Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Hollywood’s harvest season

The pale dawn of the year is reserved for the harvest of the Hollywood orchard. It is time to reap the yield of its blossoms, as the members of the film world await the results of the year’s crop, their bounty, their rewards, the fruits of the season.

After a long and arduous year, the members of this very special form of show business will learn who will be king/queen of the kingdom of popcorn and celluloid.

Traditionally launched by the Golden Globe Awards, held on 6 January, a few hopes in the film industry were raised, many more were dashed.

The list of excellence is not so excellent. There was one exception, the winner of best actor in a dramatic film. You may have never heard of him before, but not for long. This brilliant actor has been appearing in movies and TV for years and is already the winner of an Emmy (TV award) and a Critics Choice award for his performance as Elliot Andersen in the TV series Mr Robot.

It was a surprise when Rami Malek, an Egyptian actor, was announced winner of the Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Drama. International fame shall soon follow; a reminder of the success of the late Omar Sharif.

A moment is necessary to acquaint ourselves with this rising star from the land of the Nile. Born in Los Angeles on 12 May 1981, Rami Said Malek’s Egyptian parents had immigrated to the US in the 1970s. His twin brother, sister, mother and late father belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Rami never fails to mention his Egyptian roots.

His winning performance as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the 1980s British rock band Queen is more than riveting. This amazing actor impressed the critics and judges of the Foreign Press Corps who awarded him the second greatest prize in Hollywood. Usually regarded as a precursor to the Oscars, we shall keep our fingers crossed that the Academy members, who immediately invited him to their ranks, shall also be as smart as the foreign press of the Golden Globes.

Apart from this note of pride and joy, the Hollywood crop is disappointing to many, despite the high box office returns for the season.

Hollywood seems to have run out of ideas, now churning remake after remake, as an insurance policy for success — that is seldom the case. They regularly revisit that old bag of golden ideas and proceed to turn the gold into a lesser metal, adding violence, sexuality, obscenities, then wonder why the magic had disappeared.

This season’s big remake is A Star is Born (2018), with Bradley Cooper and the lady herself, Lady Gaga, a remake of the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version, (1978), which was a remake of the 1954 Judy Garland and James Mason version, based on the original 1937 film with Frederic Marsh and Janet Gaynor. Considered the favourite to sweep the prizes, it has already failed its first test. No, Lady Gaga did not win Best Actress as hoped but still walked away with an award for Best Song, “Shallow”.

Another remake or sequel is Mary Poppins Returns. Mary Poppins is back? Not really. Emily Blunt assumes the role, and while the film is visually pleasing, the difference between this and our revered Julie Andrews’ version is as night is to day. Often personalities are the very essence of success and Andrews owns the role of our beloved Mary Poppins. Does not Hollywood know that?

Should old classics be left alone, untouched, undisturbed, unsoiled? Absolutely is the opinion of scholars of film. Professor Michael Bernstein of Emory University believes “it is totally unnecessary”. Why did prominent director Gus Van Sant remake Hitchcock’s Psycho? Even though he copied the original shot by shot it was “the absolute worse remake of all time”. There is only one Hitchcock, “now why can’t Hollywood folk who know film and audiences more thoroughly than anyone, realise that?” Professor Bernstein complains “the remaking will go on as the only criterion of wisdom to vulgar minds… is success”. But success is seldom in the cards, rejected for replacing their old familiar faces.

Then why are remakes filling our screens, hastening the demise of film as a great art form? It is simply the natural result of living in a finite world and there are only that many ideas and story lines. Some ideas, however, have the appeal and range for being remade ad infinitum… such as Cinderella, which has been made 100 times in 100 countries each time bringing a kind of freshness and originality, thus retaining its appeal.

This is not to say that great films are not being made. They are, however, becoming increasingly fewer and farther between, which begs the question, has humanity run out of ideas or has the art of film passed its prime? Are we to await the birth of a new medium after a century of entertainment?

It is akin to awaiting a new form of government as the ideal form of democracy is on the wane… but we digress.

As this is not a perfect world, so is Hollywood not a perfect kingdom/filmdom.

We are positioned to enjoy the harvest of this award season with a special interest in the climactic finale of the Oscars, hoping Academy members will have enough sense to award our Egyptian star Malek a golden statuette for his phenomenal talent.

“I am easily satisfied with the very best.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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