We don’t need any of it. Here’s proof: The pandemic shut down the movie business and delayed the release of “West Side Story.” Why? Because movies are literally “nonessential.” Movies don’t feed children or treat the sick or shelter refugees or defend a border.
Art doesn’t save or sustain or create life. All it does is make life richer, fuller, brighter, better.
We could absolutely survive without art, but human beings seem to agree that surviving isn’t — can’t be — all there is. There has to be beauty, too, and awe and wonder. So we make and consume poems and paintings and dances and plays and sculpture and stories and music. And movies, perhaps our most remarkable creation.
A movie is art squared. It’s a beautiful unnecessary thing built of dozens of other beautiful unnecessary things. A film of an actor performing a script in a costume on a set. Art within art within art within art. Which means incredible numbers of people working together to make an intricate thing no one needs.
This is what the Academy Awards are supposed to celebrate. One thing I have always enjoyed about watching the Oscars is that, for all the focus on the red carpet and the celebrities, the academy also recognizes those jobs no one thinks about and the people no one puts on the covers of magazines.
Sometimes I stay in the theater at the end of a movie to watch the credits. I love all the job titles — some kid grew up to be a “matchmove supervisor” or a “rigging gaffer” or a “head ager/dyer.” But even more, I love the quick-scrolling but still practically endless list of names that hints at the immense collaborative effort required to make the movie I just watched.
Follow Kate Cohen's opinionsFollow
It’s astounding how much work is involved.
A much-discussed shot in “West Side Story” opens the dance scene in the gym. We watch Maria and her family enter chatting down a hallway, then turn to follow them through thrown-open doors (bam! the music hits) into a gym packed with people mid-dance, bodies and skirts twirling, then fly high to watch the scene from above, spin round to survey the whole, dip back down to watch Anybodys attempt to join the dance and at last come to rest on Maria again.
That one thrilling minute required what Guillermo del Toro described as “brain-surgery levels of precision” and an orchestra, a costume department, a lighting crew, a sound crew, a camera crew, choreographers, dancers, actors, the scout who found the perfect gym to film in, the caterers who fed everyone, everyone I’m leaving out, and, yes, the famous cinematographer and the even more famous director.
Spielberg calls movies “perhaps the most collaborative medium in the world.” That element of collaboration is both moving and inviting. I can’t imagine being a movie star, but I can imagine working hard, doing my job well, being lucky and ending up on the stage as the third on the left of a sound editing crew, smiling and clutching my statuette while someone else speaks.
This year I won’t get to see that part live. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to pretape some of the less glamorous awards — such as production design, sound, original music score, makeup and hairstyling, and film editing.
Spielberg, among others, decried the decision. He told Deadline that without the production designer, Tony would be singing “Maria” “on a stepladder and she would be on the scaffolding, all this on an empty soundstage. Without film editing all my movies would still be in dailies.”
The academy has explained that these pretaped awards will be announced during the broadcast, and that some footage of the presentations “will be folded seamlessly into the live televised show.” (By editors, naturally.)
But it’s not the same. As Spielberg said, “We all come together to make magic, and I am sad that we will all not be on live television watching magic happen together.”
I don’t need that gym scene in “West Side Story”; I definitely don’t need to watch it again for the 10th time. But I will. And, like Spielberg, I want to thank every single person who had a part in making it, even those who will be edited down to make room for an “exciting, streamlined Oscars show.” They have, together, made my life better.