Odd books and Oscars

Anthony D’Offay's generosity hasn't gone down well in all quarters, this week in the arts world

And so to the 2008 Oscars: best film went to Juno, best actress to Ellen Page for Juno, best actor was Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd and best supporting actress went to Cate Blanchett for her gender-bending turn as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. These would have been the results if the public had decided, according to the E-Poll/Reuters survey.

Instead, the Coen brothers came away with four awards including best picture for No Country for Old Men. Not that this was the critics’ choice. When the Coen brothers did win, Ryan Gilbey decried the Academy’s decision to give the best picture award to No Country rather than the There Will Be Blood, an error that he compares to Citizen Kane’s losing out to How Green was My Valley back in 1942. However, Gilbey is optimistic that Hollywood conservatism will be out with the Bush administration. For the full article, read here. Ken Levine pointed out that, as usual, the best films going were the foreign films and animations, one of which, Persepolis, a young girl’s view of the Islamic Revolution will be showing at the forthcoming Bird’s Eye View film festival, details of which will be in next week’s New Statesman.

The art world received its biggest benefaction since Henry Tate this week when art collector Anthony D’Offay offered 725 pieces of postwar and modern art to the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for just a fifth of their estimated £125 million value. But not everybody was waxing lyrical about his generosity. London private dealer Ivor Braka called it “the biggest loss” to the arts scene in over 20 years, claiming that D’Offay’s collections were needed to maintain the reputation of London’s galleries as exciting, relevant viewing rooms apart from its museums. And with D’Offay’s donation plugging some major gaps in the UK’s 20th century art collections, critics such as Jonathan Jones are now anticipating a cooling of lending relations between the Tate and New York’s MOMA. Let’s just hope D’Offay doesn’t do an Eli Broad. He was the American collector who recently retracted his donation of around 2000 20th and 21st century art works promised to
LACMA. For an American verdict on both the D’Offay and Broad donations, try Edward Winkleman’s blogspot.

Read any oddly-titled books lately? How about Cheese problems solved or Are Women human? These were just two of the mavericks that made the Diagram prize shortlist for Oddest Book Title of the year this week, along with possibly the most abrasive self-help title on the shelves, If you want closure in your relationship, Start with your legs. Cast your vote now on the Bookseller’s website. The winner will be announced on March 28.

And finally, Mike Smith, lead singer of 60s Beat group, the Dave Clark Five has died, aged 64. The band, famous for hits such as 'I Like It Like That' and 'Any Way You Want It' were already due to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10. A fittingly-timed tribute.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Why so-called lesbian films make me nervous

The upcoming Cate Blanchett vehicle, Carol, is already being feted as a lesbian blockbuster. I should be excited, and yet it just makes me feel sweaty.

An odd thing has started to happen to me in the build-up to new lesbian blockbusters: I sweat. I’m quite sweaty as it is, but I’m probably at my sweatiest when the entire internet – or so it seems, in my panicked state – is going on about Cate Blanchett gaying up for her latest role.

And, no, this isn’t a sex thing. Yes, I have eyes; I realise Blanchett is extremely attractive (and talented, and what have you… yes, feminism). In fact, I don’t necessarily agree with this, but I’ve been told that my “type” is blonde, patrician and spikey (so, the exact opposite of me and everyone I’m related to). I can’t account for Blanchett’s spikiness, although she definitely plays spikey well. I’m also so unsure of whether Australians can be posh, that I just Googled “can Australians be posh?”. But, Antipodean or not, she has that “former captain of the Roedean lacrosse team” thing going on, right? And, yeah, she’s blonde. So, on paper, her playing a lesbian should make me sweaty for sex reasons.

But – here’s where I implore you to suspend your disbelief – that isn’t it. Along with “vigorous cheese grating” and “talking to people”, I’m adding “having to pretend to be excited about a straight woman playing a lesbian” to my list of things that make me sweat. All the hype around Carol, which looks set to be the biggest lesbian film since Fucking Blue Is The Fucking Warmest Colour (actual title) and hits UK cinemas this week, is propelling me into a frenzy of panic the likes of which I haven’t felt since I got this inexplicable pain in my nose and convinced myself it was nose cancer.

Disclaimer: I realise lesbian visibility is important. Any given lesbian can talk about the sorry state of lesbian representation in film and TV for seven solid hours. If you want to see filibustering at its finest, just ask a gay woman what she thought of The Kids Are All Right.

So why the sweat? Yes, straight actors get to put on gayness like a gorilla suit, every time they feel like having an Oscar lobbed at their head. Blanchett did “mental” in Blue Jasmine (very well, actually) and now she’s doing gay. Why panic though? Lesbian blockbusters starring almost entirely straight women are better than nothing. But lesbianism in films is cursed with being a big deal. When’s the last time you saw a film about, say, some bounty hunters who just so happen to be lesbians? (note to self: write that screenplay). No, not “lesbian bounty hunters”, I mean “bounty hunters… who are in a relationship, and both of them are women, I guess… and what’s your point?”

The panic comes from the lesbian aspect of any mainstream film being the driving force behind a hoo-hah of epic proportions. The tremendous fanfare that heralds the lesbian blockbuster is enough to give me palpitations. And this absurd pomp wouldn’t exist if lesbian representation were slightly less concentrated. Years pass without any lesbians at all then, all of a sudden: “CATE BLANCHETT IS GAYING IN A FILM AND IT’S GOING TO BE STUNNING AND BREATHTAKING AND YOU’RE GOING TO CRY SEVENTEEN TIMES AND IF YOU’RE NOT HYPERVENTILATING RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE NO SOUL AND YOU’RE NOT EVEN A PROPER LESBIAN”.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen Carol yet, so I’m going to have to reserve judgement. Perhaps I will cry seventeen times. I have seen the trailer though and, complete with a moody vocal jazz track and a woman gazing mournfully out of a rain-spattered window, it’s already starting to tick “every lesbian film ever” boxes.  

It’s all the hype, accompanied by knowing that I’m going to have to have #opinions about Carol and probably every other lesbian film, until I die, that makes me sweat. That and also knowing that, in order to be aforementioned “proper lesbian”, I’ll have to find someone to take with me to see Carol on a date, except neither of us will really know whether or not it’s a date, and, during the sex bits (of which I’m sure there are… some) we’ll have to look at our shoes and cough, and sweat.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.