Ever since the days of ancient Greece, drama has been considered high art and comedy the lower art form. But it is still art, dammit.
That’s one reason to be thankful for the Golden Globes. They have a comedy/musical category, which ensures that “lightweight” entertainment is a part of the year’s awards conversation. As it always should be.
The category has become Hollywood shorthand. When you ask a studio executive about awards prospects for an upcoming film, the answer “Golden Globes maybe” is a way of saying “comedy/musical.” And that in itself translates to: “It might be too enjoyable for ‘serious’ awards consideration.”
However, the potential Golden Globe nominees are reminders that an audience can have fun with very serious topics. Look at such potential nominees as “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Into the Woods,” “Annie,” “Begin Again,” “Pride,” “Inherent Vice,” “Top Five,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Love Is Strange” and “St. Vincent.”
They are incredibly different, and each offers a unique sense of humor. All of them offer moments that are touching and thought-provoking, but they’re classified as comedies.
Awards pundits have occasionally encouraged Oscar to start a comedy category, but the Academy resists. Some AMPAS execs point out that the line is often blurred between comedy and drama. They have a point. In the old days, the studios needed to tell theater owners and bookers what to expect, so films were clear-cut genre works: comedies, dramas, gangster movies, musicals, whatever.
With the end of the studio system, that changed. Are “The Graduate” and “Forrest Gump” comedies or dramas? Both, actually. They make you laugh and cry (just like life!).
And the definition of a musical has changed. Tuners used to depict people in conversation who suddenly burst into song. “Annie” and “Into the Woods” are traditional in that one sense, though they’re far removed from the 1950s style of “Gigi” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
“Musicals” can also refer to a musical biopic but also a film like “Begin Again,” a fictional variation of a biopic, in which the songs are also presented as performances, as opposed to the hero/heroine articulating their inner thoughts via song. “Once,” released in 2007, fit this description perfectly and even went on to spawn a blockbuster legit production.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announces Globes nominations Dec. 11, with the winners unveiled Jan. 11. The voters have a lot of material to choose from, with great comedy and musical work this year. But the big question: Why aren’t there more?
In the Nov. 11 Contenders issue, Variety looked at the possible nominees in the motion picture drama race, which was overflowing. But the musical/comedy contest is much more sparse. During the Great Depression, audiences flocked to musicals (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) and screwball comedies (Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, et al). Audiences wanted escapism.
These are tough times, and audiences still crave fun — hence the monster B.O. for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” When it comes to awards, serious works still have the edge. Sophocles has more gravitas than Aristophanes, and “The Life of Emile Zola” won more awards than “The Life of Brian.”
Serious is always good. But as audience members, there is a special place in our hearts for comedies and musicals.