Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Beam me up, Ridley

So, why did Ridley Scott look emotionally shattered and devastated?

Was he simply overcome because the film he directed had just received the Best Picture Oscar? Or was it because, in spite of this, he had not received the statuette for Best Director? (Did this movie, as they say, direct itself?) Or maybe he was overwhelmed by the irony that, after making such cool films as Blade Runner and Alien, he was getting his greatest worldwide recognition and accolade for a formulaic and derivative faux historical epic that not only looked like it was produced on a computer but could have been written by one.

But then, in what year would it be more appropriate for the computers finally to take away our humanity than in 2001? Given the year, I suppose it was inevitable that during Sunday night’s awards ceremony we would continually hear Bill Conti playing a mildly jazzy rendition of Also Spach Zarathustra. But I have to say that it was a nice touch to begin the program with a broadcast from the only space station we actually have at the dawn of this millenium. Ditto the late appearance via satellite of Sir Arthur C. Clarke himself. But the program itself was distressingly devoid of any of the memorable moments we sit three and a half hours on the couch in hope of.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Griping about the show and the movie industry in general is part of the fun of watching the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, not everyone is as devoted as I am. The ratings for this year’s broadcast were the lowest in ages. And can you blame the average joe? What a sad state of affairs when there were really only two gee-whiz instances, and one of those was a commercial. (Yes, one or two slipped through my vigilant TiVo gatekeeper.)

The first was when Tom Hanks managed to crack up host Steve Martin with his dead-on perfect reaction to being made the butt of a strange joke about the Russell Crowe kidnap plot. The other was that Pepsi ad, which was not remarkable for Britney Spears’s standard Janet Jackson/Paula Abdul style of choreographed-down-to-the-last-non-spontaneous-movement singing and dancing but for the unabashedly forced sense of male titillation built up around it—climaxing, so to speak, with the Viagra pitchman himself Bob Dole appreciatively leering at the nymphet on TV while ostensibly calming his faithful dog (wink, wink) with “Easy, boy.” What is with Bob Dole anyway? Since losing the 1996 election, he is apparently getting rich off TV ads. So now he is raising huge amounts of money while enjoying the company of a dog and ogling women a fraction of his age. It’s as though, in some B-movie plot twist the trauma of losing to Bill Clinton has turned him into Bill Clinton. But I digress.

So the Academy Awards show this year, while going through the motions of providing excitement, was actually controlled, predictable and inevitable—not unlike a Britney Spears performance. The absence of Billy Crystal really made us realize how much those hilariously clever parody films and energetic song medley tributes to the best picture nominees he opened the show with really made the evening. But, in a way, Steve Martin’s sarcastic, jaded, too-hip-to-be-hip comedy persona may have been exactly right for the first Oscar show of the theater-chain-bankrupting, market-crashing, union-trouble-brewing, it’s-been-fun-but-now-the-party’s-over post-Clinton years.

Even my personal favorite feature, the tribute to prominent Academy members who had passed on during the year, seemed rushed and ungenerous. How did they manage to omit the likes of Ray Walston, Ann Sothern and Steve Allen, among many others? They must not have been Academy members. Or did they just get behind in paying their Academy dues?

Sure, there were a few authentically real moments. Winona Ryder actually seemed to need no cue card to introduce the dead-swan-sporting Bjork. The 85-year-old screenwriter of such classics as North by Northwest, The King and I and the original Sabrina, Ernest Lehman, generated a discernable stir in accepting his honorary Oscar by giving a moral boost to the Writers Guild of America’s battle against the studios. And Bob Dylan’s beamed-in performance could easily have been transmitted from an entirely different planet. But these moments were few and far between. Russell Crowe’s and Julia Roberts’s speeches were both spontaneous and heartfelt in a way that only intense preparation can accomplish. I mean, it’s not like Julia didn’t get plenty of practice thanking everybody. She’d already done it at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards.

So, the year 2001 was correctly prophesied, at least as far as the Hollywood movie industry is concerned. HAL the computer is driving the ship, and we’re just along for the ride. Sorry, Dave.

-S.L., 29 March 2001

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