Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Kodak moments

Isn’t technology great? Not only was I able to sit in my living room in the west of Ireland and, thanks to the magic of satellite television, watch the Academy Awards in real time but I could also at the same time follow Twitter on my iPod Touch and see a flow of comments from people all over the world watching the same thing I was—and saying how bored they were.

Where is Ricky Gervais when you need him?

It’s a bit sad when the two lines I remember most from the evening involved an older man saying he wished he had lost 20 pounds and a young man saying he probably should have gotten a haircut.

In fairness, there were some good speeches. Like Randy Newman’s resigned acceptance of the fact that he would never be “good television.” Or David Seidler’s and Aaron Sorkin’s predictably well-written speeches. (They did, after all, win for writing.) Or Christian Bale’s fascinating performance in which he seemed to be in character for some new upcoming movie.

Every year it becomes increasingly clear that the Powers That Be who are in charge of this telecast are more and more determined to wring every last bit of life and wit out of the evening. After all, why else would they select James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host? I have nothing against the two of them. They were sufficiently poised and adequate to the task. More importantly, they were young and attractive. But in the course of the evening, an interesting dynamic emerged. Franco was uber-cool and unflappable and didn’t really have that much too say. Hathaway, on the other hand, was bubbly and energetic and enthusiastic and gushed over everything. The traditional opening video in which they were inserted into several of the year’s most prominent movies (as well as Back to the Future!) was entertaining enough. But Hathaway’s song later on was downright strange. One got ahead of her and assumed that Hugh Jackman (who was a pretty darn good host, come to think of it) was going to jump up from the audience and join her. Or that the number would end with backup singers and dancers in some grand Oscar-style production. But no, her little song just came and went without making much of an impression.

If you need proof that the Powers That Be are trying to drain all life out of the telecast, I have it. An abridged version of the telecast is always provided for those markets which don’t pony up for the full, real-time version or which want a show of a more manageable length for local prime time viewing. The “boring” bits are cut out of that version to make things move along faster. And it was interesting to see what bits got cut. Screen legend Kirk Douglas’s rambling discourse became magically concise and to the point. All those false starts when he was about to announce the Best Supporting Actress award (and didn’t) were gone. More to the point, when the winner of that award, Melissa, made her speech, her F-bomb was magically gone. I have to say that the editing was first-rate. There was no indication that anything had been cut, although a reference to the f-aux pas later on did avoid being cut. That’s the way the whole abridged version went. All those interesting moments that kept things from being too boring were gone. Someday, I’m convinced, the Powers That Be will figure out how to do that in the real-time version as well.

I have to say that there was one sort-of improvement over the previous telecast. They didn’t do the insipid, gushing praise-fest of the two main acting categories by having five actors each deliver a flowery tribute to each of the nominees. This time around, the lone presenter (Jeff Bridges for Best Lead Actress and Sandra Bullock for Best Lead Actor) had to perform this chore for all the nominees. It was slightly less cringe-worthy than the other way, but it was still kind of squirm-inducing. Are these people’s egos not big enough already? I’m just asking.

The inclusion of Billy Crystal (and the relieved applause that greeted him) and even the late Bob Hope(!) only served to remind one that maybe hosting these things really is a comedian’s job. Dennis Miller, on his radio show, had an interesting suggestion for the people who decide these things. He strongly recommended they get Martin Short next year. Definitely something to think about, Powers That Be.

But enough about the quality of the telecast. What about the awards themselves? As I wrote on my score sheet, in keeping with the general tone of the evening, the winners were pretty darn predictable. I mean, it was all so expected that Tom Hooper getting Best Director actually qualified as some sort of surprise. I was surprised all right, but not exactly shocked. Certainly not as shocked as when Christopher Nolan failed to get nominated in the category.

But then what can you expect from an industry that routinely tells you every plot point of a movie, from beginning to the end, in a trailer that you innocently happen to see while waiting for another movie to get started? That routinely gives you the same movies over and over but tries to convince you that they are different by putting a II or III or IV at the end of the title? This is not a business that is all about surprise.

This year there were not even any of the customary cheap political points by winners using their acceptance speech to promote some cause. With one possible exception. In accepting the award for Best Documentary Feature, for Inside Job, Charles Ferguson made a point of mentioning that “not a single financial executive has gone to jail” since the financial crisis three years ago.

Pal, if greed by itself were a prosecutable crime, neither you and or anyone else (including the artists who work for the pure love of the art) would have been at the Kodak Theatre that night.

Rio McDonald (1921-2011)

As longtime attentive readers know, in my youth I had a (perhaps) strange habit of mixing up similarly named but otherwise dissimilar actors. You know, Jane Wyatt and Jane Wyman. Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn. Another pair were Rosalind Russell and Jane Russell.

For the record, Rosalind Russell was a sparkling stage and screen actor from Connecticut, who died in 1976 and who, in her four-decade movie career, was known for roles in films like His Girl Friday and Auntie Mame. Jane Russell, on the other hand, was 14 years younger and from Minnesota and had a briefer and, at times, more notorious career. Discovered by Howard Hughes, she got a huge amount of attention for her then-scandalous debut as Sheriff Pat Garrett’s girlfriend Rio in the 1943 movie The Outlaw (one of two movies for which Hughes was credited as a director). She had a fairly good film career through the 1950s and displayed a distinct talent for comedy and for singing. She appeared in The Paleface (singing the Oscar-winning song “Buttons and Bows” with Bob Hope) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and their respective follow-ups, Son of Paleface and Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. But for many of us, our main memory of her will be for a series of TV commercials for Playtex bras for “full-figured gals.”

Leave it to the Irish media to find a local angle in reporting her passing. Due to a botched abortion, Russell was unable to have children and in 1951 publicly expressed a desire to adopt an Irish baby. While in London the following year, she was contacted by an Irish couple living there and offered their 15-month child so that he could have a better life. Russell and her first husband Bob Waterfield adopted Thomas (they also had two other adopted children) and he grew up to, among other things, be a member of the band Toucan Eddy.

While many women who have had Russell’s unfortunate experience with abortion would cite that as a reason that the procedure should be legal and perhaps even subsidized, Russell’s reaction was the opposite. Despite the air of scandal and prurience attached to her early career, Russell was quite religious and she was a lifelong fierce opponent of abortion and promoter of adoption.

-S.L., 3 March 2011

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