It’s Oscar season again! Which means it’s also the time of year I ponder just why the hell does art matter, anyway?
I love the Oscars. I usually cry one to five times throughout the crazily rehearsed and orchestrated ceremony, despite the underlying politics and ridiculous lavishness. Every year, I wonder to myself, “Why is all this justified? When so much suffering and crap is happening in the world, why is it okay for us to take time to give a darn about silly celluloid (digital) fluff?”
Well, my answer balloons into something much bigger than Hollywood (and Wellywood!) can account for.
After 9/11, the Oscars ceremony was a sufficiently somber event, and it opened with Tom Cruise delivering a speech in remembrance of those lost on that awful day. But then, he said something that always resonated with me. It was a question, followed by an answer: “Should we celebrate the joy and magic movies bring? Dare I say it? More than ever.”
If we can forget the horrible fact that Moulin Rouge! did not win Best Picture that year, it remains one of my favorite ceremonies ever (let’s not forget it was also the year of The Fellowship of the Ring). Ten years later, I still think about it, and again, I wonder, why does any of it matter? This year, we can ask the same thing. Libya is in shambles, and there are still bodies buried in rubble in my dear sweet city of Christchurch, New Zealand. But those are just the recent CNN headlines. There’s more badness out there. A lot more.
The question of celebrating art and creativity during such times is a question I take very personally and seriously, because I have chosen to pursue a career (a life, really) in this arena. I spend most of my spare time sitting in my hovel or at Starbucks working on novel writing. I have one book out on submission and seven more dripping from my head onto the page. None of it is real; the stories are all made up; it’s all for fun and entertainment, really—mostly for myself, and hopefully someday for others. It’s no different with movies, which I also love writing and making (not enough, as of late).So, what is the point? Well, I think the vast majority of people in this country read books and watch movies strictly as entertainment and forget about the creative process that goes into them. Even the worst books and movies had to be written and produced. But think of the good books, the good movies. Think of the effort it took for J.K. Rowling to so brilliantly weave together the Harry Potter series. Think of all the different people it takes to create a film: the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, actors, gaffers, grips, set designers, set decorators, costume designers, script supervisors, editors, gophers, composer—it’s crazy, really! They’re all there to serve a creation, a work of good or bad art, that will then go out into the world and tirelessly try to gain an audience. In the film industry, the above people are not the corporate executives interested solely in the bottom line; they are the ones who are there because they find value in it (ideally, anyway). But, again, what value is there in any of this?
For me, the value is the human spirit. The drive to create. The celebration of the fact that art is a positive force in the world. That humanity doesn’t just have to destruct itself, it can also share itself and inspire. We can create products out of nothing that change lives, that spark dreams, that promote hope.
Jurassic Park changed my life when I was nine, Stephen King did the same for me about three years later, and then came Harry Potter, which is probably the reason I’m sitting here writing today. Woops, we can’t forget The Lord of the Rings (film trilogy), which inspired me to travel to New Zealand, where I found a home and made lifelong friendships.
It isn’t the beauty of a movie shot or a slice of perfect editing or a moment of brilliant acting that makes me cry during a movie; it’s the fact that somebody made that shot, edit, or brilliant acting moment happen in the first place. The fact that inspiration seemingly brought it out of nowhere and has now made me, a totally unrelated human, get tingles of epicality.
Not all important things in the world are bad. Art is a positive force. It is not just our human footprint but also a glimpse of the collective spirit that animates us. Whether you call it divine or simply a fluke of nature, that spirit is what keeps humanity going. It’s the thing that inspires people to help others out of earthquake rubble or rise up against injustice. It’s also what will make each and every one of us worthy of being remembered after our fleeting dalliance with life is over.
It’s nice taking time to appreciate the good things. For some people, that means sports. For others, that means good food, gardening, or even polishing their cars. For me, every year in February, it’s the movies—the lights, camera, and action that have so often created or inspired definitive moments in my life.
Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate?!