Monday 13 March 2023

Winning Everything Everywhere all at Once: Five Experts on the Big Moments at the Oscars 2023

Etienne Laurent/ EPA
By Ari Mattes, University of Notre Dame Australia; Deborah Fisher, University of the Sunshine Coast; Gregory Camp, University of Auckland; Jindan Ni, RMIT University, and Robert Boucaut, University of Adelaide

The Academy Awards in 2023 were a less scandalous affair than last year – although host Jimmy Kimmel never let us forget “the slap”, with so many jokes it was verging on a dead-horse-beating situation.

In fact it was a relatively wholesome ceremony, defined by great sweeps for films All Quiet On The Western Front and Everything Everywhere All At Once. Perhaps the only “shock” was Angela Bassett losing Best Supporting Actress to Jamie Lee Curtis, and thereby being denied the chance to “do the thing”.

Here, we summarise the most important moments from the 2023 Oscars.

All the looks of the champagne carpet

Deborah Fisher, Lecturer in Design and Fashion Studies, School of Business and Creative Industries, University of the Sunshine Coast

The Oscars 2023 red-carpet fashions will spur a rush of activity as the haute couture and designer looks are rapidly reproduced for the knockoff market.

The pillars of European Haute Couture were well represented. The major players such as Louis Vuitton (Cate Blanchett, Ana de Armas), Armani Privé (Nicole Kidman), Dior Haute Couture (Michelle Yeoh), Valentino (Florence Pugh), Prada (Catherine Martin), Atelier Versace (Lady Gaga), floated across the carpet with all the feel of Paris fashion week.

There was, however, an obvious absence of emerging or avant-garde designers or even American designers. Instead, it would be fair to say there was an abundance of understated looks, with shades of soft ecru and off-white dominating (Halle Berry, Michelle Williams, Emily Blunt, Tems). Where there was colour, it was delectable- mid-toned aqua (Halle Bailey in Dolce & Gabbana), citrusy orange (Sandra Oh in Giambattista Valli), chartreuse (Winnie Harlow in Atelier Versace), palpable purple (Angela Bassett in Moschino).

Red (note the carpet was renamed champagne) got a solid look in with Melissa McCarthy, Anni Strenisko, and Cara Delavinge, who stunned in Elie Saab. The men followed the mostly conservative mood, with Austin Butler and Lenny Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Keith Urban and Ke Huy Quan in Armani Privé, and Paul Mescal in Gucci. Questlove, last year’s Best Documentary winner, adorned his Crocs with sparkles and bling so he could “shine his light,” perhaps the most personalised of the men’s sartorial stories.

And of course, there are some looks that will, although they should not, be copied – Sigourney Weaver’s somewhat matronly Givenchy dress and Eva Longoria’s art deco-inspired, but far too ambitious gown by Zuhair Murad.

Keeping the score

Gregory Camp, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland School of Music

There was a sore lack of good music throughout this year’s ceremony.

I miss the days of the orchestra pit. The orchestra this year was invisible, other than a few short shots of them leading into commercial breaks and during the Best Original Score announcement. They appeared to be in a conference room somewhere backstage; just because one can pipe in a remote orchestra fairly easily doesn’t mean one should. And despite the fact there was a live orchestra (somewhere), most of the music sounded prerecorded, as it was mixed in a flat, lossy way.

The music clips chosen to accompany the presenters’ and winners’ walks to and from the stage were not very exciting. We heard a lot of a very dull looping motive from Everything Everywhere All at Once as members of its team went to collect their well-deserved awards.

It is possible to write music that is immediately noticeable and interesting; just ask John Williams, who can fit more melodic material into two bars than this whole ceremony had in all its incidental music. All Quiet on the Western Front’s repeating minor triad is at least memorable, although I was surprised it beat Williams’ and Justin Hurwitz’s stronger work for The Fabelmans and Babylon, respectively, to win the Best Score award.

The Best Song nominees this year were uniformly poor, aside from Naatu Naatu, which did its job well and justifiably won the award. Applause from Tell It Like a Woman was really terrible, a surprisingly ineffective song from Oscar stronghold Diane Warren. This Is a Life from Everything Everywhere was also an awful song, but it added a much-needed touch of the bizarre to this slick ceremony.

Naatu Naatu was the only musical moment that brought back something of the Oscars’ glamour of yore. This is one of the first songs from song-rich Indian cinema to break through to the Oscars, but we can hope that it will pave the way for more.

Lady Gaga had a rough start with her Top Gun song Hold My Hand, suffering through some poor vocal intonation, but she warmed into it. Considering this is a film awards show, the poor cinematography for this performance was striking: Gaga was in an overly tight shot and the camera operator had a hard time keeping this very active performer in the frame. That said, I liked the simplicity of the setting for the song, the strong backlighting isolating her and her band in the space and making the large stage seem more intimate.

Rihanna gave a good performance of another lacklustre number, Wakanda Forever’s Lift Me Up. The downbeat, repetitive song didn’t allow her to show very much of her range. This all makes one desperate for a return of the likes of Henry Mancini and Randy Newman to this category.

Brendan Fraser and Best Actor

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

With his Oscar win for Best Actor for The Whale, Brendan Fraser simply proves something most of us have known all along – he’s a great performer. If anyone had any doubts, they simply needed to watch performances across his career, from Encino Man to Gods and Monsters to his comical cameo as himself in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.

His performance in The Whale is fine, and good enough to win the Oscar, but again the win reflects popular sensibilities rather than being a measure of true artistic merit. It’s essentially an easy part in an easily digestible film from a director, Darren Aronofsky, who’s made a career of making genre films that seem more interesting and complex than they actually are.

He returns here, with Fraser, to similar terrain he covered with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler – getting a performance out of a supposedly washed-up actor that, at least in part, reflects the courage of the actor in appearing warts and all – willingly vulnerable and hopeless.

Brendan Fraser, winner of the Best Actor in a Leading Role award for The Whale. Caroline Brehman/ EPA

I reiterate, Fraser is good (as he was in Airheads, although he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor for that performance), but so much of the pathos and energy of the film simply comes from his appearance – and our knowledge that Fraser used to be a Hollywood heartthrob.

And there’s something fundamentally lazy about that.

Michelle Yeoh and Best Actress in a Leading Role

Jindan Ni, Lecturer, Global and Language Studies, RMIT University

Everything Everywhere All at Once became the biggest winner at the 95th Academy Awards – surprising, but also not so surprising. Cast mainly by Asian actors and actresses, this strangely (sometimes even disturbingly) funny but also moving comedy won most of the major awards, including Best Leading Actress and Best Director.

Michelle Yeoh, who is now the first Asian actor to win Best Actress, addressed her acceptance speech directly to “the little boys and girls” who look like herself, and proudly claimed that her winning is “the beacon of hope and possibility” for all the Asians who pursue their dreams in Hollywood, or even more broadly, in Western societies with a long history of deeming Asians as inferior.

The sweeping wins of Everything Everywhere All At Once at the Oscars is a manifestation of reconciliation and inclusiveness that the Academy Awards are attempting to embrace and strive for.

Michelle Yeoh poses with the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role for Everything Everywhere All at Once at the Governors Ball after the Oscars. John Locher/ AP

Despite its historical winnings at the Academy Awards, it is hard to say that Everything Everywhere All At Once has successfully managed to make new representations of Asian in the big screen. Yeoh still needed to make good use of her Kung fu skills in the movie to appeal to the audience and the market.

The final thing I would like to add is although Cate Blanchett did not win Best Actress, her formidable and awe-inspiring acting in Tár is by no means inferior.

Cate Blanchett arrives for the 95th annual Academy Awards ceremony. Caroline Brehman/ EPA

Just like the nickname “da mowang”, literally meaning “the mighty devil”, the Chinese audience has given to Cate, her powerful and almost enigmatic performance in Tár also tells of the infinite possibilities for women who refuse to be defined by age, which largely resonate with Yeoh’s words: “Ladies, don’t ever let anyone tell you you are past your prime.”

Celebrity legacy at the Oscars

Robert Boucaut, PhD Candidate and Tutor, Media Department, University of Adelaide

The choice of winners for the acting categories at the 2023 Oscars speaks to a respect for building celebrity legacy – all are actors over 50 years of age and on their first-ever nominations.

Despite the backlash copped in the year of the nepo-baby, Jamie Lee Curtis used her speech to thank her dedicated fanbase who have championed her work in action and horror movies.

Fraser and Ke Huy Quan’s outpourings of emotion for their wins signified their deeply felt triumphs over years of uncertainty in filmmaking: an Oscar’s “comeback narrative” always highlights how an industrial status quo works against individuals who fall out of favour in a celebrity marketplace.

‘Nepo baby’ Jamie Lee Curtis at an Oscars afterparty, with her Oscar. John Locher/ AP

And the collectively held breath across film Twitter upon the announcement of Halle Berry presenting the Best Actress award was finally relaxed with Michelle Yeoh’s win – the first woman of colour to win the award presented it to the second, 21 years later.

Across the awards season both Yeoh and Quan demonstrated an acute awareness of the significance their wins would hold as Asian actors, and their speeches invited the audience to dream big. The genuine emotion offered and elicited across all four categories were a refreshing rebuttal for an Oscars cynic, that the symbolic power of these awards can be put in service of expanding notions of prestige acting and celebrity.

Ke Huy Quan with his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Caroline Brehman/ EPA

The best picture? Or was it

Ari Mattes

The production companies behind Everything Everywhere All at Once must be frothing at the mouth – not only have they cleaned up at the box office, making (by conservative estimates) five times their budget, but their film has now won the Best Picture Oscar.

Does it deserve it? In much of the commentary around the film, moral and aesthetic categories are being confused. It is good that it has won, because it’s an independent production, and it’s nice that a film with Chinese actors in it has won. But this is a moral argument.

Although undeniably a crowd-pleaser, I found the film aesthetically drab. It was overlong, a mess of ideas derived from other (and often better) works, and the whole thing was overlaid with a kind of irritatingly cutesy schtick.

It works okay as a 1980s-style blockbuster, but as a piece of cinema it is doubtful it will have any bearing or longevity in the cultural archive.

Was it actually the best picture of 2022? No – there were six better films nominated for the award, with The Banshees of Inisherin a true cinematic masterpiece – not to mention all the excellent films that had no showing in the Oscars.

What its win does suggest (along with the success of Top Gun: Maverick), is that audiences are craving nostalgic cinema that plays well on the big screen. And this will excite the kinds of mega-corporations that produce indie cinema these days – they can simply recycle and combine material from their VHS collection.The Conversation

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia; Deborah Fisher, Design/Fashion Studies in School of Business & Creative Industries, University of the Sunshine Coast; Gregory Camp, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland; Jindan Ni, Lecturer, Global and Language Studies, RMIT University, and Robert Boucaut, PhD Candidate & Tutor, Media Department, University of Adelaide

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.

Sunday 26 February 2023

Did pop art have its heyday in the 1960s? Perhaps. But it is also utterly contemporary

Botchway blacklivesmatter (Divine Protesting) (2020) ©Kwesi Botchway
By Chari Larsson, Griffith University

Review: Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York, HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast, Australia.

Drawn from the private collection of Jose Mugrabi, Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection is the first international exhibition presented by HOTA.

It is the strongest signal yet of HOTA’s commitment to investing in a strong and vibrant visual arts community.

The New York-based Mugrabis have been long-term investors in pop art, and the family has the largest Warhol collection outside the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Emerging in the late 1950s and ‘60s, pop was viewed as a reaction against the lofty ideals of high modernist abstraction practised by artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Instead, pop art embraced the boom in postwar consumer culture, blurring the conventional hierarchies between high and low art.

Australian audiences have happily displayed an appetite and enthusiasm for major pop art exhibitions. QAGOMA’s Andy Warhol in 2008 and the National Gallery of Victoria’s Basquiat Haring: Crossing Lines in 2019 immediately spring to mind.

Jean-Michel Basquiat Crisis X 1982. ©Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Here, curators Tracy Cooper-Lavery and Bradley Vincent have pursued a very different curatorial strategy. As opposed to the deep-dive art-historical investigation, this exhibition advances an argument for the ongoing influence of pop art on contemporary artists today.

Stars of the movement

Organised roughly chronologically, Pop Masters traces six generations of pop art.

The exhibition turns on a tripartite axis of Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Paul Basquiat.

Haring and Basquiat emerged from the streets as graffiti artists, and rose to prominence in the 1980s New York East Village. Both had brief but incredibly productive careers, cut short by HIV-related illness (Haring) and drug overdose (Basquiat).

In 2017, Basquiat reached the dizzying US$100-million-plus club.

Of the three practitioners, it is Warhol’s name that reverberates well beyond the art world. The exhibition serves as an excellent entry point to understand his enduring influence and legacy.

On display are examples of Warhol’s signature style: photographic silkscreen printing.

Andy Warhol, Dolly Parton, 1985. © Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS/Copyright Agency, 2022

Warhol famously appropriated images from media culture. He would reproduce the images using silk screens, placing traditional artistic ideas of skill and creativity under pressure.

Art historians and critics remain divided on the topic of how exactly to read Warhol’s work.

For some, Warhol’s practice deliberately celebrated the vacuity of celebrity and consumer culture. For these critics, there is no point in looking for a “deeper” or “hidden” meaning: it simply does not exist.

Warhol himself certainly encouraged this point of view:

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.

The alternative argument is advanced by the conviction that Warhol’s practice is deeply political. As opposed to mere surfaces, Warhol’s screenprints are empathetic and urgent responses to the political and social upheavals of the 1960s.

Andy Warhol Self-Portrait (Camouflage), 1986. © 2023 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS/Copyright Agency

The inclusion of Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies (1964) would support this account: Warhol is mining media images of the First Lady’s grief in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination.

The debate has never really been settled. As this exhibition would suggest, perhaps Warhol can be both: deeply serious and superficial; political and apolitical; surface and depth.

The following generations

The curators’ underlying argument for the ongoing relevance of pop is bolstered by the inclusion of exciting and diverse contemporary practitioners who are working through the legacies of Haring and Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York, New York, 1981. © Estate of Jean - Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

One of the defining characteristics of pop art is the tension between the ordinary and the specialness of the art object.

This tension comes to the fore in Basquiat’s Untitled (Football Helmet) (1981-84). Basquiat painted the football helmet and pasted cuttings of his own hair onto its surface, giving it a comical, whimsical appearance.

Basquiat gave it as a gift to Warhol, reinforcing the collaborative connection shared by the three artists.

Haring fans are treated to an enormously scaled Untitled (1981) featuring his iconic symbol, the dancing dog. Skipping and gyrating across the canvas, the figures exude trademark Haring: simplified line executed extremely rapidly.

Keith Haring Untitled, 1981. © Keith Haring Foundation

Today, New York-based Katherine Bernhardt establishes a direct visual lineage with Basquiat with her use of spray paint applied directly to the painting’s surface.

Bernhardt works at an enormous scale and includes bananas and everyday objects such as Windex bottles and toothbrushes in a wryly mischievous nod to the still life painting tradition.

Bernhardt is fascinated with how objects might be read as a visual language akin to reading the alphabet. Bernhardt’s Windex bottles extend Haring’s visual symbolism such as his dog and the radiant baby.

Katherine Bernhardt Giant Jungle Office 2017. ©Katherine Bernhardt

Another welcome inclusion is Ghana-born and based Kwesi Botchway. Primarily a portrait painter, Botchway draws on art’s history of portraiture to document contemporary Ghanaian life.

Botchway’s painting documents the global outpouring of anger and solidarity that followed in the wake of the death of George Floyd in 2020.

By placing Botchway’s blacklivesmatter (Divine Protesting) (2020) in dialogue with Basquiat, we are reminded Basquiat’s practice was deeply political: one of his preoccupations was the representation of race and the African American diasporic communities.

The curatorial argument is clear: pop art is utterly contemporary.

Mickalene Thomas I’ve Got it Bad and that Ain’t Good from the She Works Hard For the Money Pin-Up series 2006. ©Mickalene Thomas.

Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection New York is at HOTA Gallery, Gold Coast, until June 4.The Conversation

Chari Larsson is a Senior Lecturer of art history at Griffith University

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.