'New Hollywood' Down for the Count

Boulder Weekly | March 8, 2005
If the re-election of George W. Bush proved once and for all that the 1960s are dead, look no further than last Sunday night's Academy Awards for the polished nails in the coffin.

The 77th Oscars' defining moment wasn't the crowning of Million Dollar Baby as best picture. It was Hollywood liberal diva Barbra Streisand gleefully kissing Clint Eastwood as he accepted the best director award for M$Baby. A staunch Republican and neo-John Wayne, Eastwood recently dared Michael Moore to make his day. "If you ever show up at my front door with a camera, I'll kill you...I mean it," warned the squinty one.

Moore himself was nowhere to be found at the Oscar corral, with or without a camera. He arrogantly pulled his Bush-bashing Fahrenheit 9/11 from the documentary category and offered it only as best picture. In return, the Academy voters burned Moore.

But Oscars' big picture is that the brave "New Hollywood" of the 1960s and 1970s has been put in deep freeze. Martin Scorsese crashed again, his glossy Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator sucker-punched by Eastwood's million-dollar melodramatics. But Scorsese's story was no bold Hughes expose. It ignored the eccentric billionaire's rabid anti-communism (and anti-Semitism) in the years after World War II. While Scorsese was going down in flames, Warren Beatty could only sit on the bench, acting as supportive hubby to Annette Bening, who lost (again) to Hilary Swank for best actress.

In the wake of 9/11, and the crushing--and still questionable--presidential defeat of Al Gore, the heart and mood of the nation has flown south. Mainstream movies of the last four years mirror this blue-to-red shift. Of the five films nominated for best picture, none can be called daring, either in content or style. Following the acting Oscars of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry three years ago, we can applaud the victories of Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman as further signs of Hollywood's color breakthrough. Then again, whiny-voiced host Chris Rock left many waxing nostalgic for Billy Crystal, if not the late Johnny Carson.

But even such victories come with caveats. Freeman's M$Baby role was as janitor and Eastwood sidekick (see Unforgiven), a black man who seemed to have dozed through the civil rights 1960s. Foxx's vehicle, Ray, was financed by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, an evangelical Christian and Republican booster who was named "America s greediest executive" by Fortune magazine--no liberal mouthpiece--in 2002.

Based on stories by F.X. Toole, Million Dollar Baby is lightweight at best, infantile at worst. Hilary Swank played Maggie, a spunky boxer who's reluctantly trained by the raspy, irascible Eastwood. If this is Clint's bow to feminism, it's punched out by the bewildering punishment inflicted on his heroine. The ludicrous championship bout leaves Maggie paralyzed, and Eastwood steps in as her fatherly god of mercy. Despite a contemporary setting, the villain is none other than a nasty East German fighter. Score another point for Eastwood's Cold War hangover.

The hot topic for both the best picture and best foreign film winners was death, not life. Owing to the fine acting of Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro, Spain's The Sea Inside was a compassionate defense of medical euthanasia. Director Alejandro Amenabar treated Sampedro heroically, complete with a send-off that seemed to fish for audience applause.

Of the other name nominees, only Hotel Rwanda and documentary winner Born Into Brothels attempted to confront topical issues. Yet the former came a decade late for the millions killed in the 1994 African genocide. What's left of the old left had to be content with The Motorcycle Diaries, which portrayed young Che Guevara not as a revved-up Marxist revolutionary but as a dreamboat Jesus-figure who washes the feet of lepers.

As it is in the rest of the U.S., the heat is on Hollywood to tow the conservative party line. After all, ex-Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger is now governor of California, dissing and dismissing Democrats as girlie men. Though a credible winner for best animated feature, The Incredibles might have been scripted by Focus on the Family.

After the knockout win of Million Dollar Baby, all of a sudden the celebrated New Hollywood of Warren Beatty, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola and Scorsese, et al., seems to have gotten very old. At least Scorsese can take some solace that old Hollywood's Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for direction, perhaps the Academy's most notorious travesty.


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