Nina Conti Not Nominated for Oscar

Nina ContiI remember an amazing year for the Best Actor category of the Academy Awards: 1983. There were four actors nominated from the UK and one from the US. And, of course, the American actor won. But that’s not important. There were three English actors: Michael Caine (Educating Rita), Tom Courtenay (The Dresser), and Albert Finney (The Dresser). One from Scotland: Tom Conti (Reuben, Reuben). And the one from America was Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies).

Caine is the curious one on this list, because I can’t remember ever thinking he was particularly good. That isn’t to say I don’t like him; there are lots of good Caine movies: Zulu, The Italian Job, and Sleuth[1] come easily to mind. But is he really all that good? I doubt it. But the only proof I can provide is that he’s won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars: the first for his insipid performance in Hannah and Her Sisters, and the second for The Cider House Rules—apparently for finally being able to do an American accent in an American film. Certainly, Caine’s acting in Educating Rita was nothing special. He has an annoying tendency to over-play drunks. Enough already!

Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney show off just what the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art can do with a lot of talent. (Caine didn’t go.) Their performances in The Dresser are as riveting today as they were when I saw them almost 30 years ago on the big screen. But that’s the thing about great acting, there isn’t a lot to say about it.

Much the same can be said for 1983’s winner: Robert Duvall. He’s more or less untrained, but in America, that’s generally a good thing given the pernicious effect of the Actors Studio on the likes of Robert De Niro[2] (even if there are Actors Studio graduates I like, such as Eli Wallach). However, I hardly think that his work on Tender Mercies is even close to his best work. Whatever.

I’ve left Tom Conti to the end, not because his performance was great or that he is a particularly good actor—he is not. Like Michael Caine, I enjoy watching Conti on film. He was trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, but he doesn’t seem to have much depth. In Reuben, Reuben his performance is nuanced, but again like Caine, his drunkenness is over-played, if not nearly so badly.

The reason I’ve left Conti to the end is that I’ve just found out that he is the father of Nina Conti, the wonderful ventriloquist in the mostly awful For Your Consideration—the film that shows what a sham the Academy Awards are. Nina Conti’s stand-up doesn’t have any more depth than her father’s acting, but it isn’t supposed to. The main thing is that, like her father but more so, she is funny.

[1] I’m referring to the 1972 version with Laurence Olivier. I have nothing for or against the 2007 version, except that I haven’t yet seen it.

[2] De Niro is a very good actor, but limited. He is the perfect example of what a lot of talent added to Lee Strasberg’s ideas can do. Imagine if De Niro had been trained in England.

That Radical Shakespeare!

Tempest Film - 2010Although I would feel sorry for them, I do think that children should be compelled to read the Bible and Shakespeare. Yes, I am an atheist. Yes, I think Shakespeare is overrated in the extreme. But a culture must have a foundation. What’s more, I truly believe that any objective reading of the Bible will find it anything but divinely inspired. And those who actually read Shakespeare will see that he has his good and his bad, and that in the end, he is just a middling playwright. May we all know the Bible and Shakespeare until we can all agree on something better (finding something better, of course, is trivial; it is the agreement where we run into trouble).

Apparently, the State of Arizona disagrees. One of the less-reported aspects of the SB 1070 “Papers Please” law is what it says about what cannot be taught in Arizona schools.[1] There is a lot of crap like a statement that students can’t be encouraged to overthrow the US government; the last time I checked, that was already pretty much a no-no by Article 3, Section 3 of that very obscure document known as the United States Constitution. But the law also has some very nasty language against treating people as groups. I’m not against that idea necessarily, but certainly with respect to law, it brings up many possible evils. For example, the truth is that it wasn’t the English who were enslaved in America. Can we not teach that there is a legacy of slavery that affects us all—and in particular blacks—to this very day? Of course, the law is not being used that way; it is only being used against Latinos.

The wackiest use of the law is the prohibition of teaching one of Shakespeare’s more dreadful plays: The Tempest. Richard Martinez, who is representing the Tucson teachers and students in this matter, was on FAIR’s Counterspin today:

With respect to what can be done in class, no one knows. One of our teachers[2] who teaches the English Latino literature class for juniors and seniors, teaches The Tempest. He was expressly told by school officials that he could no longer teach The Tempest because it deals with issues of slavery, it deals with issues of conquest, you know, of people being oppressed and the themes were too racialized and that it was inappropriate within the context of Mexican-American Studies to teach Shakespeare.

Unbelievable? Hardly. It seems to be what we expect today.

But what is The Tempest all about, anyway? It does seem to be performed more than it used to be. Unfortunately. They even made a movie a couple years back that was based upon it. But just as few people go to the theater, few went to see this cinematic catastrophe. But really: who wants to see this? Duke Prospero gets exiled to an island with his young daughter at the hands of his brother Antonio. A decade passes and Antonio is sailing by the island. Prospero uses his magic to cause a tempest, which shipwrecks his brother. Prospero becomes Duke once again, forgives everyone, and gives up magic.

Gripping, wasn’t it?!

And controversial?! All that magic and usurpation? Wow! Gotta keep the kids away from that!

[1] I could find no stories about the Ethnic Studies aspect of the SB 1070 through prominent newspapers on Google News.

[2] Martinez seems to be referring to the teacher Curtis Acosta. You can learn more about the whole issue over at Save Ethnic Studies.