Monday, February 27, 2012

The Year Oscar Begged For Help

The Kodak Theatre, before.
I mentioned earlier that if The Artist won best picture it would be an indication that Hollywood has fallen into terminal narcissism and given up on caring about the outside world. I was wrong: it was an indication of something far more alarming.

Indeed, it's too pat to suggest that the Oscar telecast was more narcissistic than usual. Narcissism is the lifeblood of the awards telecast: it's what kept the lights on in the "'Your Name Here' Theater" (Billy Crystal's reference to Chapter 11 Kodak), suspended the Cirque du Soliel acrobats up in the air, paid for the overstuffed goodie bags in the pre-awards luxury lounge. I misspoke here: goodie bags are over-- not very image-friendly in these class-divided, tough times. Now there are discreet "gift suites" set up in key hotels in Hollywood, full of amazing stuff nominees and celebrities can get their hands on-- no charge, free, gratis, thank you for being you. So if you're gonna be in Zanzibar the next few months, say hi to Adrien Brody, who was given a $35,000 resort vacation there at a gift suite. He was neither a presenter nor nominee. So when they say "it's an honor just to be nominated," this is what they're talking about.

It may have seemed to some like a boring, remarkably short Oscars (shortest in 30 years!) but you didn't have to look very hard to see a complete and articulate subliminal message, repeated over and over the entire evening. No courting kids, no young hosts (were James Franco and Anne Hathaway even there?), no Facebook or Twitter or mention of YouTube or anything like that: just a basic, existential subtext:
Gee, what's been covered up?

"Get off your butt and go see a movie!"

The big winners: The Artist and Hugo celebrated the nascent days of the film industry, the invention of film language and the advent of sound in the glamorous days of the silents. "See how amazing and historical movies are? Impressed? So get off your butt and go see a movie!"

Cirque du Soliel did an entire acrobatic dance dedicated to the experience of getting off one's butt and going to see a movie.

That weird montage of older movies near the beginning-- all of which are much, much better than anything nominated this year: "remember these? Now, get off your butt and go see a movie!"

Tom Sherak, head of the AMPAS, made a short and dull statement. Guess what it was?

Even Angelina Jolie's mile-long leg had a freighted meaning. She wasn't just showing off her gam: Jolie is Hollywood glamor personified, and that winking leg flashed a semaphore to a vast movie-going audience: "Want to see more? Then get off your butt and go see a movie!" (J-Lo's semi-exposed areola may have also had something to say to this area, but not quite as convincingly.)

The motion picture industry is in trouble. box office is down, attention-getting films are more expensive to produce, profit margins and therefore production slates are slimming. It may not be apparent when watching the Oscars, but Hollywood has a lot of experience in image management. There was a shocking column by a screenwriter in the New York Times last week which outlined how dire things are getting for those in the middle and lower rungs of Hollywood-- foreclosures, bankruptcies, careers evaporating as production gets cut back or exported.

Which leads back that unified, existential cry for help, which ran under the proceedings like the recurring audio feedback that plagued the whole show. And it's hard to ignore the fact that everyone was gathered in the Kodak Theatre-- the bankrupt former pillar of The Industry, victim to the digital technology which is gnawing at every level of Hollywood, from mighty L.A. basin studio to tiny Valley adult-film shingle.

Okay, that 's a bit apocalyptic-- It was still a very amusing, glamorous night. I got to watch it at an Oscar pool party thrown in a loft apartment in downtown San Francisco, with big wraparound views of the city and the bay. Amazing. There were about two dozen folks there, all charming and nice. I got to show off a little screenwriter wisdom, such as the difference in "&" and "and" in screenwriting credits. Somebody else won with something like 17 correct picks. I have never, ever won an Oscar pool.


  1. I picked 9 winners; but I had a couple of lucky documentary and foreign categories where I was just going with the most appealing title.

  2. Got 11 right; Eileen got 12. Nailed long doc, aninated and animated short, which let me crack ten, at least. The winner bet heavily on HUGO and therefore cleaned up. There was $55 in the kitty ($5 bet): what was yours?