I’m scarcely one to talk, as these days I rarely watch films – the last two I have seen in the cinema have been Formula One-related (the outstanding 2010 documentary Senna and 2013’s drama-documentary Rush) and this despite the fact I don’t even like motor racing – but, having watched the first 45 minutes of this year’s BAFTAs awards on Sunday evening, I retired to bed convinced that the only bigger waste of time than going to the movies in this world is tuning in to annual film award ceremonies.
Against the background of the latest findings of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board [Barb] that the daily consumption of British television viewers has gone down slightly, i.e. to 3 hours 55 minutes and 30 seconds, this revelation may seem of trivial importance but I think it’s indicative of the fact that celebrity-watching has become one of our modern obsessions.
About twenty-five years ago, the British movie industry finally recognised that, with the Oscars extravaganza, its Hollywood counterpart had tapped into a brilliant industry marketing opportunity. It’s not difficult to see why – it comes in our Yankee cousins’ DNA that business success depends upon marketing above all else. And what better marketing tool could there possibly be than a six-month media build up to an orgy of ‘best of the year’ award-giving?
Carefully inserting the annual BAFTA awards [now, of course, split into separate ‘film’ and television’ award evenings] into the Hollywood calendar a few weeks before the Oscars ceremony itself was something of a British masterstroke.
Never mind which cabal of Hollywood insiders actually decides who wins what at the end of the day, so much of ‘the game’ depends upon influence that – by having its own awards – the supposed eminence of British film talent and know-how could confer upon the Oscar contenders a degree of momentum that might prove helpful if not decisive at the main event.
By this route, the BAFTAs gradually became a fixture in the run-up to the Oscars and attracted the mutually-beneficial attendance of so many American movers-and-shakers and acting superstars. I can well remember the ‘good old days’ when the BAFTAS were lucky if they managed to seduce one of two B-list American actors to London. Now practically the entire family of Hollywood royalty flies in, enabling the British media to build all kinds of publicity [interviews, ‘live’ red carpet coverage etc.] around the BAFTAs event.
However, in the final analysis, all that matters is the quality of the event itself – and, for viewers, whether or not it makes good (successful) television.
In recent years the BAFTAs have gone upmarket and moved to the Royal Opera House. Stephen Fry has returned as host. He has three primary advantages for this role – he is British, witty and slightly edgy.
Sadly, such choices have in-built ‘sell-by’ dates. There’s an adage in major companies’ board rooms that five years in high office is about the limit: a year to learn the job, three years of progress, and then a year of decline … and time to hand the baton to someone else. It’s not an absolute truth, of course, but a reasonable rule of thumb.
Stephen Fry’s first stint as BAFTA host ran from 2000 to 2006. He was then succeeded by Jonathan Ross and returned again in 2012.
On the evidence of Sunday’s performance, it may be time for another change. For his first two or three BAFTA ceremonies, Fry was outstanding. Plainly, it’s damned difficult to be spectacularly creative and funny on every outing, especially when last time’s was an epic.
Maybe we got spoiled in those early years, but I found his effort at this year’s awards on Sunday borderline embarrassing. The standard of his references and jokes was variable and patchy. I felt that slumped on my sofa at home but it was self-evident that the tightly-packed stalls at the Royal Opera House were similarly-unmoved. They were ready to laugh – they wanted to – but too often Fry was ahead of them, or was it off-key?
I must add here that I couldn’t host an awards ceremony to save my life.
Nevertheless, Stephen Fry does it as (part of) his living. It must be hugely deflating to deliver a gag that probably seemed hilarious when sitting at home working on your computer, only to realise that it is falling upon deaf ears.
Sunday’s exposure to the 2014 BAFTAs taught me that movie award ceremonies do not make for rewarding television viewing. I feel I can state that without contradiction, irrespective of the fact that I had heard of only about 50% of the movies being celebrated and, on a personal level, will probably only ever watch less than 5% of them, if any.