Hollywood’s dog and pony show

Director Steven Spielberg (left) and actor Jeremy Irvine pose with Joey at the UK premiere of War Horse
Director Steven Spielberg (left) and actor Jeremy Irvine pose with Joey at the UK premiere of War Horse
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Christmas may be over, but in movie terms the silly season is only just beginning.

Yes, it’s that time of year again when actors and directors diligently do the publicity rounds in an effort to talk up their terribly tasteful and serious new films in the hope of being considered worthy of the various meaningless-to-anyone-outside-of-the-film-industry award nominations. This not-at-all undignified dog-and-pony show has, however, taken on an amusing literalness this year.

Last Wednesday, for instance, Uggie, the Jack Russell star of projected Oscar front-runner The Artist, arrived in London to help promote the film’s UK release. With his movements chronicled on Twitter via his PR handler’s personal feed and his own official Twitter account (you can follow Uggie’s “tweets” @uggie_theartist), he’s been making various high profile media appearances – including skateboarding, surfing and generally showing up Coriolanus star Gerard Butler’s acting skills on The Graham Norton Show last Friday evening.

Meanwhile, Joey, the equine star of Steven Spielberg’s similarly touted War Horse, trotted down the red carpet at the film’s Royal premiere last night. Having posed for pics with Hollywood’s most powerful director, it’s neck-and-neck as to whether Joey (who seemed thoroughly indifferent to the whole thing) or Spielberg (who seemed to have get-me-out-of-here grin fixed to his face) deserved the honour of reluctant PR trouper of the night.

This sort of shameless circus is, of course, the norm for promoting summer blockbusters (I still shudder at the memory of being offered the chance to have my picture taken with the pug from Men in Black II). Yet the zeal with which it has been embraced to drum up interest in the year’s big awards contenders is hilarious, not least because it inadvertently acknowledges up-front what a joke the notion of the awards season has become.

Don’t believe me: just Google “Oscar” and “Uggie” and count the number of articles it throws up demanding a statuette for the admittedly adorable pooch – or check the way a cutesy PR statement announcing Uggie’s “unfortunate” ineligibility for consideration in this year’s BAFTAs – “after numerous enquiries,” apparently – has fuelled articles questioning whether it isn’t about time the rules were changed to allow animal performances to feature too.

Not that there isn’t some historical precedence here. New Yorker writer Susan Orlean’s new biography of pioneering canine superstar Rin Tin Tin unequivocally claims that the German Shepherd – who was one of the biggest box-office draws of the silent era – polled the most votes for Best Actor at the first ever Academy Awards in 1929. Anxious to be taken seriously, writes Orlean, the Academy decided that “giving an Oscar to a dog did not serve that end, so the votes were recalculated”.

Whether or not this is true – and Orlean’s book doesn’t cite a specific source – at the very least the prominence of Uggie and Joey’s promotional efforts this year might actually encourage people to take the blinkers off and see that movie awards, and their attendant campaigns, have generally always been a load of hooey.