The Golden Globes did it. The Hollywood Foreign Press with their promise of a Golden Globe is at fault. Remember The Butler? Well, somebody from across the pond forgot The Butler. The foreigners have asked for it and this will be a deadly serious preview of a deadly serious matter. The HFPA, an acronym that could stand for some Interior Department hazmat sub-committee, issued their nominations for the coveted Golden Globe and forgot to nominate one all-American movie.
On Sunday night, December 15, 2013, the world will learn who’s in and who’s out, who’s Oscar-ready and who’s not. This Sunday night America will learn why the foreign guys, some of whom still want to give Jerry Lewis a Lifetime Achievement Award (“He could have been a mime!”), snubbed The Butler. Not only did they snub the film, but they brought back a bad 70’s disco dance, counted to twelve and substituted dark for comedy in the “Best Films That Were Supposed to Make Us Laugh” category.
So, move the chair a little closer, brighten the view, enlarge the font, and remove all tongues from all cheeks. This isn’t going to be pretty.
The Butler. Snubbed. A pass. A question mark and a mystery hovers over the bald brows of Boomer producers in “Bright Lights Land.” Was it an Oprah backlash? Or did somebody figure out that Forrest Whittaker’s been playing the same passive aggressive, self-imposed “aw-shucks, who me?” character since The Crying Game.
Or is the foreign press too real, too cosmopolitan, too wired, too cynical, too Devil Wears Prada vogue, to buy heartwarming in a White House where vipers fear to tread – or slither.
This writer once had the opportunity to interview Lyndon Johnson’s chauffeur on the publication of his memoir. The chauffeur was a kindly, elderly African American gentleman with a twinkle in his eye and lively sense of humor. He held back nothing about his particular Miss Daisy, the 6-foot-5, arm-twister from Texas Hill Country who corralled enough redneck votes to pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act. As per the driver, Johnson was a crude, awful man, an unrepentant racist who treated his subordinates with cruelty and that kind of intermittent bi-polar extravagance that can’t be relied upon and is punished when it is. Other than that how did he enjoy the show? Think on LBJ as a well-presented sausage breakfast. It looks good. It even tastes good. But, nobody wants to see how the sausage was made.
So, The Butler took a hit, the worst kind of hit – the silence of the unimpressed.
Of course there are other reasons for the snub that might make some sense. The first is technical and scientific in nature. As Brad Pitt would say, “This is raw intelligence.”
For millennia, man has gone to sleep and woken up in accord with circadian rhythms that track energy levels, the production of various hormones and their impact on mood, outlook and desires, over several time frames.
However, today, life in the brave new virtual world marches to different rhythms, the artificial and enforced rhythms of the ubiquitous media’s manipulation of the news cycle. These days human beings no longer wake to the vitamin D pregnant sunlight of rosy fingered dawn, but to any number of well-coiffed talking heads serving the early bird news about what happened in some village of partisans in one of those “stan” countries, thousands of miles away. Who needs sunlight? Who needs coffee? A story like that will rev up any “Mister-Go-To-Work” for the day.
Failing to acknowledge these new rhythms of life, The Butler made a fatal mistake. It debuted too early in the voting cycle. Although, movies of prior decades had longer shelf-lives than they do today, The Butler got its time on the big screen, a spot on the morning shows and a Charley Rose (“Is he asleep or is that just the way he interviews people?”) yawn. Then it disappeared into the dark nothingness of yesterday’s news.
The Butler and the Golden Globes is a sad tale of what happens when Hollywood serves up “heartwarming” in a cynical age and dares the public to reject it (it didn’t). It’s the tragedy of what happens when producers and distributors mistime the launch (they did), when Oprah crests red critical on the over-exposed meter (she has). It is when the public’s seen too much and knows too much and can infer the rest about what really goes on behind closed doors (they do).
Now return all seats to their upright position, and exit down the red carpet to the show.
By Michael Hogan