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Gandhi: Best Picture, 1982

gandhiposter.jpgThe 55th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was hosted by various people. Gandhi dominated the evening with 11 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes and Best Makeup. It faced some stiff competition from E.T. (7 contested nominations, 9 total), Tootsie (7 contested, 10 total) and Das Boot (5 contested, 6 total).

Gandhi came out on top for the first 6 of those nominations. It lost Best Sound and Best Original Score to E.T., beat the likes of Blade Runner for Best Art Direction and the likes of Tron (really!) for Best Costumes, and lost Best Makeup to the only other nominee: La Guerre Du Feu. 8 wins in all. E.T. also won awards for Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects and Tootsie beat itself out for Best Supporting Actress. Das Boot got gornisht. (Das Boot was not nominated for Best Picture or Best Foreign Film. I can find no explanation for this oversight.)

The film is a sweeping, ambitious biopic that covers some 50 years in the life of its subject. It begins with Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, then flashes back several decades to the 1890s, when Ghandi was a young lawyer about to experience the extreme racism of apartheid South Africa firsthand. Clocking in on the far side of 3 hours in length, Gandhi has plenty of time to develop the story of a lifetime of tumultuous non-violent protest.

Incidentally, I was interested to spot Ian Charleson, who starred as Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire (the previous year’s Best Picture winner), appear as an Anglican priest who supports Gandhi’s philosophy. His support from the pulpit, however, seems only to succeed in emptying his church. It is a striking commentary on our tendency to give the latest socially-acceptable position a higher priority than a view that more nearly represents Christ-like values.

This is fantastic, detail-oriented film-making. The locations are authentic, crowds enormous, atmosphere flawlessly rendered. The illusion of watching actual events unfold through a magical window is perfectly maintained throughout. Above and beyond this, the two stand-out elements are the cinematography and Ben Kingsley’s performance as Gandhi.

The camera seems as at-home in its surroundings as in any film by David Lean. The landscapes are breath-taking (even when they aren’t beautiful), and even the most elaborately-staged crowd scenes are skillfully shown to best advantage (like the amazing funeral sequence, with its hundreds of thousands of extras). Meanwhile, Kingsley inhabits his role like a second skin. Supposedly, his resemblance to the title character was so uncanny, some locals believed him to be Gandhi’s ghost.

Equally crucial is the depth of compassion, benevolence and empathy evident behind the performance. The entire production is a labor of love and respect for a saintly figure whose philosophy of non-violence deserves far wider recognition and emulation than humanity has granted it thus far. Herein, however, may lie the film’s only significant flaw. Director Richard Attenborough forgoes complexity in favor of hero worship. What this amounts to is more of a hagiography than a biography.

It would require far more comprehensive knowledge of Gandhi’s life than I possess to judge the accuracy of this picture. For that matter, I would need multiple viewings of this film to ingest all of the information in it. What I see after a single viewing is an inspirational treatment of an incredible life, skillfully made in such a way as to incite admiration and imitation. Equally clear, at least to me, is that we could use more men of peace. And we could use more films celebrating them.

Although Gandhi is an excellent film, I might have given the award to Blade Runner, which was mostly ignored by the ceremony. It is one of the smartest science fiction films ever made, and has much of great depth to say about what it means to be human.

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~ by Jared on July 17, 2007.

2 Responses to “Gandhi: Best Picture, 1982”

  1. These are very thoughtful appraisals of the films, and I’m enjoying reading them. On the topic of this particular year, I only saw Gandhi about five years ago but I remember it being good and Kingsley’s performance itself being fantastic. That said, it seems impossible to mention it without mentioning Tootsie and E.T. in the same breath. Tootsie is one of the most acclaimed comedies ever (and one of my personal favorite movies) and, well, E.T. is freakin’ E.T, one of the biggest movies of all time, period. It’s a shame that some years are so competitive while others are not nearly as much – this just happened to be a particularly competitive year.

    I’ve made it my goal to watch all the winners of the Best Picture Oscar over the years. I’m less than 25% of the way through, so I have quite a ways to go. In case you’re interested, I’m going to be reviewing the movies on my blog as I see them.

    Again, great work! Look forward to reading more!

  2. Hey, thanks for the input. It’s definitely a very ambitious project to undertake, as you have probably realized, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve taken my sweet time with the project, as life often gets in the way of blogging, and as I like to discuss a variety of subjects . . . so I’ve actually been writing these for nearly 3 years, and I’m not yet halfway done. I have seen many of the Best Picture winners that I haven’t written about (64 in all, and soon to be 65, since I’ve seen all of this year’s nominees), but I like to watch them just before I write about them so that they’re fresh in my mind.

    Over the life of the project, I’ve definitely noticed the phenomenon of years that are heavy on competition vs. years that seem to have few (if any) worthy films. One almost wishes that the Academy could choose to withhold the award during such years and give out double or triple awards when the industry rises to the challenge later.

    In any case, good luck with your project, and I look forward to checking in on it from time to time!

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