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Meanwhile, back at the luau
January 31, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
Someone emailed a couple of weeks ago asking the name of that luau I had recommended in this column about this time a year ago.
It was Tihati Productions’ “Te Au Moana,” which translates as “The Ocean Tide” at the Marriott Wailea Resort. The reservation number is 827-2740. It’s all fresh in my mind since I just saw it … again.
Luaus are one of the surprise benefits of having visiting inlaws and living on Maui. You get to join them in quintessential tourist experiences you wouldn’t be caught dead at otherwise. Whether or not you want to admit it, you generally have a great time.
Actually, for locals, luaus are the flip side of a tourist experience. Chances are you know half the cast and/or the folks serving you. Rather than being “entertained,” there’s a part of you that wants to get up and help clear the tables.
Leisurely feasting and imbibing as balmy pastel twilight fades sensuously into silken darkness and the waves lap the beach softly in the background, you’re also in possession of secret knowledge: Creating this romantic fantasy called “Hawaii” is all about creating jobs, too. A lot of us are in related lines of work in this environment where our principal product and major export is magic.
One of the folks sharing my table asked whether the whales we were spotting offshore had any economic value. I had to pause before pointing out that they were worth millions … to our tourist economy. Ditto for the Hawaiian language.
Navigating the tricky path between culture and commerce, the Marriott luau remains a winner. With its focus on Polynesia as well as Hawaii, it makes island life and culture accessible to tourist perceptions without abusing or exploiting anything in the process. Even when bringing kids or adults who have had a few extra Mai Tais to the stage to try the hula, its mood feels more sweet than snide.
Our tablemates were mostly from Canada, as were a preponderance of the audience that night. The snowbirds were grateful just to escape the cold fact of life otherwise known as “winter” in most parts of the world right now.
But when dealing with tourists, the cultural education goes in both directions. It’s always instructive to learn what they see when they look at us. It’s a healthy way of not getting too precious about this unique place we call home. And a reminder that rather than singling any single detail of Hawaiian or Polynesian culture, what this place used to be about was open hearts, and the generosity of sharing them.
Sometimes it takes going to a luau to be reminded that it still is.
Sharing the Hawaiian way of life with Mainlanders is also playing out on a different stage these days. “The Descendants” — filmed on Kauai and Oahu —is right in the thick of this year’s Oscar race.
Granted, it helps to have George Clooney heading the cast and Alexander Payne directing. When the film picked up its best-picture prize at the Golden Globes, the producers thanked the people of Hawaii for the part they had played, “co-starring” with charismatic George.
And folks like Gabby Pahinui and Jeff Peterson on the soundtrack also have mighty roles to play, replacing the Hollywood cellophane-skirt fantasy of a Hawaiian paradise with something more recognizably “real” to the folks at home.
That’s more than enough to qualify it for this year’s Oscar field, which has avoided Hollywood’s usual embrace of heavy messages at awards time for an abundance of compassion, hope, humor and delight in sheer creativity instead.
“The Help” —which doesn’t shy away from ugly social realities under all its beautiful performances — just cleaned up at the Screen Actors Guild awards. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer won the actress and supporting actress races, but it was the entire cast that took the best ensemble prize, those awards’ equivalent of the the year’s best picture.
Can’t argue with that one. Prior to that, “The Artist” — a brand-new black-and-white silent film —was the odds-on favorite, charming audiences not only with its irresistible stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, the unflagging originality of its writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, the scene-stealing doggy co-star … but but mostly with its joyful embrace of all things human.
Being a fan of both those films, my own choice for the year’s best probably still goes to Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which isn’t better than the other films — just grander in the scope of its filmmaking, and its fantasies.
“The Descendants” is still in the running and will be heard from on Oscar night, but in the meantime, the people of Hawaii can thank the touching production for putting us in such good company.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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