V intage in V ogue
A Look at the Time Period Best Picture Nominees Now that it’s 2012 and (supposedly) our last year here on Earth, it’s almost too perfect that six out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture in the 84th Annual Academy Awards are period pieces. From World War I to the 1960s, it feels like Hollywood is “wrapping itself up”, with nostalgic movies like Hugo and The Artist. Looking at the full list, I started wondering why that happened. Granted, there were a LOT of vintage-style movies this year. The Best Picture nominees don’t even include My Week With Marilyn, The Iron Lady, or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It seems the turn of the century made us reflective; Hollywood is paying homage to the past while welcoming its new era of cinema.
Time Period: 1914-ish, Europe (Great Britain). Fashion: Tall stiff collars, large hats, more relaxed corsets. Popular Ideologies: British ideology during this time was becoming more innovative: feminism, worker unionization, democracy and socialism are just a few examples. Music: British Music Hall (vaudeville inspired), and of course classical music was still very much in style. The Movie: War Horse’s syrupy sweet animal-centered story is teeming with longing for the past. Amidst the carnage and terror of World War I, a courageous and loveable horse manages to lift soldiers’ spirits. There are some heart-wrenching scenes in this one, all revolving around an uplifting horse that raises the morale of soldiers and civilians alike. The Theme: If there’s one universal theme that you can apply to ANY time period, it’s “hope in a hopeless situation”. That’s a trend that we’ve seen since the dawn of cinema time. Hell, that’s a trend in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, another Best Picture nominee (set in present-day). Hoping is what people do. It’s how we cope, and thankfully it’s not going away anytime soon.
Time Period: 1927-1932, Hollywood Fashion: If you’ve seen it once you’ve seen it a thousand times (and even more when Gatsby releases). Flappers with calve-length hemlines, short hair, and long beaded necklaces. Men were in sportswear in casual situations, wide-lapel suits for business, and didn’t step outside without a hat on first. Popular Ideologies: The Roaring Twenties ushered in an era of fast modernization and technology. Increased spending and partying led to the growth of the aristocratic class. Music: That ol’ Devil’s music- Jazz and Ragtime. The Movie: The Artist tells the tale of a popular silent film star that refuses to make the switch to talkies as his industry reshapes. His career and marriage tank while he watches his love interest, Peppy Miller, rise to stardom. Don’t worry, it’s not as pessimistic as it sounds- there’s still a happy ending. The Theme: First of all, half of these vintage movies are either French themed or produced (Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris), really putting Hollywood in touch with its romantic side this year. The film is a beautiful painting of resistance to change, which is incredibly applicable to our fast-paced world. An homage to silent movies, this film reminds us that unless you’re willing to constantly learn and adapt, you’re going to get left in the dust. My own father, a director of photography at age sixty-seven, just returned from a workshop in L.A. where he learned how to properly use 3D cameras. Increasingly accessible new mediums are hitting the entertainment scene all the time. Stubbornness doesn’t get anyone anywhere, especially when so many faces in the job market can render us completely dispensable.
Time Period: 1930s, Paris Fashion: The Great Depression meant more modest clothing. Where the 20s rejected femininity, the 30s brought it back into vogue. Waistlines returned, and hemlines dropped again. Popular Ideologies: Survival, regeneration Music: Jazz still prevalent at the beginning of the decade, which was followed by Big Band and Swing toward the latter half. The Movie: A young boy tries to live on his own in a train station after his father’s death leaves him with nothing. Hugo Cabret is a marvelously bright inventor’s son that tries to repair an automaton (similar to a robot). He finds an adventure that leads him to one of early cinema’s most popular directors. The Theme: Talk about self-commentary! Hugo, like The Artist, has been described as “a love letter to early cinema”. The fact that Hugo is also ground breaking in its use of realistic 3D (as opposed to theme park style that jumps out at the viewer) could not be more appropriate. It’s flawlessly executed new visual style coupled with the antique storyline gives the film the same reverence and respect it gives its predecessors. The plot itself is whimsical, with the final thought being a reflection on the importance of our ancestors.
TREE OF LIFE Time Period: 1950s, Texas Fashion: High waist skirts with belts, short curly hair and brightly colored fabrics. Men sported skinny ties, “gray flannel suits”, and lost their hats. Popular Ideologies: “Women in the kitchen and men at work”, and “Communism is a terrible evil”. Television also emerged as the dominant medium. Music: Rock and Roll The Movie: Tree of Life is a reflection on childhood and the origins of life. A man looks back on his younger years and tries to make sense of them in the greater context of the universe.
Picture, then so should Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, because both have incredible space shots with opera music in the background (the difference here being that Sean Penn’s two minutes of screen time gave Tree more press). That being said, I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t see the movie. Hollywood really went out on a limb with this one and I think experimentation and innovation should always be encouraged. Do I think it deserves Best Picture? No. Do I think it should even win Best Cinematography? Most of the “stunning visuals” that everyone keeps talking about are under the Visual Effects department, so no. Unfortunately the things I thought Tree performed best in have been ignored by the Academy, including Music and Editing. If you like the technical side of film, this is an important one. If you just want to see it because Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are in it, don’t bother.
THE HELP Time Period: Early 1960s Mississippi Fashion: Before the mini skirt, there was Jackie-O. Pastel suits with pillbox hats reigned, and dresses were still very much 1950s influenced. Popular Ideologies: the rebellious free love movement of course, characterized The 60s. Young people were going on the offensive against their conservative generation, and The Help looks at the civil rights side.
The Theme: The premise is interesting and the movie as a whole has received polarized reviews. Tree of Life is literally a nostalgic movie about nostalgia, peppered with the recurring theme of a man trying to find his place in the grand scope of time. The meaning of life is continuously addressed, which of course, is another universal theme. You could stretch that more by saying there’s an increasing public interest in cosmology and physics, and a hope that soon we will scientifically find our reason for the existence of humanity. I will be candid here- I did not like it. I think it’s a bunch of pseudo-artistry. I think that if Tree of Life wins Best
Music: Motown, social and political songs, Rock and Roll The Movie: A young journalist chronicles the racism that black maids are faced with while working for white families. A heartwarming ensemble-based story, The Help has a strong cast and a good adapted screenplay that preserved the original spirit of the book. The Theme: “Sticking together in the face of adversity” is a good summation of The Help. It’s been criticized as being archetypal, with predictable characters that leave nothing to the imagination. I’ll use a quote from Dana Stevens of Slate here that I think sums it up best: “The Help is a high-functioning tearjerker, but the catharsis it offers feels glib and insufficient, a Barbie Band-Aid on the still-raw wound of race relations in America.” Besides that, The Help resonates an optimistic view of the future, a future of increased social awareness and action. The U.S. still has a long way to go in these areas, which is why I think The Help is a good reminder.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Time Period: Present-day and 1920s Paris. Fashion: See The Artist Popular Ideologies: See The Artist, but also keep in mind the new literature emerging during the 20s…Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, (to name a few.) Music: See The Artist
The Movie: An American screenwriter on a trip with his fiancée discovers the wonders and beauties of Paris during one of his midnight strolls in the city. When a mysterious car picks him up and transports him back to the 1920s, he encounters his beloved literary giants that help him with the manuscript of his first novel.
The Theme: Okay, so technically this one isn’t entirely set in the past…but I’m counting it anyway. Owen Wilson’s character, Gill, is an enthusiastic young man that romanticizes the 20s, thinking it was perfection compared to present-day. He eventually begins to question the nature of nostalgia itself after encountering his love interest, (played by Marion Cotillard) who believes that the 1890s were the actual Golden Age of Paris. The film closes on a beautifully self-aware note, with which I will leave you. I don’t know why it’s human nature to always want to be somewhere else. We seem to have a “grass is always greener” view of things. So many of us want fame, or fortune, or to live in a different country or time period. Whether Hollywood is longing for the past or simply tipping its hat to its ancestors, Midnight in Paris sums up our quest for happiness in just a few sentences: “…If you stay here, and this becomes your present, then pretty soon you’ll start imagining another time was really your... You know, was really the golden time. Yeah, that’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.”
Amanda Facemire Staff Writer