Why Ben Affleck Owes His Career Resurgence to Disco

Ben Affleck Daredevil

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When ratings for this year’s Golden Globes were revealed to be higher than those of last year’s edition, entertainment writers (naturally) took the sensationalistic approach: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are funnier and cooler than Ricky Gervais (which is far too subjective)… Audiences were letting Ricky Gervais know they don’t approve of his antics (they waited a silent year?)… Women are better than men (probably as human beings in general, but, when it comes to awards-show hosting, that assertion is still too subjective).

This how entertainment writers operate, and that’s why the web is full of stories about who was SNUBBED by whom and which celebrity SLAMMED another with a tweet that no one would have read otherwise

The simple truth is that more people watched the Golden Globes this year because of the films nominated. Look at the Oscar buzz going on right now. Can you remember the last time the debate and discussion raged like this? When Ben Affleck won Best Director at the Globes after being overlooked by the Academy folks, it was a headline on the main page of all the news outlets. And for TV producers, the timing couldn’t be better.

In casting, they call it chemistry: that happy accident when you hire just the right mix of people to turn what should be an ordinary show like Friends into a megahit. In this case, I’m talking about the perfect conflation of events needed to generate interest in an awards season. You’ve got the aforementioned Affleck, whose career is following the classic trajectory of an American star… we built him up, we tore him down, and we are now building him back up again. Five years ago, Ben Affleck was one of the most despised actors in the world, mainly because Hollywood wanted him to be a hunky action or romantic comedy star but he didn’t. Like how everyone irrationally hates Kristen Stewart right now (it started long before she kissed that guy), people used to feign vomiting at the mere mention of Affleck’s name. Now they want to boycott the Oscars for not nominating him. Really, the Oscar people should have known they’d cause a scandal when they went with the 5/10 split between Best Director and Best Picture. Or maybe they knew they’d get free publicity from entertainment writers. Hmmm.

You’ve also got two auteur directors in the mix with Ang Lee and Quentin Tarantino. Lee has a broad audience thanks to his versatility. Who else could have movies as diverse as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain on the same résumé? Meanwhile, Tarantino’s entire oeuvre is a tribute to cinema, which movie geeks can’t get enough of, and he’ll drag the vast internet-message-board crowd into the mix.

Brokeback Mountain Meme

“Brokeback Mountain” is more relevant than ever.

Then you’ve got the plucky (so-called) independent film with the surprise star, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Which, at least in my weird mind, attracts environmentalists, animal rights supporters, and the few people who stuck by Ben Affleck all along. You know, the compassionate ones who feel compelled to stand up for the voiceless and the powerless against oil companies and pharmaceutical firms. And the evil corporate empire that is studio films.

On top of that you’ve got Les Misérables. Warning: Don’t underestimate the power of theater geeks. You recall that Chicago and Shakespeare in Love both walked away with Oscars for Best Picture. Best Picture! Nobody came up with a movie better than Shakespeare in Love that year? There’s your doping scandal, Oprah Winfrey. Interview Shakespeare in Love and ask it if it was really the best picture.

Still, the fact that all these films have supporters and detractors shows the degree to which art exists in bubbles. You’ll notice on this site that you get a lot of art-film discussion, high fashion, and urbane humor during week, and relative country charm on the weekend when I show up to talk rock and soul music or review the latest blockbuster or trash horror movie. My editor and our head writer, James Killough, often says that I keep the rest of the folks here “grounded.” I think that’s his way of saying I’m charmingly common, which is probably true.

I was joking around last week when I gave out faux, mostly unflattering awards to mainstream flicks like The Avengers and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But, despite the self-serving nature of using my own words to support an argument, I did have a point when I asked why so few people get to define art for everyone else. The arthouse crowd typically refers to a movie like The Avengers as “product.”

Product without which arthouse films couldn’t exist on at least two levels, I add. One, popular art pays for art with a limited audience. No one would bother to manufacture film stock and cameras if they couldn’t make money on it, and we would not have theaters if people didn’t fill them in the summer to watch blockbusters. Two, popular art provides impetus for art with a limited audience.

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious

When punk rock first emerged, before it was commercialized like everything else, it was a response to the indulgent excesses of disco. Hate disco as they might, though, punk rockers needed it for motivation. After all, who the hell is David without Goliath? He sure wouldn’t be standing in a rotunda in Florence, immortalized as the greatest marble sculpture of the Renaissance. Also, punk rockers recorded in recording studios and were signed to record labels. You know how record labels made enough money to sign acts they knew had a limited audience in the 1970s? Disco.

Getting back to The Avengers: I’m sure Mark Ruffalo, Sam Jackson, Chris Evans, et al know they are not going to be challenged as actors in a movie that requires them to wear superhero costumes and dangle from wires in front of green screens. I’m doubt Joss Whedon thinks he’s exploring the darkest regions of the human psyche in telling this story. But the movie affected people nonetheless. A big opening weekend is one thing. You can chalk that off to trendiness. But $625M domestic gross means people were engrossed, enraptured, and moved emotionally by the events and the characters enough to see it again and again. Isn’t that what art does?

So, if you want to call an arthouse film art, then you have to call a blockbuster – at least one that works on the level of The Avengers – art. Conversely, if you claim The Avengers is just product, than the arthouse movie is byproduct.

Or you could make like Donna Summer, declare it all to be Hot Stuff, and then dance the night away.

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Eric J Baker

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