Art endures, life is brief,
Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC)
More art less show, losing the glitz doubled the shine, and the Oscars, finally, became an integral part of the art they claimed to celebrate for a solid century, the 2021 avant-garde ceremony done with integrity, precision, high skill, artfulness and heart. The first time in its long history of over-produced, always meandering, sometimes lovable crowd-pleasing kitsch, it considered itself as authentic messenger of the art form it represents.
Oscars 2021 was a public exercise in reclaiming one’s own art from the hijack of a devouring billion dollar entertainment industry, the scaling down from mass production to manufacture, a deliberate recalibrating and reframing in order to preserve cinema’s place in culture, in society, and in our individual lives.
And to be sure, this ceremony was all about preserving cinema. Not only the form, but the actual shrine where this art is conjured, the circumstance how it manifests itself the way it inherently requires.
Conceived with razor-sharp intent and clear concept, with intricate Deco set design, loving gold-leaf animations, a smoothly sensual, saturnine editing of the entire proceedings, including the ingeniously produced, always difficult In Memoriam section, truly evoking the sombre spirit of the times, and MC’d by versatile musical virtuosity – in one night Oscars 2021 reordered an entire professional hierarchy, without undermining any true industry authority.
In the flow of its simple, open-space interactions, it revealed the human face of the film workers that make cinema possible. Their stories not only relatable to all audiences across the globe, but effortlessly believable. Oscar laurates equally honoured as Oscar contenders. The winners’ speeches unrushed and uninterrupted by commerce, a lovely mix of both humbleness and pride. Every single one given space, scope, and respect.
In an act of an almost alchemical purification of distilling to an essential ingredient, a profession has now been laid bare, not in corruption, but in beauty, and a fragile, hopeful humanity – a deeply personal, ambitious dedication not to fame, but to an art form and a community. To its craft.
This absolute lack of pretension will doubtless be viewed by many to be ultimate pretention, as the global media diet has long been saturated with mercurial pleasures of ceaseless micro nuggets of mental titillation, an addiction to surface interactions, and a jadedness of the casual tweeted wit, and Oscars 2021 were, in many ways, almost ascetic in their execution.
And while a lusterless, obstinate Hollywood establishment auto-erotic fantasy did bring on a rapidly shrinking audience adoration, and a growing outsider schadenfreude, it was all merely a fault line in the system that could have auto-corrected were it not for the devastating global pandemic, the key ingredient in a final, merciless brew that melted down an artifice, sinking, almost irrevocably, an entire empire.
In a most logical twist of fate, thus bringing forth its art, and the survival of its art form, centre stage.
It was precisely this drive towards artistic preservation which demanded a shredding of the egocentric, the false, and the unnecessary, a centre of inner gravity born of the pain of mortality and a love of creation.
What makes film, a deeply laborious trenchwork of a craft, the most outwardly glamorous of all art forms, is not its surrounding pomp, or its manufactured exclusivity, but its core unattainability – the manner in which it seamlessly unites multitudes through a single lens.
To make a film is to be able to capture light and colour it from the inside.
Cinema is the art of tirelessly attempting the impossible, and therefore, it will always seem just slightly out of reach.
Therein lies its power.
Oscar night, it was on full display.