Some of the more earnest members of the 1 percent are flocking to Davos this week, expecting to hear from IMF director Christine Lagarde and do-gooder money machine George Soros, among other big shots currently trying to save the world. Both of them will tell you that while we here are obsessed with such daft (albeit deliciously entertaining) distractions as whether or not Newt Gingrich asked his vengeful ex-wife for an open marriage, the global economic crisis is gaining in a severity that could suck the life out of the U.S. recovery. Things ought to be scary enough to make us all crave the competent technocrat who turned around a 2002 Winter Olympics deficit of $300 million to a $100 million profit.
By that logic, Mitt Romney should be a good bet, but what’s logical about now? The tougher the times, the more we long for the illogic of Feeling. All Romney summons is a square jaw, and suddenly in national polls he’s flailing.
Movie audiences, too, want unlikely magic. The adored favorite for this year’s Best Picture Oscar is The Artist, a black-and-white silent movie created by a French director about a debonair screen idol named George Valentin, whose career implodes when the talkies make him obsolete. Valentin is saved by the love of the enchanting starlet, unafraid of the future, who shoots past her former hero to talkie-time fame and shows him how he can reinvent himself by Astaire-like tap-dancing. At the art-house cinema where I finally saw it last weekend, the audience was so enchanted and uplifted they applauded at the end and skipped out into the cold January night smiling dreamily like an audience in the ’30s finding a dollar in the street. We live in an era when the arrival of the Internet has turned lives and careers upside down with the same seismic irreversibility as the arrival of the talkies. Everyone has to reinvent now or die—unless, like George Valentin, you figure out a way to tap-dance your way out of it.
I can’t help feeling the film is also a wonderful metaphor for the career of the omnivorous showman Harvey Weinstein, with whom I shared the ill-fated caper of launching Talk magazine in the late ’90s (and thus understand why every Golden Globe winner last week called him out as “the Punisher”). In a subsequent period of bombastic hubris, Harvey blew himself up in a row with Miramax Films’ parent company, Disney, and went off with his brother, Bob, to start again with his Weinstein Company—only to stumble into a painful losing streak marked by large helpings of Hollywood schadenfreude. He went back to his roots, picking winners from obscure, bold, creative filmmakers, and will get his victory lap at the Oscars in February. That’s the kind of great American business narrative that doesn’t, unlike Romney’s Bain Capital, need explaining.
Meanwhile NEWSWEEK, too, tap-dances into a new era this week with our reinvented iPad app that magically brings our annual Oscar Roundtable to life for the first time. Jean Dujardin, who played Valentin, could not be with us for the ironic reason that he didn’t want to talk—he felt his English is not proficient. Quel dommage! But he was volubly represented by his dog, Uggie. George Clooney was there in person. What better way to dodge the economic reprisals from Europe than to watch the celebrated heartthrob play the ukulele?