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‘The Wind Rises,’ The Oscar Race, and Movie-Jounalist Stockholm Syndrome

'The Wind Rises,' The Oscar Race, and Movie-Jounalist Stockholm Syndrome

It’s unfortunately endemic among reporters who cover the movie industry that they start to adopt its values — a kind of journalistic Stockholm Syndrome. Exhibit A: This article from the New York Times‘ Brooks Barnes, addressing the purported obstacles faced by the pending release of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises

Alluding to the controversy that has attended the film’s release in South Korea and Japan, Barnes attempts to sell the notion that the film the animation master has announced will be his last faces tough sledding in the U.S., in part because it features several scenes in which characters in the 1930s smoke cigarettes. 

It’s true that some Japanese doctors expressed concern about images of smoking presented to younger viewers, and that “South Korean internet users” criticized the film for celebrating Japanese militarism, even as Japanese conservatives called it pacifist and treasonous. (Barnes conveniently omits that, criticism notwithstanding, The Wind Rises topped the Japanese box office for seven weeks straight.)

But if you read Barnes’ article looking for a flesh-and-blood human who’s objected to the film’s pending U.S. release, you’ll come up empty. Barnes quotes strategists and studio heads responding to potential problems, and claimed that “film buffs” at Venice, Toronto, New York and Telluride have “winced at its length,” and then throws in a snarky aside of his own: “The film features an extended sequence about rivets.”

So here’s the thing: I call bullshit. Bullshit on trumped-up controversies masquerading as news. Bullshit on the notion that any serious “film buff” judges a movie solely on length, especially when it’s barely over two hours. Bullshit on the notion that said length presents an obstacle to the film’s chances at an Oscar. God forbid it face the same obstacles as Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away, which clocked in at 124 minutes, or The Incredibles (115 minutes), Ratatouille (111 minutes), Happy Feet (108 minutes) or Rango (107 minutes). Most of all, I call bullshit on a reporter passing off his own limited attention span as an obstacle to others’ enjoyment of a film whose reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

Perhaps some Oscar voters will glance at the running time on the back of The Wind Rises and move their screener to the bottom of the pile. But those people are, not to put too fine a point on it, idiots, and they don’t deserve to have their complaints dignified with an article in the newspaper of record. Articles like these carry water for the movie industry’s most conservative, anti-intellectual elements, turning their anonymous complaints into concrete barriers without remotely satisfying the burden of proof. These are the kinds of assumptions a reporter — not to mention anyone who cares the slightest bit about movies — should question rather than simply parrot, but it’s emblematic of how industry coverage and the Oscar race turn journalists into apologists.

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