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Merrimack Valley

January 12, 2014

Commentary The comedy and drama of Golden Globe categories


Artists aren’t making clear-cut distinctions, so why are the Golden Globes?

In affixing the comedy label to both “The Seagull,” which ends in suicide, and “The Cherry Orchard,” which ends in the dispossession of a family from its ancestral estate, Chekhov forever disrupted the hierarchy of genres.

Indeed, as any undergraduate English major could explain, comedy can be every bit as serious as drama. It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters,” designated as a “drama,” is more substantive than “The Cherry Orchard.” Both works are suffused with pathos; both works derive strength from laughter. And what would the Globes nominating committee make of “Uncle Vanya,” mysteriously subtitled “Scenes From Country Life”? A coin flip would have to decide where to place the work.

It might seem odd to be talking about a Russian playwright from more than a century ago in the context of 21st century movie trophies, but was there not a Chekhovian blend of sorrow and levity in “Philomena,” “Her,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Blue Jasmine”? “August: Osage County” might best be described as a tragic farce, a curious hybrid with a pedigree that stretches at least as far back as the Elizabethan drama of Christopher Marlowe.

Yes, this seems to be old news for everyone but the Hollywood Foreign Press, which could use a course in Shakespeare, the master of “mirth in funeral” and “dirge in marriage.”

What’s that you say? The Golden Globes aren’t about excellence but publicity? That it’s all just an excuse for a moneymaking party. That artistic philosophy has nothing to do with it.

Sure, but even if it’s all just a show, an elaborate marketing ruse, why not get with the times? There is no objective “best” when dealing with works of imagination, but that’s no reason to throw out common sense when honoring some of the year’s most memorable (and impossible to pigeonhole) movies.

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