The Buffoonery of Standing Ovations

Written by Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Reviewer

Cast and Crew of The Banshees of Inisherin
Cast and Crew of The Banshees of Inisherin (Credit Yahoo Sports)

Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin was awarded Best Actor and Best Screenplay at this year’s Venice Film Festival. However, it also received a third, unofficial award: the longest standing ovation during the festival at 15 minutes long. For comparison, the average length of a Friends episode is 22-23 minutes. Several other titles received long standing ovations; the controversial and nearly three-hour-long Blonde received a 14-minute ovation and Todd Field’s Tár (which received Best Actress for Cate Blanchete’s performance) got a six-minute-long standing ovation. Despite getting middling reviews, both Don’t Worry Darling and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s highly anticipated Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths each received a four-minute ovation. 

Whenever you hear about these crazy standing ovations you must remember these are premieres; the cast and crew along with their colleagues are in the room. Often the critics who report from festivals attend press screenings which aren’t as star-studded. 

Cast and Crew of The Whale
The 79th Venice Film Festival – Photo call for the film “The Whale” in competition – Venice, Italy, September 4, 2022. Director Darren Aronofsky and cast members Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink and Hong Chau pose. Credit: REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Before I get nasty, I don’t believe the gesture is purely ego driven. Actor Brendan Fraser, who was blacklisted in 2018 after accusing former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Philip Berk of sexual abuse, recieved heaps of praise and a six-minute standing ovation for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale where he plays a 600-pound, middled-aged man who attempts to reconnect with his daughter. It’s admittedly heartwarming seeing a man like Fraser finally getting recognition. The issue comes in when we treat the ovation as a sign of quality. 

According to Indiewire, the longest standing ovation ever at a film festival was at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, lasting 22 minutes. Now, I love this film. I love it so much that the only films I love more are Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and The Exorcist. That being said, I cannot stand this buffoonery. Twenty-two minutes of applause is absurd. During that same festival, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales premiered to disastrous reviews and basically killed Kelly’s career; in recent years the film has gone under a serious reappraisal. Even so, it still received a standing ovation. 

The Cannes Film Festival is like the Coachella of the film world: a multi-day event where the biggest and most talented people congregate to celebrate the art of cinema. Much of its notoriety comes from the fact that attendees boo as well as applaud (simultaneously, in some instances). But similar to standing ovations, booing doesn’t necessarily indicate quality either. It’s not unheard of for the film that wins the top prize, the Palme d’Or, to get booed. Martin Scorsesse’s Taxi Driver is regarded as a masterpiece, but when it premiered at Cannes in 1974, it was met with boos. The film’s producer Michael Phillips recalls half of the crowd booing and the other cheering when the film won the award. Filmmakers like Lars von Trier treat the boos as a badge of honor; in response to British film critic Mark Kermode telling him he hated The Idiots, Trier said “that’s fine as long you as really hate it.” 

Film festivals don’t result in good criticism all the time. As someone who has been to a few, they have the ability to beat you down to a bloody pulp, leaving you restless and desiring nothing but a good night’s sleep. You spend your day watching movie after movie through the late night. These festivals lend themselves to big reactions. Many movies play great to a festival crowd to only bomb once hitting theaters. In 2015, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl won the two top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival but went on to only gross $6.2 million in the U.S. 

In simple terms: film festivals are machines designed to create hype. While plenty of small films are there to seek distribution, big studios use them to launch award campaigns for the Oscars. The last Best Picture winner that didn’t premiere at a film festival was The Departed back in 2006. Steven Speileberg premiered his new film The Fabelmens at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the Audience Award and people are already claiming it’s a shoe-in for Best Picture months before the nominations and ceremony. 

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