Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

An inconvenient time zone

First things first. I am happy to report that the rugby match between Ireland and England last Saturday went off without a hitch—at least as far as media reports had it. Not only was there no fuss when “God Save the Queen” was played, some Irish fans even applauded. Now, that’s class. Sinn Féin had its protest outside Croke Park, and I (and more than a few others) were concerned that it could get “hijacked” again by ruffians, as happened last year for a Unionist parade in Dublin. But from what I saw on telly, the protest consisted of a perfunctory group of about 30, looking like the dinosaurs they are.

From what I could see, before I turned tail and skedaddled out of Dublin Saturday morning, was that Irish and English rugby fans were united by something bigger than mere politics or history. They were united by alcohol. Every pub in Dublin’s party zone, known as Temple Bar, seemed to be festooned with Irish tricolors and English flags hanging side by side. Clearly, as far as publicans were concerned, it didn’t matter whether you were spending euros or pound sterling. It did my heart good to see that sight, although for some reason the English flag doesn’t seem to annoy the Irish that much—even though it is specifically the English, as opposed to other nations within the United Kingdom, that seem to rub some Irish the wrong way. I think it will be an awful long time, though, before we see the pubs flying the more familiar Union Jack of the British Empire.

It took the movie pages of The Irish Times to put things truly in perspective. If some Irish were conflicted about “God Save the Queen” being played in the republic’s national GAA stadium, it was ironically Her Majesty that held the best hope for the Irish winning an Oscar. Only two of the Academy Award nominees could claim to be Irish. Peter O’Toole was considered a long shot for the Best Actor statuette (odds that were, sadly, confirmed). But Consolata Boyle was considered a good bet for Best Costume Design for her work on The Queen. As it turned out, that Oscar went to Milena Canonero, her third, for Marie Antoinette. While Americans don’t tend to see the Academy Awards as an international competition (I have never heard any American commentator tally up how many Oscars have been won by Americans), other countries do. If the Irish were disappointed, the Brits seemed thrilled with Helen Mirren’s win for Best Actress. But more about the Oscars momentarily.

To complete my thread from last week, the fifth Jameson Dublin International Film Festival turned out, in the end, to be a virtual marriage seminar. Last week I recounted how the first films I saw were all about various levels of male irresponsibility vis-à-vis marriage: Venus (desertion), The Groomsmen (pre-wedding cold feet), Naked Lunch (negligent homicide). The next movie, The Painted Veil, was actually about wifely infidelity, but the plot mainly dealt with the husband’s efforts to punish his wife, including dragging her to the middle of cholera outbreak in rural China, in the apparent hope she would get sick and die. The next day didn’t get much better. Wim Wenders’s The American Friend tells the story of picture framer in Hamburg who drives his wife crazy by getting involved with a shady American. Sarah Polley’s Away from Her was mainly about a husband’s devotion to his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease, but it emerges that she didn’t have it easy living with him because he was more or less a serial philandered with his students at the university. Only Wenders’s Land of Plenty didn’t deal directly with a marriage and, specifically, what jerks husbands are. Maybe that was why I was so happy to see the Missus and the Munchkin arrive in the capital to spend a couple of days with me before returning home.

My last day at the fest was rich in terms of getting to see directors. It was basically Wim Wenders day, since I saw both his classic The American Friend and his 2004 film about 9/11, Land of Plenty. I didn’t know that Wenders was actually going to be there for the latter screening, so it was a welcome treat to see him in the flesh, white mane flowing. The bad news was that I had to leave early to run a mile to another cinema to catch Away from Her. But I was there long enough to hear him explain the genesis of the film. Wenders was living the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11 and seemed bothered by a phrase he heard used in those days, Axis of Weasels, to describe European allies who were not supportive of the invasion of Iraq. He said he had a tee-shirt made for himself that read “Proud to Be a Weasel.” As I was making my way out of the auditorium, the Irish interviewer was expressing confusion that Michelle Williams’s character was a politically liberal Christian, when everyone knows that all American Christians are right-wingers.

On the other hand, I had all the time I wanted after the screening of Away from Her to hear Sarah Polley’s chitchat. For those of us who still think of her as the spunky girl going off on all sorts of impossibly fantastical adventures in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, it takes a minute to adjust to the fact that she is now 28 years old and a longtime veteran in the film and television world. She was able to ask Julie Christie to be in her movie because they are buds. They both appeared in The Secret Life of Words. Her interviewer, who had clearly read the source short story by Alice Munro (“The Bear Came Over the Mountain”) very carefully, was intent of highlighting every deviation in the screenplay from the short story and having it explained. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit to come out of the chat was that Munro is very hard to communicate with, so it took ages to get permission to adapt the story. And she still hasn’t seen the movie.

After several long days and short nights at the film festival (as well as a nagging flu/cold that doesn’t want to let go, except for the next flu/cold), there was a serious question as to whether it was prudent to pull my usual all-nighter on Oscar night. At the end of the day, I mean, the end of the night, there was no way I could not. But something was different this year. In past years, my body always said to me, “At last! A major live event at the time it is supposed to be,” i.e. my body still recognized its native time zone. This time, my body seemed to be complaining, “Who has a major event at this time of the night?” In other words, I think my body has finally acclimated to this time zone. I still managed to hold out to 5:30 a.m., but let’s just say that when Melissa Etheridge finally came out to sing “I Need to Wake Up,” I felt as thought she was singing it just for me.

Has there ever been an Oscar telecast as predictable as this one? Not only did the overwhelming number of awards go to whom they were supposed to go to, but (and I know I complain about this every year, but still…) the powers that be have finally squeezed every ounce of spontaneity out of the proceedings. It was always awkward enough that something like 30 seconds after recipients began thanking their colleagues and family, they started getting drowned out by the orchestra. This time, the nominees were apparently admonished not to use written notes—perhaps on the theory that nominees spend the night before the ceremony writing lengthy speeches and will not merely ramble if they speak off the cuff. This situation did contribute to the best laugh of the evening when Guest of Honor Al Gore, in one of his numerous trips to the podium, pretended to begin announcing a presidential run—only to be “played off” by the orchestra. The only other somewhat audacious moment came when “Al Gore’s movie” (which is how An Inconvenient Truth is invariably referred to, something that bothers me, since it only emphasizes its infomercial nature; nobody ever referred to Fahrenheit 9/11 as “Bush’s movie”) was about to get the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. Presenter Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, for reasons that weren’t exactly clear, that The Shawshank Redemption was not nominated in that category and then added, “But these five depressing films are.” Seinfeld was just saying what we all know: that it is an unwritten rule that, to get awards, documentaries do have to be depressing. Ironically, despite its subject matter, An Inconvenient Truth is about as un-depressing as a documentary (this side of The Aristocrats anyway) can get.

Even when the Oscars are predictable, they can usually at least do good schmaltz. But not this year. The standard schmaltzy moments—the “in memoriam” segment and the special tributes—just felt flat. What should have been a real highlight, Ennio Morricone’s receiving his honorary award, was somewhat hobbled by Clint Eastwood’s apparent inability to read the teleprompter clearly and a miserly choice of musical clips. As for the host, Ellen DeGeneres was fine but a little low-key. I’m finally starting to miss Billy Crystal and his overly energetic musical numbers. And just to show how infectious this Irish nationalism stuff is, I found myself really getting annoyed during the little musical comedy number by Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. O’Reilly, when one of them referred to Peter O’Toole as English.

When I was debating whether to wreck myself more than I already was and stay up all night to watch this thing, I seriously considered just waiting for the abridged version that would be shown in primetime the next night. In that version, the four-hour telecast is winnowed down to roughly 100 minutes. If you watched the whole ceremony, you remember how it took forever to get the supporting actor awards? In the abridged version, they were the second and third awards. Watching that version would definitely be time efficient. But I think I have may have found another solution that is even more time efficient. Just before the live telecast began, Sky Movies showed three minutes of highlight clips from last year’s ceremony. Right now, that seems about right.

-S.L., 1 March 2007

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