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Merrimack Valley

January 12, 2014

Commentary The comedy and drama of Golden Globe categories

Here’s a modest proposal for the Golden Globe Awards telecast tonight: Make the presenters wear tragic masks when reading the nominations in the drama categories and comic masks when reading the nominations in the musical/comedy categories. That way we’ll have a better chance of keeping the knuckleheaded division straight this year.

How else are we to remember that “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a somewhat downbeat picaresque adventure from the Coen brothers, is competing as a comedy, while “Philomena,” a real-life morality tale masquerading as a chuckling odd couple comedy, is contending as a drama?

Or that Meryl Streep’s lead actress nomination for “August: Osage County,” the screen version of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, is in comedy, no matter that the work owes as much to Eugene O’Neill as it does to Edward Albee, or that Julia Roberts’ nomination for supporting actress in the film doesn’t get classified as comedy or drama. (Second bananas, whether grinning or frowning, are thrown together pell-mell.)

And what’s this? Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t an assaultive expose of financial industry Ponzi schemers but a riotous comedy of manners. Think Preston Sturges, with unlimited cocaine and a busload of hookers.

In trying to maintain the pretense that comedy and drama are readily distinguishable, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the august body behind the Golden Globes, is clearly trying to cast itself as ultra-traditionalist.

A neoclassical tradition, as it turns out.

In 17th century France, it was considered anathema to mix genres. Tragedy was elevated and grave. Comedy was familiar and drolly instructive. A breach of aesthetic decorum could provoke more than bad press — it could incite a national uproar.

Of course it’s silly to compare the French Academy with the Hollywood Foreign Press. One was fixated on the Classical unities, the other is rumored to be obsessed with the quality of the catering sent over from Harvey Weinstein’s office.

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