow-y, ice cream dress, crying at Homeland spoilers and pulling Haka faces. I wanted to scoop her up and eat her.
It is important, however, to try and retain some composure. It is so easy to get caught up in Lupita Nyong’o’s astounding beauty and regal fashion moments on the red carpet, and forget the reason she stands there is for perhaps the most heart-rending and bone-chilling debut performance of the decade so far. Glamour, like the awards season, lasts only a fleeting moment, and the trap and the skill is that it appears so effortless. The sheen of molten gold caked upon each god’s skin in the MGM portraits is a veneer as thin as the paper upon which it is printed, and we must not forget that publicity is also an art form – but not the one we’re here these months to celebrate. Whether Lupita Nyong’o wins her OSCAR or not, let’s hope it’s for her budding body of work that she is remembered this year, and not simply her body. And let’s consider, in light of recent film world tragedies including Dylan Farrow and (oh, god) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, that although the cinematic world is full of beautiful people and fabulous lifestyles sold to us by the tabloids after each such event, these people are not gods, but like us. It is the films, the TV, the theatre – the work they and we appear in our droves to revere – that should be the focus of the season.
Hannah Oliver is the Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TELEVISION at PTL. She studies English Literature at the University of Edinburgh and would like to think that this is an apt excuse for her tendency to be overly florid, pleonastic and long-winded (yeah, we couldn’t find a more pretentious word for long-winded). However, there are two things to effectively shut her up – coffee and/or chocolate. ’Nuff said.
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