Friday, February 20, 2015

87th Academy Awards – Dream Ballot

Despite seeing nearly 300 features and shorts which I qualify as being 2014 releases, the Academy has much stricter rules.  Due to the evolving landscape of cinematic exhibition (and the proclivity of genre films being rushed to VOD) many of my favorite films of the year weren’t even given the chance at contending as a dark horse:  I have seen only 87 productions that Oscar™ deems eligible for the big award.  I don’t expect these percentages to get any better as it seems doubtful the Academy will seek to accommodate for films which circumvent the box office.

I was going to do my traditional “who will win”/”who should win” thing, but I don’t want my wife stealing all my picks in our pool so I’m doing something a little different.  Here are the nominations and wins if they were selected by me, but still holding to Academy rules (with one notable exception).  I saved this document on my hard-drive as “bizarro Oscars,” so please understand this format is weird, self-indulgent and that reader feedback is highly encouraged.

(For obvious reasons I have ignored the shorts categories.  I have no idea how a film becomes eligible in these categories and even less of an idea how they are effectively narrowed down such that an individual film makes an impact.  The short film has an incredible medium called the Internet, and the Academy’s failure to recognize this is a testament to their devotion to punctilio rather than innovative artistry.)

The envelopes, please:

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Western as Ethnographic Barometer in Gunsmoke and Deadwood

James Arness, the actor who portrays Marshal Matt Dillon in all twenty seasons of Gunsmoke (CBS: 1955-1975), had an interesting take on the ideologies behind the genre’s success. “A cowboy wasn’t tied down to one place or one woman,” he told TV Radio Mirror in 1964. “Nowadays people just don’t seem to have the intestinal fortitude to live the way they’d like. That’s why they tune in on Westerns, to get a breather from stifling conformity. They don’t want to see Matt Dillon—or any other lawman—come home and sweep the kitchen” (McBride 64).

While, perhaps, coy or playing to character, the assertion is odd given the nature of the television medium. The American Western, more than any genre, reflects the morals and cultural feelings of the era in which they were produced. However, unlike the film industry’s predication of rugged individualism dependent on the trope of cowboys riding off into the sunset, during the heyday of the television Western, heroes needed to be domesticated in recurring roles.

Arness’s ideologically ambiguous statement does any amount of cultural work. It presumes the television Western’s narrative is coded with rigid masculinity as well as insinuates its audience is (and its network would allow its program’s target to be) exclusively male. It ties (contrary to the ideological view of the very show he stars in) law and morality to non-conformity and self-government. It suggests the masculine ideal is too individualistic for community yet offers it through a social medium.

Though fragments of these assumptions share some truth with the early Western in print and film, the television Western largely subverts these assumptions through both their serial format and consumerist ideologies. Textual analysis of the first seasons of Gunsmoke and Deadwood (HBO: 2004-2006) will examine how the television Western, though employing traditional genre tropes and themes, does not perpetuate absolute ideologies but is elastic, reflecting the cultures and formats in which they were produced. As paranoid, commercial artifacts of the Eisenhower-era Cold War and the lingering shadow of post-9/11, these programs’ use of Western language exposes an ethnological rift as the culture shifts from the perspective of victor to that of victim in terms of foreign policy.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015