Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Director of "Crash" Claims He Wouldn't Have Voted For It, Either

Scene from Crash
There is a common notion among movie fans: director Paul Haggis' Crash is the worst Best Picture winner of all time. While that hyperbole is a little unwarranted (I dislike Chariots of Fire the most), there is some levity in those numbers. Is the ensemble story of Los Angeles, CA citizens dealing with racism totally void of its honor? It was a year when director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was primed to win, but considering the statistics I discussed in Failed Oscar Campaigns, it makes sense a little why Crash won. However, if you're looking for interesting fodder to fuel your "Worst winner ever" campaign, today marks a pretty juicy piece of news: Haggis didn't think that his film should've won either.

With next week's much anticipated new miniseries Show Me a Hero, Haggis has been doing the rounds for promotion. From the David Simon, creator of The Wire, Haggis directs the six-part series that focuses on the politics of Yonkers, NY starring Oscar Isaac. During his stop at HitFix, he was interviewed by Alan Sepinwall about his long and storied career. As one could expect, the subject of Crash came up. While the question was presented as an eye roll moment - since it shares common themes with the new miniseries - Haggis answers the question with some sincerity, describing his general attitudes about the film's structure.

With complaints that his film embraced stereotypes, he made the comment that it was intentional, describing the structure as:
"On Crash, what I decided to do early on was present stereotypes for the first 30 minutes.  And then reinforce those stereotypes.  And make you feel uncomfortable, then representing it to make you feel very comfortable because I say, 'Shh, we’re in the dark.  It’s fine, you can think these things.  You can laugh at these people. We all know Hispanics park their cars on a lawn, and we all know that Asians can’t drive in the dark.  I know you're a big liberal, but it's okay, nobody's going to see you laugh.' As soon as I made you feel comfortable, I could very slowly start turning you around in the seat so I left you spinning as you walked out of the movie theater.  That was the intent."
He later went on to mention:
"So when the criticism came later — 'Oh my God, it’s full of stereotypes' — I went, 'Oh my God, you’re a genius.  Really?  Wow! That’s remarkable, really!  I should have corrected that.'  No.  So when you’re doing something that’s different I think people are always going to say things, but it amused me more than anything."
This has always been the most controversial aspect of the film despite being a simple narrative device that when effectively used could pack a punch. For most, it didn't. These people will likely be able to read his thoughts and affirm their belief that he isn't a great writer. However, it helps to make clear that his writing may arguably be misunderstood. The film is simply decent, forever having its legacy tarnished by winning Best Picture. But you know who doesn't think it should have won? Haggis.

Here's his official comment on the matter:
"Crash for some reason affected people, it touched people.  And you can’t judge these films like that.  I’m very glad to have those Oscars. They’re lovely things.  But you shouldn’t ask me what the best film of the year was because I wouldn’t be voting for Crash, only because I saw the artistry that was in the other films.  Now however, for some reason that’s the film that touched people the most that year.  So I guess that’s what they voted for, something that really touched them.  And I’m very proud of the fact that Crash does touch you.  People still come up to me more than any of my films and say, 'That film just changed my life.' I’ve heard that dozens and dozens and dozens of times.  So it did its job there.  I mean I knew it was the social experiment that I wanted, so I think it’s a really good social experiment.  Is it a great film?  I don’t know."
While it isn't the outright dismissal that most are likely hoping for, it does prove that even the artists who make the films aren't always clear why their films are held to high standards. Sometimes the medium is too subjective to properly assess the matters. Of course, 2005 was just a notorious year in general thanks to Brokeback Mountain and the infamous protests lead by Ernest Borgnine and company. There were statistical loopholes that also kept the film from winning. It was a very odd year and one that hasn't been topped in the past decade. 

Is Crash the best winner ever? Not likely, but I don't know that it deserves the flack that it has received either. It is simply a good film that escalated to a sour spot akin to those that devote their lives to criticizing anything that Star Wars did post-1990. Maybe Haggis' structure isn't the most effective, especially as narrative structure has become more complex over each passing decade. Maybe most just hold a grudge over the film's obviousness compared to Capote or Brokeback Mountain's challenging natures. However, I do think that Haggis' career doesn't deserve the backlash it received as a result of Crash. It was a film that, as he put it, "touched people," which is the most subjective opinion of all. The least that can be taken away is that he is humble enough to not arrogantly dismiss his naysayers. 

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