WEDNESDAY, March 7th 2018
“I SHALL ride the parade in a platinum car,
My features will shine, my name will be Star,
Day-long and-long the bells I shall peal,
And down the long street I shall turn the cart-wheel.”
W.H. Auden, “Danse Macabre.”
ON SUNDAY night I was faced with a slight problem. I really didn’t want to watch the Academy Awards. I’d seen all the movies—including “The Shape of Water,” which I found far more palatable than I thought I would; lovely even.
But, and I’m sure this will shock most of you, I am fairly jaded. Not much surprises or thrills me the way movies and their accessories—stars, awards shows, inappropriate behavior on awards shows—once did.
I still love films, and in most ways, I do think “movies are better than ever”—a phrase I believe originated in the 1950’s as audiences stayed home watching TV and Hollywood attempted to lure them back with Cinemascope, 3-D, Stereophonic Sound, Technicolor, and bullet bras.
I’d dutifully watched the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the Spirit Awards and…something else. Unless a rare and priceless “La La Land”/”Moonlight” moment happened again, or if Meryl Streep won, got up to the podium and yelled “suckers!” why bother?
Wasn’t passing a kidney stone bad enough? (No writerly excess here, I was, and still am, passing a stone.) And then there are the kidney stones that attack every day, via the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., Republican and Democrat. There is no escaping the pathetic performances of the people who govern us, and those who report nightly on that bunch of losers. No Oscars, only Razzies there!
I had other fish to fry Sunday night—watching all of “The Chi” and “Homeland” uninterrupted, and drinking a lot of water.
It didn’t seem possible to remove myself from myself. But shortly after I had to turn away from the ridiculous red-carpet arrivals, I thought, don’t watch the Oscars as you are now—a gossiped-out husk of a man with permanent mental jaundice–watch as you once were; a 10-year-old movie fan, who was dazzled by the stars of his own time, and even more by those of a time past. (As one of my uncles gravely told my mother, “No boy should know that much about Hedy Lamarr, maybe I should take him to a baseball game?’). A kid who wasn’t exactly naïve, but who was years away from having two expressions—eye-roll and side-eye.
So, as I gingery settled in on my couch, I decided I’d try to watch the 90th annual Academy Awards that way.
FIRST OFF, I’d wonder–as I really have since my earliest Oscar-watching days—why a host was needed. They were never funny. This one sure wasn’t. Although I’d have to admit the “you win a jet ski if you keep your acceptance speech short” bit was very funny, and Helen Mirren was a fabulous sport and looked smoking hot. (As a tween I probably wouldn’t describe Ms. Mirren that way, I’d simply think she was very glamorous!)
And, impressed by glamour as I was, I’d certainly have been blown away by the stage! In fact, I’d be almost more impressed by the efforts put into the glitz and glitter framing the actors than the actors themselves. Somebody else might have thought it was too much, gaudy, vulgar. All I can say is give me vulgarity! It’s the Oscars, after all, not a Nobel Prize ceremony.
As a kid I’d realize—because I read the newspapers and kept up, that Very Important Things were being said onstage, in between the orgy of self-congratulation, and my assessing what the ladies were wearing. (Maybe one of the adults would remark that possibly Emma Stone had lost track of the date, and thought she was attending a brassiere optional luncheon.) I’d realize that the Very Important Things were serious business, and a good deal of what was said was sincere and necessary. The self-serving hypocrisies would probably go over my head.
I’d be mighty excited by all the musical numbers, and understand somehow that they were conveying Very Important Things with more urgency and truth, than those who mouthed words they wouldn’t have dreamed of, a year ago. (I am sure I would have wondered why one of the musical numbers began with a guy who didn’t seem to know how to sing—or had a bad cold. But the number picked up after that.)
As a 10-year-old I wouldn’t have seen all of the movies, but I’d know all about them, and feel as if I had. So of course I’d have my own opinion about who should win. I’d have wanted that cute boy who looked all of 15 and was wearing white suit to win, even though I’d be informed he was too young and had plenty of time. The guy who didn’t look like Winston Churchill in real life—he deserved to win. And I sure wanted the short, intense lady to take home an Oscar. The one who always looked like she’d dressed and done her hair in a closet, but was invariably funny and intense. (When she talks Very Important Things she seems sincere.) I’d wonder–did people give her awards just to hear her carry on?
And, as somebody who wore glasses and hated them, I would have been thrilled when the African American actress with the name nobody seems able to pronounce properly, wore her glasses onstage!
As usual, I’d disturb people when the beautiful star who is three years older than Oscar, came out to give an award. I’d rattle off all her famous movies and even some of the naughty things she said to Cary Grant in the one where they spend all that time on the train and then go rock climbing. Troubled glances would be exchanged—why does he know this? How about taking him to a football game?
Finally, I’d be very, very impressed that the two iconic stars (I’d have only recently begun to use the word “iconic”) who were a part of last year’s “terrible mistake” giving out the Best Picture Oscar, were back, giving out the same award. They were charming, although I never understood why it was such a terrible mistake. I knew when I grew up and thought back on all the Oscars I’d seen, that moment would be indelible.
It ended, not too late, the Jet Ski was pulled onstage again, and Helen Mirren was on board the thing, with the winner. She really is glamorous.
I went to bed with a painkiller and the unhappy realization that I’d have to call my doctor in the morning; that damn stone wasn’t going anywhere on its own.
AND that, friends, is how I got through Oscar Night.
Speaking as an adult–or at least a recipient of Social Security—I didn’t think the show was bad at all. I honestly was blown away by the sets and the musical numbers. I thought most of the people who had something to say, said it reasonably well. I was not unhappy with any of the winners, and I was truly glad Timothee Chalamet escaped being over-honored too early. (I’ll bet he was, too.)
I’ll go to my grave wondering about competition and how one can compare “Dunkirk” to “Get Out” or Sally Hawkins to Frances McDormand or decide something or somebody is “the best.” In the end, it’s just a big public relations stunt. But competiveness is part of human DNA.
Nostalgia is a wonderful, blurry thing. Years ago I realized that the Oscar show was always a bit of a bore, overlong, etc. It’s just that I was more interested in the stars that appeared on the show in those days. In that spirit, for a movie-loving, diversity knowledgeable kid in 2018, the 90th Oscars were probably pretty fabulous.
Two outright gripes (what, you thought you’d escape?)
Jimmy Kimmel’s “visit” to unsuspecting moviegoers across the street is the sort of thing that should be saved for his TV show. That said, it happened, and I was a little surprised that more major stars didn’t get in and join in—even if they, too, think it’s tacky. Meryl Streep couldn’t get off her ass? Or Allison Janney, who had just won an Oscar, and should have been up for anything? And lots of others—you know who you are. So, kudos to Gal Gadot, Guillermo del Toro, Margot Robbie, Armie Hammer, Lupita Nyong’o, Ansel Elgort, Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Hamill.
Gripe two—really, really, really?? I know it’s difficult to get in every industry person who dies, for the In Memoriam segment, but this year’s omissions seemed particularly egregious. Among the missing: Dorothy Malone, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dina Merrill, John Gavin, David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Glenn Campbell, Della Reese, Adam West, Robert Guillaume. Oh, and don’t give me that stuff about how some of these stars were mostly associated with TV. We live in a “new time” now—as everybody at Oscar told us repeatedly. These days, TV is just as important as feature filmmaking, perhaps more so, and reruns of classic TV shows are everywhere, all hours of the day and night.
P.S. and BTW—where the hell was LIZ SMITH in the lineup of the departed? While I won’t say this column “made” any careers—although it probably did– it certainly enhanced, defended, glorified and was a relentless cheerleader for many stars and always to films. Liz was nice, too. She deserved to be a part of that list.
P.S.—I apologize for not doing the live watching with all of you. But, honestly, that fucking stone was hurting! Pardon my French. Love, XXXXX Mr. W.