It’s time for the fall festival season, which means many things. We’re going to hear a lot about which hotly anticipated movies will pay off big when Oscar season rolls on. We’ll see a lot of scabby behaviour on the red carpet as the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes continue. And we’ll get a ton of needless reporting on the most inane aspects of a movie screening. It pays the bills, I suppose, and it’s not as though the big festivals - Venice, TIFF, Telluride, New York — will have a lot of A-Listers front and centre due to the strikes. This means we’re going to see a lot of one of my least favourite aspects of this job: obsessing over the length of standing ovations at festival screenings.
Don’t worry, it’s already begun. In Venice, we’re told that Michael Mann’s Ferrari received a six-minute standing ovation, although Deadline claims it was actually 7 1/2 minutes. Variety feverishly detailed how Dogman also earned a six-minute ovation after director Luc Besson was cleared of rape charges (yup, that’s the headline. Subtle, Variety.) The opening night screening of Italian war drama Comandante ‘only’ received 90 seconds, the poor thing.
On the day survivors stood in solidarity w/ striking workers, Venice gave an abuser an ovation. He wasn't found innocent, he was never tried. He has multiple accusers. I'm so tired of the "genius auteur" being more valuable than survivors. @hiresurvivors https://t.co/Q5sRtrIP0h— Sarah Ann Masse ON STRIKE 🌈💜💙 (@SarahAnnMasse) August 31, 2023
This is clearly bloody daft, right?
Who the hell is sitting in the theatre, waiting for the lights to go up with their stopwatch in hand? What do they hope to glean from what is essentially a polite response from industry people towards a bunch of their colleagues? And the feverish reporting on these ovations, down to the second, feels like a desperate attempt to gleam something from nothing.
Standing ovations are weird things at film festivals. At Cannes, for instance, there are cameras recording the stars’ reactions, moving back and forth to capture the moment on the screen for everyone in the room to see. They react accordingly, which means you often see a bunch of very tired and awkward people smiling politely and waiting to get out so they can properly celebrate. Nobody wants to be the person who stops clapping, and they’ve now invested so much in this nonsense concept that it’s become seen as an indicator of the movie’s future critical and commercial prowess. Come on, nobody cares about that. You put the five-star rating on the poster, not the length of the ovation.
William Goldman once famously said of the Oscars that ‘nobody knows anything.’ If you’re an awards predicator or part of the Oscar season beat, you spend a solid six months of the year trying to find anything to talk about. You have to predict winners months in advance, long before anyone’s even seen the movies. Festival screenings can lay the path for future success, but the standing ovation is seldom a proper indication of that. If it were then Blonde would have swept the season. Hell, Don’t Worry Darling got a four-minute ovation and that was hardly an indication of merit or enthusiasm. It’s just being semi-decent in front of the famous people.
It’s nice to see people get their dues, such as the plethora of ovations Brendan Fraser received last year, which he was clearly surprised and heartened by. Mostly, however, the trend of turning displays of workplace politeness into the oracles of the season is silly and we should stop doing it. Now, stop clapping and let Adam Driver go home. That man is tired.