Redefining the Historical Drama

Hollywood has always favoured historical dramas; the ability to recreate important moments of our past and culture through its transference to the big screen has retained a special place due to our inherent need to connect with the truth. Whilst fictional tales allow a certain form of escapism, true stories provide a means for unbelievable events to be realised.

Around since the silent films of the early 20th century, though often not entirely factually accurate, historical dramas provide an engaging introduction into the past. Throughout the course of cinema, directors have explored periods from the pre-historic times through to antiquity and the middle ages, right up to the modern day in an attempt to create enlightening features that capture some element of yesteryear.

With The King’s Speech recently scooping up many of the big awards this year, it is evident that historical dramas are still popular in the current film market. Following on from his best director win at the Oscars, Tom Hooper has been rumoured to be considering an adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s book Tulip Fever which follows a Dutch artist during the 17th century who falls in love with the woman that he has been commissioned to paint.

Although the distant past has always been a popular choice for director’s to explore, it has only been recently that an emphasis on films surrounding the events of more current affairs has become increasingly favourable.

For example, close behind The King’s Speech at this year’s awards has been David Fincher’s adaptation of the creation and rise of the social-networking site Facebook in The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which followed the early career of billionaire Mark Zuckerburg is a perfect example of how the film industry have used modern events to create new works.

However, there has been a certain amount of apprehension surrounding this latest trend as critics have argued that it is the result of a lack of creativity that writer’s are turning to current affairs for plots as they are unable to come up with decent stories on their own. With Dreamworks lining up a film about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fronted by Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood studio, it is questionable as to how this will be made into a piece of cinema that people would want to watch. Having said that, everyone ridiculed the idea of a Facebook film but Fincher successfully managed to dissolve any of those concerns in what was in fact a terrific film.

Other recent plans announced include a film following the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig which led to the BP Oil spill that was such a considerable feature within the news last year. An adaptation of an article written in the NY Times, the task of writing the screenplay has gone to Mathew Sand who wrote American by Blood, The Summoner and The Red Star.

The question remains then of whether writers feel that having an audience being able to connect to an event from past experience creates more engaging cinema or whether it is the result of idleness? Perhaps it is a result of Hollywood’s need to churn out new releases at such a speed that little time is available to construct original ideas. In a market that has become increasingly concerned with markup and creating the greatest amount of profit, it is evident that the film industry is one that comes across more as a business enterprise than an artistic showcase.

As plans evolve to cover greater numbers of current events, it is clear that they have become an integral part of modern cinema. Our need to associate ourselves with the past and become ingrained in a part of history seems to explain its obvious allure. However, we must still approach this genre with a certain degree of trepidation as for some, it could provide an easy shortcut that alleviates themselves of all the hard work.

Taken from The Student, publish Tue Mar 15th 2011.

The Awkward Awards

As the awards season comes to a close for yet another year, with Hollywood’s finest either celebrating or wallowing in their own self pity, one can’t help feeling that the Oscars were once again a massive disappointment. The ceremony, in all its glitz and glamour, comes across as little more than an exultation for beautiful people to achieve praise largely dependent on predetermined considerations.

Presented by the exceedingly dull duo of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the audience were made to sit uncomfortably through three hours of awkward jokes and unsettling skits. An arguably odd choice given the relative youth of the pair, perhaps it was meant to balance the expected number of older viewers attracted by the nominations of Colin Firth and The King’s Speech. However, regardless of why they were chosen, it doesn’t excuse why they came across as half attempting to impress their acting peers and half trying to suppress their excitement at being given the opportunity to host the awards, failing at both. Somewhat comically, this has since led to a Facebook group petitioning for the return of Billy Crystal to host the 2012 awards; not the funniest of men but at least he can still hold an audience, demonstrated by the few minutes he was on stage.

The Oscars have received considerable criticism regarding the millions of dollars publicists spend to promote their films during the awards season, in an attempt to create sufficient hype surrounding a film. This in turn seems to suggest that only a handful of films are really within a shot of receiving an award, thus, the results appear more a formality rewarding the most monied film than a genuine recognition of quality in acting and filmmaking.

There seems to be a necessary procedure followed in order to win an award: for example, in the best picture category it seems necessary to have the film on the lengthy side and preferably slightly dull so that the judges think they are watching something of inherent social importance. Rarely is it that a fantasy or horror film takes the title as these are not deemed ‘serious’ films. It is also evident that the film cannot be foreign; there is a category for best foreign film at the awards which seems to be the only place for world cinema at the Oscars. Perhaps they should count themselves lucky they at least have that.

The 2011 Oscars are a perfect example of the tedious predictability of recent years. In retrospect, it seems incredibly obvious that The King’s Speech should have won its numerous awards as the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Screen Actors Guild awards seemed to point in that direction. This in turn has meant that those faithful British few who stayed up all night, ultimately wasted their time by watching something they already knew would happen, especially when the acceptance speeches were so soporific. The only highlight was Melissa Leo dropping the F-bomb for the first time in Oscar history and then not even realising she had done it.

It is clear that the Oscars are ostentatious, the close to this year’s ceremony emphasising this with hordes of school kids clothed in a cornucopia of colours singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the winners hoisted their awards in the air. There is definitely a certain prestige that is reserved only for the Oscars, but it is getting to the point where they are losing their validity or at least their allure as viewing figures continue to fall. Perhaps if there was a genuine sense of surprise or competition their light would be rekindled. Who knows, maybe if Jeff Bridges was put forward for Tron: Legacy rather than True Grit, the outcome would have been somewhat different; at least it would have been entertaining.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Mar 8th 2011.