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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 3, summer 2004 ATOM EGOYAN In Other Words: Poetic Licence and the Incarnation of History In 1998, I was nominated for two Academy Awards for writing and directing the feature film The Sweet Hereafter. This followed on the heels of the film having won three prizes at Cannes, and appearing on over 250 top ten lists for that year. In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, I was flown back and forth to New York and Los Angeles, where I was presented at various film industry functions, interviewed on national television, and displayed at any social event where I would be seen. Visibility is an essential ingredient of fame. In my field, being nominated for an Academy Award was the height of fame. I didn=t win either of the awards that night. Titanic, true to its title, swept through a ceremony that culminated in an uneasy moment when its director B James Cameron B stood in front of the global audience and asked for a few moments of silence in observation of the lives that had been lost on that ill-fated ship. I=ll never forget the disturbing sense of power that Cameron exercised with that gesture. A few days before, all the nominees had been rigorously coached to keep their acceptance speeches as short as possible. Yet here was this man, the self-proclaimed >King of the World,= consuming one of the most valuable commodities in that world B airtime during the internationally broadcast Academy Awards B to honour the dead. I couldn=t help but feel that he was also honouring something else. James Cameron was demonstrating his power to make that statement. As we in the audience sat dutifully in silence to pay tribute to those lost souls that perished on the Titanic, I noticed several Hollywood producers glancing at each other incredulously. Years before, when he won his award for Schindler=s List, Steven Spielberg hadn=t gone quite that far. And here we all were, heads bowed in silence to commemorate a group of people we could now only associate with a special effects spectacle rather than with a specific historical event. Or had the movie become the historical event? Had the film Titanic somehow bulldozed its way into our collective psyche in such a manner that it became, in effect, a living experience of what it meant to be there? Is this what history has become in our culture: a set of indicators that simulate the experience of what things must have meant? The next morning, I was flown back to Toronto. The party was over. Or I should say, the parties. All night long, I had witnessed the elite of poetic licence and the incarnation of history 887 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 3, summer 2004 Hollywood at a number of social events at a number of legendary places the Governors Ball, Chasens, Mortons. Everyone was talking about Cameron=s gesture. >Can you believe what he did?= >That he=d have the balls?= By the end of the evening, there was no doubt in my mind as to what had been consecrated in that outrageously long vow of silence Cameron had imposed on Hollywood and the rest of the world that night - what had made the gesture so unsettling. In those precious moments of primetime silence Cameron demonstrated with staggering effect the privilege of commemorative exclusivity. He had staked his claim on the public imagination in order to impose on the audience the concept that they should remember what he wanted them to remember. His position had allowed him to set an agenda, and any reference he might have made to any other victims of tragedy B an appeal, say, to all those who had lost their lives on the sea B would only dilute the impact of his claim. There was no room for inclusiveness. There was, after all, a product to pitch. Titanic. And in Cameron=s view, perhaps, anything to extend the power of this brand was acceptable. This, of course, is the brutal reality of any cause. No matter what its moral significance B its right to...


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