Awarding The Unseen

March 5, 2010

This is not a rant about how less commercial films get little to no Oscar love. As a boy growing up I lived and died by the daily fate of the underdog Portland Trailblazers (especially in their many conflicts with the hated Hollywood cool of the Lakers), but at some point I had to mellow out and accept the minor historical significance of such events…Though just the mention of A.C. Green still gets my blood boiling red.

Nor is this a rave for Best Picture nominee The Blind Side. I haven’t seen it myself, but my dad really enjoyed it. I can’t call that an endorsement as I’m not so sure I agree with many of his cinematic tastes (sorry, dad, still haven’t watched the DVD of Tombstone you sent), but then again, I’m not so sure I would be going to things like Hausu at the IFC or W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism at BAM without having been exposed to his glee at certain films (Raising ArizonaSo I Married an Ax Murderer) or without my mom’s feeding of a precocious five-year-old’s interest in Hitchcock, Godzilla, and Universal horror films.

Rather, after looking over this weekend’s nominees, and inspired by Virginia Heffernan’s recent New York Times essay about sound editing (“Sound Logic“), I began thinking about the unseen features of film.

What exactly is unseen in this what we term the most visual of media? Well, following from Heffernan’s piece, there is the obvious influence of the audio elements of a movie. These have a definite effect on the “viewing” experience, though that effect is obviously overlooked, seeing as how the Academy has to haul out the chalkboard every year during that part of the awards presentation to explain why sound design and editing matter.

But there are a whole host of other unseen factors that are a part of our ability to enjoy and access films, ranging from the crew to the film developers (or video migrators[?]) to projectionists. And if you really wanted to burrow down, you could look at the distribution channels and delivery persons and gas station attendants, lens manufacturers, raisin chocolate coaters, personal vegan chef/yoga instructor to the movie star’s dog… Truly, the film industry touches every segment of the American economy!

Seriously, though, there is a lot of unglorified (and unglamorous) works that goes on to produce and maintain the magic of the moving pictures, not the least of which is archiving and preservation. (Sorry. I love my field, but there isn’t a lot of pizazz I can impress people at cocktail parties with in discussing the normalization of first name / last name syntax.)

The simple wrap-up here is the warm fuzzy of, “Hey, we’re all winners and deserve our recognition too,” but that’s the Hollywood ending. Rather, and perhaps this is just a personal outlook meant for my own edification, there may be something positive to being “unseen” in the now. We do our work and focus on the day-to-day. Current cultural recognition does the same, unable to see the long term picture while it is awarding the moving pictures from last year. Our advantage is that we perform the Daily with an eye for the future, with the idea that the results of our work will help maintain a knowledge of the past and our present, a knowledge that will help later generations “see” what is no longer visible to them and what was not necessarily apparent to us.

With that in mind then, ultimately people will see that Sam Bowie vs. Michael Jordan was not such a clearcut pick at the time, that Goobers tasted better than they sound, and, perhaps, that Tombstone is the finest example of the Western genre ever produced.

—¬†Joshua Ranger