Monday, March 8th, 2010

Eli Burkett Strikes Again and Again

HEHThere was a lot of trashing of Elinor Burkett last night on the Internets, and Eli did go a little crazy by seizing the microphone for best documentary short, especially because she was not technically the winner, according to the director, as she and the director of the winning film have been suing each other for a while, although The Academy™ does recognize her as producer. But Burkett was the most fascinating person to hit that stage last night, and trashing her is a mistake for those who might be 1. pleased about big wins for "The Hurt Locker" and also 2. interested in authenticity and nonfiction. While "The Hurt Locker" is an action movie wrapped up in the guise of a "real" movie based on "reporting" (and yet is "a collection of scenes that are completely implausible – wrong in almost every respect"), Burkett's been making opinionated, involved nonfiction for decades.

She is, also, it is apparent to all, kind of… well, let's call her opinionated! She has a tendency to end up on the outs with collaborators and friends. But to heck with that! Let's look at her work.

Just for starters, she moved to Kyrgyzstan in September of 2001, which, ha. She spent a year in a suburban high school trying to figure out the kids; she wrote a fantastic book about the distorted way we reward parenting in our society (a must-read for those of us who've worked in offices where automatic raises are given whenever anyone "starts a family").

And there's her late-90s, pre-Palin history of American right-wing women; and then the rather blockbuster book, with Frank Bruni, on the Catholic Church's coverup of sexual abuse-and, from 1996, the best history of AIDS yet written. So she's kind of got it all over everyone else in the end.

17 Comments / Post A Comment

jolie (#16)

Me too! Turns out he was two-timing us with the Daily Beast!

jolie (#16)


Wait, Choire, tell me more about those societal rewards I've got coming for becoming a parent – especially the automatic raise! Where do I go to collect?

This is like learning that you've got a tax refund coming you didn't know about. Awesome!

LondonLee (#922)

Yes, where are these offices and can I work in them? I have another kid on the way!

ProfessorBen (#1,254)


I love this. The info., the links I wouldn't have seen but for you, the link that also answered the question ('What do the soldiers think of all this?') I've been too lazy to google to date.

Meta [got it all over everyone else].

hockeymom (#143)

On Twitter last night, the military reactions seemed to range from "meh, whatevs" to "this is a shameful travesty". Those are only people I know/follow, so probably not close to a representative sample.

bb (#295)

what's weird to me is just that almost every oscar-winning war (or history, or biography, etc) movie is inaccurate. I guess it's just that other ones skimmed the details to paint a heroic narrative instead of a fucked up one.

Magicube (#3,680)

I don't care how awesome she is or how great her work is–she didn't win. He did. She grabbed the mic from the winner and took up his time. Shame on her.

janine (#248)

Nah. It was still ungracious. It's possible to be talented and rude. I'm not necessarily sure about giving people a pass because they've done something cool. It's really hard to articulate the concept without bringing up Roman Polanski because mere mean-spirited rudeness is not that big a deal at all, but too many people seem to think that talent gives one carte blanche to act like an animal. Where I'm more like, "enjoy the work, tell your friends, but still condemn the f*ckery."

bb (#295)

it might also be that brilliant people don't always have the best social skills. And yeah, that's a little harsh to put her in the same sentence with Polanski!

According to a Salon cell phone interview part of her beef was that Williams did not focus on the whole band rather than just Prudence (note: I have no idea what this means, not having seen it). So it could conceivably be legit artistic debate upon which she acted totally inappropriately. That seems different than "mean-spirited rudeness" out of egotism.

janine (#248)

I know a few brilliant people who aren't assholes. But yeah, if you're brilliant and you don't have good enough friends who'll say you you, "dude, not cool," you'd probably end up having poor social skills. But you know, YMMV.

I read that thing on Salon. As a matter of fact, I simply thought she was being rude, and that interview is what tipped the scales into mean-spiritedness. I don't really care if she's right or wrong, because she was so rude in such an inappropriate way. But then I'm Southern, so I'm shocked every day by people who don't seem to know how to act anymore. To my eyes, it was crazy, like calling the bride a slut at the wedding reception.

bb (#295)

no, totally, it was extremely rude. I just feel like I have met people like that – actually, worked with them and definitely recognized that infuriated look on the dude's face as he stood there and refused even to move aside as she spoke into the mic – and sadly, their aggressive difficult-ness is also often what allows them to, say, move to Kyrgyzstan and figure out how to do research/writing there. Anyway, this shouldn't be to excuse her, but more to make us all the more grateful when we work with/meet/observe/become (why not) someone brilliant who is also kind, generous, supportive of others' achievements, modest, etc.

sailor (#396)

Not sure if Mark Boal ever claimed his screenplay, based on being an embed with and E.O.D. team in Iraq, was supposed to be "real" or the basis for a documentary. This was always billed as a fictional film to my knowledge.

Plus the woman may have had a righteous documentary portfolio, but she still came off as an abject nut-bomb.

rj77 (#210)

re: Hurt Locker – The movie seemed to be about the characters and the dehumanizing effects of war, rather than a how-to on proper bomb disposal. Throw in some cool explosions and you have a pretty riveting film. Well, IMHO, anyway.

maebefunke (#154)

Thanks for posting this, Choire! While I am happy for the Hurt Locker wins, I can't get past the uneasiness I feel about Hollywood gaining money and glory from something that actual soldiers find inaccurate or even offensive. Obviously not the first time this sort of thing has happened, but it's still disappointing.

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