Why did Bohemian Rhapsody Win Four Oscars?

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) took home four awards out of the five categories the movie was nominated in; Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, and Best Actor for Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. While the movie was a commercial and box-office success, it garnered mixed responses from audiences. Some say that the movie was just bad filmmaking, in terms of technique and storytelling, but others defend it by saying that it was an undeniably fun, enjoyable movie, whose sonorous production was engagingly colored with life and vibrancy. What exactly are the issues with Bohemian Rhapsody’s Oscar wins? I believe there are issues with Bohemian Rhapsody’s wins, not only because of the contentious merit they offer for certain categories, but also because of the larger implications of backing or supporting a movie that had a sexual predator at its helm (Director Bryan Singer’s alleged sexual harassment of underage boys).

 

lex Bailey/20th Century Fox
Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, categories that can easily confuse most audiences. The two acknowledge similar forms of work, but are distinct categories (the reason for which eludes me). Sound Editing can also be known as sound effect editing; this involves the recording and mixing of various sound elements such as dialogue, ADR and sound effects. Sound Mixing involves taking all the sound editing elements and brings all of them together in post-production. In other words, sound mixers take the basic pieces of sound editors to create the final cohesive product, which will be what the audience will hear as they watch the movie. Bohemian Rhapsody beat out front-runners, A Quiet Place and First Man, for these categories. Many believe, including me, that this was a mistake, as there was no remarkable sound editing, much less any impressive sound mixing. It almost seems as if Bohemian Rhapsody simply won because it was resonant with anthems that people cannot help but appreciate. This is a success to Queen, not Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s like the Academy thought the sound production awards should go to Bohemian Rhapsody simply because of the music involved. Regrettably, that is not what Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing is for. Snubbing the skill and attentiveness paid to the sound production of movies such A Quiet Place – a movie whose entire premise is on the significance of sound elements – is unfortunate.

Perhaps one of the most mind-boggling moments was Bohemian Rhapsody’s Oscar for Best Film Editing. This viral and infamous video circulating online exposes the movie’s poor editing, featuring abrupt cuts after another in what feels like split seconds.

One of the biggest hallmarks in editing is to make the editing not obvious, for it to be seamless and natural. But here, the cuts are appallingly glaring; this not only takes the audience out of the world of the film, but also provokes an almost physical response to the jerky and blunt editing. One can say that this one scene alone cannot undermine the editing of the whole film, but surely a Best Film Editing movie ought not to contain a scene like this at all? But I will give credit where it’s due – while I do not think that Bohemian Rhapsody should have won the category, Editor John Ottman did a good job salvaging the troubled ship that the movie was, given Director Bryan Singer’s premature departure from the project. Singer left the project when the principal photography for the movie was not even completed for reasons left unclear, but it is obvious that the allegations surrounding his sexual harassment of underage boys is a major one. It is often said that in the editing room, an editor has the power to create an entirely different movie from what was written and shot. Ottman essentially had to pick up the pieces that Singer left behind, and somehow assemble and construct a coherent movie, despite its principal photography being incomplete, and its original director out of the picture (Dexter Fletcher came in to finish the shoot, but chose to be listed as an executive producer). This is without a doubt no easy task, and thus an acknowledgement of Ottman’s ability. But it still remains that Bohemian Rhapsody did not feature the best film editing out of the nominees.

Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox
Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

The Best Actor award went to Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury, who some thought was a bit of a surprise. I personally found his performance adequate, agreeing with both people who thought his portrayal was stirring, and those who thought it to be a bit of a caricature of the subject. I think Rami Malek is a talented and charismatic actor, and while I am not on the same boat as those who dislike his “imitation” of Mercury, I found his performance satisfactory for an Oscar nomination. However, I feel other nominees such as Christian Bale (Vice) and Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) were better, performance-wise. I have to say though, that At Eternity’s Gate was not big enough of a player in the scene, so it was no surprise that Dafoe missed the Oscar win.

Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox
Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

This whole discussion is not to say that Bohemian Rhapsody was not an enjoyable movie, it is simply that their Oscar wins seem to be, dare I say, irreverent to other films in the respective categories. I believe the cultural influence that Queen, as a music group, greatly accounted for Bohemian Rhapsody’s wins. However, the Academy Awards are to celebrate movies and filmmaking, not music. Even if it were the case, Bohemian Rhapsody does a poor job at celebrating Mercury’s career, given its perfunctory and reductive portrayal of the star’s life. The simplistic depiction of Mercury’s life that paints him as some kind of debauched tragic figure and the queerphobia that the movie leans towards are controversial. Bisexuality is erased, and the demonization of homosexuality, albeit perhaps unintended and subconscious, was masked under the guise of Queen’s stirring anthems. Furthermore, the movie’s wins despite its director’s atrocity is just dismaying. None of the winners acknowledge Singer, in fact there was no mention of him at all. But that the Academy backed Bohemian Rhapsody shows how Hollywood is slow to change and perhaps even hypocritical. Bohemian Rhapsody depicts the marginalized community of the LGBTQ+, often seen as a win after years of persecution and rejection. But it is tragically ironic how this seeming championing of certain progressive ideas is a rejection of others. It is easy for the acknowledgement of an abuser and rapist fly over our heads if a separate progressive idea is put forward at the same time. Green Book, which won the Best Picture, is also caught up with the controversy of racial politics, as the trope of the white savior was a little too detectable in the movie.

The Academy’s resistance to change is something that can almost always be expected every awards season. But we are at a time in which the voice of the masses is a force to be reckoned with. The growing discontent with the archaic leading bodies of the Academy for celebrating works by people who do not deserve critical acclaim due to the transgressions they have chosen to ignore, justifying that these are peripheral concerns in the name of “art” and “filmmaking” is growing. The change we hope to see from the Academy to acknowledge those who should be seen and heard, as opposed to those who have been in a position of power and abused it, starts with us.

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