Belfast Telegraph

The best acting at film awards is when losers smile

By Dominic Lawson

I realise none of us is compelled to watch the interminable displays of professional log-rolling and improbable frocks otherwise known as movie awards ceremonies; but somehow the obsession of the broadcasting media with these festivals of self-congratulation leaves us with no escape

Thus, at 7am yesterday, I - along with everyone else whose reluctant emergence into daily consciousness is punctuated by Radio 4's news bulletins - had to endure the sound of a hyper-ventilating Meryl Streep telling an invited audience at the "Orange Baftas" that her performance in The Iron Lady "located something real".

That's a news headline? Actor telling other actors that she has "located something real"? There's nothing real about it: it's the opposite of real and that's the whole point. The movie business is make-believe: men and women pretending to be people they aren't to an audience which wants to forget who and where they are - a monumental exercise in mutual self-delusion.

The awards ceremonies themselves don't even have the justification of being great art, since that's been and done, watched and paid for. We, the public, are merely being asked to gawp at the exponents congratulating each other for their handsomely remunerated displays of impersonation. And, being superb impersonators, those of them who fail to win do a brilliant job of looking delighted for the victor as he or she walks up to collect the award. In fact, that might well be the best acting you will see during the entire event.

How very different from our own British Press Awards, an event which as an editor I had been obliged to attend for 10 years in a row. Not for us the cosmetic grin of ecstatic empathy as a rival grabbed the prize for which we had been shortlisted: instead, quite visible displays of anger and, on the odd occasion, a punch-up at the bar afterwards. Now that's what I call real, Ms Streep.

It is hard now to come across any trade or profession which doesn't have a slew of awards. We all seem to have become infected by the actors' love for self-congratulation. You can't enter a hotel, a supermarket, a school, or even - I imagine - a funeral parlour without seeing prominently displayed on a wall a framed award for the provision of some service or other: Most promising new Bed & Breakfast of the year, Best Provider of Organically Farmed Pork, Most Environmentally Conscious Geography Department; Most Imaginative Embalmer in the South-East of England.

The main difference between these and such events as the Baftas is that the latter attracts the television cameras, as its participants are officially the Beautiful People (with dresses to match). Yet in the age of YouTube and Twitter, you can be sure that even the most obscure awards ceremony will be urging the world to take full notice of its distribution of industrial gongs and baubles. It's a wonder that anyone manages to get real work done at all, so obsessive and increasingly time-consuming is the business of award-hunting.

It is said by psychologists that we have become as a people increasingly dependent on various forms of praise and decreasingly able to gain a sense of personal pride simply in knowing that we have done a good job. The shrinks have divided the world up into those whose sense of self-worth is internal and those who gain such validation only through comments and compliments from others - and the latter group is becoming an alarmingly large slice of the human pie.

In this context, the manic expansion of show-business awards ceremonies can be seen not just as yet more evidence of the increasing power and scope of film companies' marketing departments, but also of the character of almost all actors. These are needy, needy people. Applause is the drug that they cannot live without - which is fair enough, given that they are in the performance business. And, boy, do they get that applause at their awards ceremonies. The readiness of these audiences to put their hands together at the slightest cue is something not usually seen outside sessions of the general assembly of the North Korean Communist Party. This especially accompanies the clips of the films being paraded, and as the applause mounts, the star in question sheds an obligatory tear or two for the benefit of the television audience watching her watching - not least to demonstrate how deeply moved is she by the quality of her own performance.

It is all rather American, you might say - and if so, that is most appropriate: the commercial significance of the Baftas is to influence the members of the American academy in its frenetically lobbied deliberations over the Oscars, which take place at the end of the same month.

That truly is the alpha and omega of self-congratulatory ceremonies, the one which every year captures the undisputed prize for most grotesquely overblown display of manufactured emotions. I suppose it is harmless compared with President Bashar al-Assad's bombardment of Homs; but that's all the more reason, my dear BBC, not to confuse it with real news.


From Belfast Telegraph