Her karma crushed his dogma

Tonight after a client meeting in Olympia I just made it back to Seattle in time to watch the end of the Oscars at Biznik’s party. It was actually the first time I’ve ever seen the show live. What a treat. Fremont Studios was certainly an awesome venue … what a glorious hi-def view in their theater.

I’ve seen Avatar twice, and frankly expected it to walk away with most of the honors. Not that I wanted it to. There’s no question it’s a technical tour de force, with amazing visuals and stunning music, but I described it as “stereotypes in stereo”.  Yes, I must go on record as admitting that the story is genuinely entertaining, and that the visual artistry is the seminal work of a certifiable genius…. but I also have to admit I’m a reluctant admirer of the movie, because my idea of a good director (which I aspire to be one day) is a collaborator and listener and above all, a storyteller — not the sort of person I perceive James Cameron to be.

I once worked with a Hollywood veteran who had been on set with Cameron in several movies, and my friend described Cameron as the most arrogant director he had ever known. He observed that Cameron seemed to take pleasure in making people crack. He would pick out a person in the crew, and would scold, taunt, and ridicule them to tears. My friend said everyone who worked around Cameron was either afraid of him or disgusted by him. Yahoo’s directorial biography documents that Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had vowed never to work with Cameron again. My friend stated that Cameron was so far over budget on Titanic that, in spite of its unprecedented commercial success, Cameron had to forego his paycheck and lost out on all the residuals he might have made, had he reigned in his artistic ego during the filming. And thus the guy who had made some of the most successful movies in history —  Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2, True Lies, and Titanic — couldn’t get a studio to back him on another movie project for over a decade.

Tonight, Cameron was the presumptive winner of best director and best movie Oscars, just as he had been with his last top-grossing epic. But to the visible surprise of Cameron, and the stunned silence of most folks at Fremont Studios tonight, his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow won both of the top prizes.

It feels like poetic justice to me.

On one hand, a woman who is praised for being a great collaborator, directs a simple but emotionally taut movie… and walks away with top honors. We watch her accept the award with dignity and humility. Anyone can see the sincerity in her thankfulness toward her crew and financiers and writers … and the people whose story she told.

Meanwhile, a man who has certainly been a collaborator in many important ways, and who in Avatar has perhaps done more to advance the cinematic arts than anyone else in the last decade … is still not a person who wins our affection.

Tonight, we watched as a guy who might be best known for burning his friends while impressing his audiences  — and who celebrated his own Oscars by holding them above his head and shouting, “I’m the King of the World” — was unmistakably upstaged by one of his ex’s.

Tonight the “last man standing” was a woman who told a three-dimensional story of courage in the midst of complex realities. In stark contrast, we saw a man who impressively used 3D to tell a one-dimensional story of courage in the midst of simplistic fantasies. It was a tale of two stories, and two storyteller value systems; and the better of both won.

When karma comes up against dogma, karma wins. Wasn’t it a good Oscar night?


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