Saturday, February 23, 2008


After a couple of weeks of relentlessly dealing with the dark and frustrating aspects of Canadian Show Business, it's nice to wake up to a day when several of our colleagues share the spotlight with cinema greats from around the world.

Yeah, I know, the Academy Awards are tawdry and over-hyped and a stage set for spectacular emotional trainwrecks. But the truth is, you don't get there without talent, a certain amount of unique artistry as well as some help from your friends.

There's a reason those speeches go on so long. There really are too many people to thank.

There are several Canadians nominated this year. Ellen Page for Best Actress in "Juno" along with the director of that film, Jason Reitman.

I know the cards are stacked against "Juno" because it's a comedy and competing with the battery of heavy hitters behind and before the cameras in "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood", not to mention the emotional wringers that "Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" put on display.

But as magnificent as all those films are, "Juno" is the one in this bunch that really touched me -- so I hope it manages to pull off an upset.

Sarah Polley is nominated for adapted screenplay, but she could easily have also been nominated for her achingly beautiful direction on "Away From Her".

We also have two nominations for best animated short. Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski for "Madame Tutli-Putli" and John Raskin for the John Lennon inspired "I Met the Walrus". I'm rooting for a tie.

But one Canadian I hopes gets some recognition hasn't had much press. Paul LeBlanc is credited for creating the bizarre hairstyle Javier Bardem sports in "No Country for Old Men". And for several years he was my next door neighbor.

I was breaking into the business as an actor and Paul was already becoming recognized for his astonishing ability to enhance character using little more than a pair of scissors and a comb.

Whenever a new script dropped in his mailbox, Paul began an arduous and intense research of the period, the location, as well as the economic and social stratas of the characters -- all based on how people in that time and place and particular walk of life would have worn their hair. This guy did his homework.

I attribute much of my own work ethic to what I learned from him. More than once, he'd find me on the front step, learning my lines and ask about the story and the character. A day or two later, he'd be cutting my hair or delivering a hand woven mustache or wig that suddenly gave the character a dimension I would never have found on my own.

Paul already has an Oscar for "Amadeus", a BAFTA award for "Big Fish" and a Genie for his overall body of work. Despite all that recognition, he still lives outside Moncton, preferring to work on films that locate there rather than moving to LA.

More than any other form of human expression, film is a collaborative art. The actors, the directors and sometimes the writers get a lot of notice from the public. But no film achieves any significant success without the dedicated contributions of every single member of the production.

I'm certain that green dress in "Atonement" wasn't envisioned by the writer or Natalie Portman; and the breathtaking tracking shot of the chaos at Dunkirk in the same film wouldn't have happened without several hundred extras, grips and AD's working with incredible precision.

Somebody you've never heard of came up with that Dancing Elk flag and the inspired casting choices in "Juno" and somebody else carefully shepherded Daniel Day Lewis home at night or made sure a nice cup of tea was handy as he wrestled that beast he unleashed onscreen in "There Will Be Blood" back down into his inner depths.

Try to envision "Michael Clayton" without its controlled editing and muted color tones. Consider whether Javier Bardem would be a lock for Best Supporting Actor if Paul LeBlanc hadn't cut his hair.

There are 24 frames in every second of a film and every one of those frames only makes the final cut because years of talent, struggle, dedication and collaboration come together inside it with a single goal -- to tell an entertaining story.

The vast majority of people who work in this business will never be nominated for an Oscar. But in honoring those who are, we acknowledge the work of them all.

Today's Sunday offering is an example of that dedication to craft. This was created by three animation students from France. It's their homework. A school project that took them six months to complete. I hope they got an "A" and I won't be surprised if someday all of them are picking up an Academy Award.

Enjoy your Sunday.


"The Book of Don" said...

What a fantastic little film that was ! It was both a film and a poem. The ending quite choked me up.

Also ... I think your neighbour Paul would make a terrific documentary. I bet he has a million stories.

Great post Jim.

Brandon Laraby said...

It's a shame that all the Canadians came away empty-handed, but - again, like you say - just the fact that they've been recognized truly is a recognition of the talent necessary to reach that level.

I didn't agree with most of their decisions though, for me, the best win of the night came for Falling Slowly (the song from the Once soundtrack, my favourite movie of the year). I was heartbroken when I saw that Marketa Irglova didn't get to speak -- I saw them in concert at the Music Hall and met them briefly, great people -- I'm so glad that Jon brought her back out and allowed her her time.

Good form, sir!