On Thursday night I took advantage of one of the benefits of my British Film Institute 'Champion' membership and attended The World Cinema Award 2007, hosted at the London National Film Theatre and sponsored by Pioneer.
This turned out to be not so much an Awards Ceremony as a chance to appear as an audience extra in the taping of some inserts for a TV show. Not that I'm grumbling too much as the tickets were free (and I managed to blag four so that friends could come along too), a 'goody bag' was handed out, and the post-show drinks and food were excellent.
The show was advertised as starting at 9pm with a note that it was being televised, but when the tickets arrived there was a note asking us to make sure we got there half an hour earlier. Arriving bang on the dot of 8.30pm after a bite at the local Pizza Express, we arrived to find the place almost packed, and our pre-booked seats unavailable.
The Beeb, who were clearly running the show, had decided to turn the seating into a free-for-all at the last minute, and it seemed everyone else had arrived long before the advertised time, which was interesting given the number of times I've attended 'sold out' events at the NFT only to see lots of empty seats, very late starts and continual late-comers. This didn't seem like the usual BFI/NFT crowd - far too young, trendy, independent and smart looking, as opposed to the scruffy, insular and intense crowd I've got used to!
Luckily there was a row of unoccupied seats in the back right-hand corner but it turned out we couldn't use these as they were 'reserved for latecomers'. As a group we were tempted to follow David's suggestion that we avoid breaking the rules by leaving, waiting outside for 10 minutes, and then re-entering to legitimately claim the adjacent seats that we thought we'd booked! In the event we found a single cluster of four seats split over two rows against the right hand wall and grabbed them, but if I'd known the booked seats were going to be abandoned I'd have taken my glasses as we were some way away from the rather dim screen. I spent most of the 'show' squinting at a rather dim and not very large screen of televised 'conversation', wishing they made the subtitles to these films larger. At least the venue was well decked out, with a good stage design and beautifully lit neon blue and red lit set.
Jonathan Ross was the host, and it was interesting to see the contrast between his performance before the camera's started rolling and that given on-camera. His talk when off-broadcast was all four letter words, presumably to show how 'down with the kids' he is (yeah, I know nobody uses the phrase 'down with the kids' any more, but I need to try and reinforce the stereotype of my being a senile old curmudgeon ;-)). The four-letter words irritated, but I do count myself a fan, and his rude but funny, and unscripted, banter worked for me almost as well as the better crafted scripted lines used for the main show. When talking about the pronounciation of one of the judges names, Ross referred to critic Andrew Bradshaw's insistence on pronouncing it with an exaggerated sort of French accent, before describing him as 'pretentious' and an 'ugly fucker' - phrases which didn't make sense at the time, but had me laughing all the way home because by then it had become how appropriate and accurate both these phrases were!
The ceremony followed a strict format and was admittedly slick. There was a short intro to each of the six chosen film from Ross himself, followed by pre-recorded clips and then a pre-filmed 'conversation' from the four judges around a table as to the relative merits/de-merits of the film just featured. I haven't seen two of the six selections (Volver and Lady Vengeance), but given the way the judges were highly critical of them - at times one felt they were there to discuss films that had lost rather than films that had won - I think they'll be going to the top of my 'Must Buy' list when released on DVD next month. My two favourites of the nominees would have been Caché (aka Hidden) followed by The Beat That My Heart Skipped, but it soon became clear that the judges would find these far too commercial or 'of mainstream interest' to win.
I thought at one point The Child might win, even though I found it extremely average. It's had great reviews but has the sort of 'clearly improvised by non-actors all the way through, with a largely hand-held viewpoint' style that really makes me wonder what people are on when they talk about 'great acting' or 'technique'. People talked about the film being like a Mike Leigh film, but I find Leigh's films much more engrossing and professionally shot. However I'd call The Child a masterpiece compared to the only other contender I'd previously seen: The Death of Mr Lazarescu is, so far as I'm concerned, the filmic equivalent of watching paint dry. Sod's Law dictated it would win!
The Death of Mr Lazarescu is close to three hours of 'real time' footage about an old alcoholic's last few hours suffering through the Romanian equivalent of the National Health Service. The DVD sleeve, which makes it look like it's a hi-tech thriller, claims the film is a 'comic masterpiece', but I challenge anyone to find anything remotely approaching a belly-laugh in this depressing, never-ending 'acted documentary'. The first 20 minutes of the film feature one side of a long phone conversation, shot statically, wide angle from one end of a kitchen without a tripod. So much for even being able to admire the camerawork! But I'm obviously out-of-sorts with critical opinion because as I write this an average 8.1 rating on imdb and critics all over the world fawning all over it. I honestly don't think that in 35 years of being obsessed with movies I've ever seen a more extreme example of 'Emporer's New Clothes' when it comes to a film review, but maybe I'm just jaundiced because after suffering 50 minutes of 'fly on the wall' tedium I ejected the DVD and turned it into a coffee mat.
Needless to say, Lazarescu won the big award, and to add insult to injury I was given another copy of the wretched thing on DVD in the 'goody bag' handed out as we left. But i took some satisfaction from the fact that the award was a very ugly thing indeed - so ugly I can't imagine anybody would want it on display in their living room. After witnessing two of the judges pontificating endlessly in the most ridiculous fashion, I nevetheless take some pride in the fact that my opinions are so much at odds with people I would actively cross the road to avoid, based on their ridiculous posturing and grand-standing as witnessed in the so-called 'conversations' we'd had screened. Ross's earlier 'pretentious, ugly fucker' comment now seemed kind and overly-generous, where originally it had seemed the worst kind of insult!
I must say the after-show gathering was excellent. Thanks to sponsors Pioneer free booze and food were in endless supply, and the rather sore head the next morning was evidence that I'd had a good time, although mainly this was down to the friends I was with (thanks Brian, David and Victoria), than the event itself, which whilst being a good reminder of some great films I caught on DVD last year, worked better as a TV programme to be watched at home than a 'night out in a theatre'.
The World Cinema Award was televised live, and is repeated on BBC 4 tonight at 11.10pm.