Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Musings: What Does a "Best Picture" Smell Like?

Further thoughts on the Oscars... See my guest post at Now Smell This! for more.

There is very little in the world as satisfying as a well-told story.

A truly good story is one that is an immersive experience. It takes the voyeur into itself, immersing you in the sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste of the moment. When any piece of art does this, we like to honor it. For perfume, we have Prix International du Parfum, the Fifis, Grand Prix du Parfum, and so forth. When it comes to motion pictures, two annual judgments tend to reign supreme: Cannes and the Academy Awards.

Tomorrow the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out the coveted statuettes for the 83rd time. First held May 16, 1929 to celebrate outstanding film achievements for 1927 and 1928, the “Oscars” are now shown annually in over 200 countries. So it’s safe to say that, unless you live under a rock or on Mars, you’ve heard about the little golden statute and all the pomp and circumstance that goes with it. While there are a lot of awards for various aspects – costuming, screen writing, score – the most sought after award, year after year, is Best Motion Picture. This year ten films will duke it out to be named story of the year.

When faced with contenders as varied as Toy Story 3, Black Swan, The Kids Are Alright, and Inception, how does one choose the “best”?

As perfume obsessed as I am, it tends to invade all aspects of my life, including my other obsessions. When I smell perfume, I hear music, and vice versa. When I encounter a truly beautiful photograph or painting, sometimes I have an immediate scent association. So of course, as I sit around watching movies, I think about perfume. What’s interesting is I don’t often find myself thinking about what a particular character would wear so much as I find myself wondering what scent could capture the overall feeling of the story I’m seeing.

I wonder, if this film was a perfume, what would it smell like?

So, dear readers, my challenge to you, on this Oscar-eve, is this: Think of the movies nominated for best picture this year. If you were asked to attempt to explain to someone who had not seen them what the essence of their stories were through scent alone, what would you choose?

I’m going to start with True Grit because it is one of my favorites of the nominees. For those who haven’t seen it, I could tell you it’s a Coen Brothers remake of a 1969 John Wayne western. I could tell you about its gritty plot, its unique dialogue rhythm, or the superb acting by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Or I could tell you this: If someone were to make a truly down-and-dirty, hang-em high, take-no-prisoner’s version of Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories, they would have this film. Or if someone took a bottle of Stetson Cologne, made it a ball of scent, then rolled that ball in dry, cracked desert earth and gunpowder and maybe added a drop of blood before shoving it under your nose…you might get close to the love and anguish and, well, grit that constitutes this gripping story.

Speaking of gripping, Inception is one of the most mysterious and confusing nominees for best picture I’ve seen in a few years. It’s a film with layers and twists and turns, passion and pathos, and is a pretty good example of how lost inside ourselves we can become. So what scents reflect a story that leaves the ending open to interpretation? L’Artisan Dzing! comes to mind. But really, any scent takes you a long time to figure out and you're still not sure you have every aspect, one that reveals something new about itself to you every time you try it, could be Inception.

Continuing the psycho-social trend, Black Swan is a heart-stopping thriller that will keep you guessing up to the last moments. It is easily the darkest film I have ever seen set in the world of dance and maybe one of the darkest films of its caliber in the last few years. This one, honestly, is such a stumper, both in terms of the film and its perfume incarnation. Without giving anything away about this one – and believe me, if you think you know how this it will end from the previews, you don’t –I’m going with Creed Love in White and Creed Love in Black.

Looking for something lighter in your best picture choice? At the other end of the entertainment spectrum, you’ve got The Social Network. This bio drama, focused on the social machinations of the brilliant minds behind the most popular social networking technology in history, is as equally focused on the psychology of self as Inception, but comes to the one conclusion you can almost always guarantee lies at the heart of any Sorkin masterpiece. In the end, it’s about a brilliant but not entirely socially ept boy trying to impress a girl. If it were a perfume, you might be first inclined to think of it as The Party The Ten Party. At its heart, though, it is really probably more like Domenico Caraceni Ivy League, mixed with a whopping dose of the reek of embittered loneliness.

Only the third animated film to ever get a Best Picture nomination, if Toy Story 3 were a scent, it would have to encompass themes of growing up and becoming an adult with all the love, loss, and letting go that accompanies it. I suspect that it might be the scent that most reminds you personally of your childhood and the things you once fiercely loved that live on in your memory. For me, Toy Story 3 might smell like CB I Hate Perfume At the Beach 1966 or L’Artisan Timbuktu.

The Kids Are All Right is also an intimate, personal story, examining what it means to be a family, arguing that though blood may be thicker than water, love is stronger even than blood. If it were a scent? I’d choose CB I Hate Perfume In The Summer Kitchen, which probably has more to do with the garden/foodie settings of so many scenes in the film, but it’s a choice personal to their story, and maybe that’s appropriate.

If you can’t get enough of heartbreaking family tales, Winter’s Bone tells a harrowing family saga at the other end of the economic spectrum as Ree Dolly attempts to find her father, who is out on bail and put the family house up for collateral. Ree and her family will lose all they have if Ree can’t find him, which ain’t much to begin with. If you think of the hardest, saddest and yet still somewhat innocent perfume you know that also could be bought for less than $15 or $20 (which would be a fortune nonetheless), this is that perfume. I’d would probably go with Worth Je Reviens.

The King’s Speech, on the other hand, transcends the personal. This bio-pic manages to transcends being simply an intimate portrait of two men becoming unlikely friends despite differences in societal status or the story of one man’s rise to national icon during the uncertain times of the United Kingdom on the brink of a second world war. Instead, it is both those things and a little something extra – an exemplar for how courage and conviction in uncertain times can inspire the same in others. I suppose if I were trying to perfume Colin Firth’s reluctant King George VI I might choose Dana British Sterling and set it against Geoffrey Rush’s unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue in Dana English Leather. I might wrap Edward VIII and his royal ruin at the hands of an American divorcee in Guerlain Habit Rouge. But for the spirit of the film itself, I think I’d have to choose Hermès Bel Ami.

 The Fighter, based on the true story of the life of professional boxer "Irish" Micky Ward,  is the kind of hometown-boy-makes-good-and-beats-the-odds film we expect to be nominated.  From Rocky (winner) to Raging Bull (nominee) to Million Dollar Baby (winner) to the modern sports twist of  The Wrestler (which sadly missed the "Best Picture" category but earned nominations for both "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actress"), the Academy seems to love a down but not out hero of the pugilistic bent -- and so do audiences, for that matter. My perfume choice for The Fighter is classic but obvious: I have to go with Fabergé Brut.

Last but not least, 127 Hours is the kind of harrowing tale that, honestly, I tend to avoid no matter how good the hype is. Survival films, while amazing stories of perseverance, usually send me running for the hills.  All of that said, I have to tell you, this story of one man's fight to survive starring James Franco is A-MAZING.  So what film could I choose that might convince someone squeamish, like myself, to endure the film's subject matter in order to witness his brilliant performance? I have to be honest, I could not think of a single scent that was a challenging as this story, but readers, if you've got thoughts I'd love to hear them.

So tell me -- how do you explain a complex story in scent?  Can you make a scent tell a story, or does the story have to the scent?  What's your favorite film, and what does it smell like? If you reach the physical space that is the heart of any of a well-told story you really love, what would it smell like?


Bloody Frida said...

great post!! I love all your suggestions, though I would have to say Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie for The Kings Speech!

Diana said...

Bloddy Frida --

I like your choice for King's Speech. I'm so happy it won. It was a wonderful film, and Colin Firth's acceptance speech was lovely.