Deja vu is a common complaint during awards season. The same faces shuffle down a carpet. There are whopping frocks and usually some interpretative dance. There are heroes and baddies, causes célèbres and sacred cows, hot bandwagons and atrocious jokes – though rarely quite as dire as those told by Joanna Lumley proved to be last night.
It’s often hard to keep track. Is this the year everyone refers to Harvey Weinstein as God or as the devil? Has Glenn Close really never won anything or is she always winning everything? Is that actor’s photo being beamed big because they’re triumphed or because they’ve died?
Of all the gong-shows though, it is the British Academy film awards – the last major ceremony before the Oscars – that most induce the deadening sense that you’ve seen it all before. This is because they are, literally, stuck in the past: the ceremony happens more than two hours before it’s shown on TV. This makes Bafta happy because the results wrap just in time to make the first edition of the following day’s newspapers. And it pleases the BBC because they can ringfence that prime Sunday night pre-watershed slot but still get a glitter-fix at 9pm.
Everybody’s happy. Except the viewer, that is. Because to function successfully this strategy requires the internet to be disinvented. Since that’s not an option, all tension and excitement is industrially sucked from the event for anyone who isn’t in attendance. If someone trips over or comes out – which is what viewers tune in hoping for – it’ll either be lost in the edit or have already been comprehensively digested by the time it airs. The Oscars telecast has a 10-second delay in case of terrorists, heart attacks or especially naughty swearwords. That feels about right. But the idea that two years ago everyone would have kept mum for 135 minutes when the best picture prize gloriously went to the wrong film seems optimistic.
Today’s audiences prize authentic experience higher than ever. Music festivals are booming despite access to recordings being free and easy. Box-office receipts are propped up not only by superheroes but, on-the-sly, by simulcasts, in which people fork out considerable sums to watch a live stream of a play or an opera in their local fleapit. The success of Secret Cinema, the immersive experience that sees people pay top dollar to wear fancy dress and watch a film they loved as a student, is more testimony to this.
Life moves pretty fast and stars as well as awards ceremonies must keep pace. It was only a week ago comments made by Liam Neeson seemed to spell the end of his career. He went on breakfast TV the next day to apologise and by Thursday, the saga was over. But it was the speed with which he snatched the narrative back from social media that saved Neeson’s skin, rather than anything he actually said.
The BBC must see it’s no longer possible to stick your fingers in your ears and transport yourself back to the 90s – no matter how little you want to annoy Call the Midwife fans by fiddling with the schedule. The longer the Baftas keep pretending they haven’t yet happened, the more they risk willing themselves out of existence.