In the history of cinema,” tweeted Alfonso Cuaron, who is nominated in the Best Director category at this year’s Oscars for Roma, “masterpieces have existed without sound, a story, without actors and without music”. But no film can be made without an editor and a cinematographer. To most cinephiles, this is hardly a revelation. Yet, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needed reminding that both the art and science of film-making is made possible more by those behind the camera, in editing rooms, at make-up chairs, hunched over a computer creating visual extravaganzas from binaries of zeroes and ones, than by the few faces that grab eyeballs and advertising dollars.
The Academy’s decision to present the awards for cinematography, editing and two other categories during the commercial breaks at this year’s awards has drawn the ire of film-makers in the US and beyond. Most people in that industry likely understand, like Cuaron, that it is in the interplay between the movements of the camera and amputations of the editing room floor that the essence of their art lies. The camera breathes, rises, goes high and low or fast and slow, it is mounted and dismounted, goes in close, over-the-shoulder and often, even takes God’s view. The editor cuts, replaces, reuses — creatively — to hold the vision together. Film-makers talk in metaphors about their craft, and the most expressive ones aren’t reserved for the stars, because it is the camera that provides perspective, the editor who makes it a narrative.
The Academy’s justification for the removal of these categories from the Oscars 2019 broadcast is, unsurprisingly, commercial. The bloated length of the awards’ show has been cited as one of the reasons for the declining audience. Perhaps the Academy is on its way to shunning the pretence that Hollywood can view cinema beyond the prism of profit. But some hypocrisies, if that’s what honouring the essence of cinema has become, are worth maintaining. Sometimes hypocrisy is indeed the only homage vice can pay to virtue.