badges of honor

May 12, 2008

When a film is officially selected to play in a festival, or when it wins a prize at a festival, it often advertises this information inside two laurel branches, celebrating the honor the same way ancient Romans celebrated victories in their film festivals. 


In this Crossing Arizona poster, the festival-parentheses stamps take up more space than the film’s own title and the character who is presumably crossing Arizona. In this Me and You and Everyone We Know advertisement, the full title isn’t even on the poster. It’s just the parenthetical instant message expression from the film, the two laurels announcing its win at Sundance and its multiple wins at Cannes, and the film’s website. It’s almost as if the film’s parentheses are “forever” open, ready to catch festivals’ esteemed parentheses. 

Like the brackets around (RED) and {intimacy}, these celebratory laurels seem to be hugging the chosen films. But the laurels also have a quietness to them, politely containing the honor. When a film wins an Oscar, by contrast, the announcement is not parenthesized.


The laurels seem to mark certain types of films traveling in a certain type of context. Perhaps they mark artfulness, independence, the homegrown work of the filmmaker attempting to get his or her work exposure on the festival circuit. Perhaps they should also be regarded as parentheses in that they are a little something extra and special, but they are optional, not fundamental, parts of the movie. This might be seen in opposition to the “disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country,” as A. O. Scott wrote earlier this year. In this system, for example, studios wait until holiday season to release their “good” movies, so that they can be fresh on the minds of Academy voters. In turn, we have to wait through lulls where it’s hard to catch a good movie on a big screen. The awards for these films are not bracketed from what they are, and the many consequences of this can be frustrating.


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