From Oscar With Love

2.28.2013

By Jerry Portwood

Comedy writer and author Mark O’Connell casts a golden eye over Hollywood (and James Bond’s) golden night.

Ah, the Oscars. Where else do we get such introductory gems as “an actress that brings a kernel of truth to every role” to “the incomparable actor” and his“unfathomable honesty” and the “the unstoppable journey of life” we are all on? Where else do we see Hollywood’s A-list talents’ best performances as they smirk, clap, and generally pretend to get any of the gags about the Jews and the gays? Where else are the seat-fillers now more familiar than those they are replacing? But “the kernel of truth”with the 2013 Oscars was they were possibly the gayest (and longest) “unstoppable journey” for quite a while. And in Oscar’s own glittering 85 year old journey that is saying something.

The Oscars telecast is like a bespoke cupcake. Gorgeous and enticing in every bakery window or highway billboard beforehand, the best bit is kicking off with the pink icing—where every new host and their opening number make great strides to bring montage irony and cameo-ladened satire to the party with the end result being the tightest moment of the night not involving the string holding down Kristen Stewart’s smile. How on earth was the first Academy Awards luncheon a sprightly 20 minutes?! Now the Technician’s Luncheon segment alone feels like twenty minutes—with “resting” Supporting Actress winners of old beckoning us all to play Guess Who’s Coming To Luncheon. Next year my money is on a newly introduced Seat Fillers Luncheon in the newly coined Mira Sorvino Clubhouse.

But once that pink icing is gone, you are left with the annual realisation that the Oscars telecast cupcake is a bit dry and bland inside – which is why the gays tend to drink through it to numb the pain; as well as bitch at whomever is fortunate enough to sit next to Eddie Redmayne, Henry Cavill, and Channing Tatum.

Maybe if we stop making the same running-time gags Johnny Carson did in the 1970s (and Bob Hope before that), the actual running time won’t be a problem? Oscars telecast spends an age trying to sex up the arguably less interesting categories such as Best Sound and Best Hair and Make Up Not In The English Language (which Salma Hayek clearly won this year); and usually does so with some awkward routine involving whichever couple have a summer tentpole release out.

But the end result is the now traditional clock-panicking race through the Best Actor, Actress, and Picture as if Hollywood’s biggest AGM has to be out the community hall before the janitor (or Goldie Hawn) goes home. Quentin Tarantino taking his time to thank folk for his deserved Original Screenplay gong for Django Unchained is not a televisual crime akin to Janet Jackson adding her nipple to the In Memorium section. The director/producer of the Best Picture should not feel he has to race through his speech because we had a lengthy sketch two hours earlier involving Sally Field and The Flying Nun. And nothing screams “2013” more than a Flying Nun gag, eh, where you could almost hear the world’s 16-to-24-year-olds reaching for their “Who’s Sally Field?” apps. Well kids, Field was an actress the Academy once liked, they really liked. And the show could possibly shave off a good hour if the green room was not evidently in Pasadena, ensuring all presenters strut those two and a half miles from the back of the stage as the camera swings around them like Errol Flynn at the 1938 Oscars.

But wait. Am I missing the point? Despite all this pink icing, behind the Oscars telecast is an industry that needs to promote, nurture and thank itself. Like any industry, it needs to set its benchmarks and remind the cash-spending public it exists. The Oscars telecast is nothing if not a four-hour trade show for cinema.

In Europe, TV audiences have their own Oscars telecast marathon. It is called the Eurovision Song Contest—where the gays and the non-gays (who just don’t know it is all very gay) sit for what feels like five and a half days watching the musical equivalent of a terrorist attack on a cupcake factory. The old “it’s so bad, it’s good” mantra barely applies anymore. Yet we all sit with our score sheets, pens and diminishing dignity year in, year out. But do you know what? Isn’t it nice just to watch a show like the Oscars where we are not asked to phone in or vote (curiously, the world can probably thank Eurovision of the 1960s for creating that reality-show kernel of "participation"). Isn’t it nice to have to watch a show that one night live on television rather than on a phone three days later on the work commute as everyone around you immerses themselves in season catch-ups of Game of Thrones?

But do you know what? Eurovision is already on my calendar. And the Oscars were too. In a television world of fragmented schedules the certainty of that five and a half day telecast marathon is sort of comforting. Besides, where else are we going to get Catherine Zeta Gekko donning the old Louise Brooks fright-wig in a musical tribute to what was either Chicago or A Cry in The Dark. But did we really need a tenth year anniversary nod to Rob Marshall’s Chicago? San Francisco’s Castro Theater would do that with less budget and more fun.

This year’s Oscar musical tributes were so gloriously shoe-horned and ever so random it felt like Christian Bale could hoof in at any moment with a special commemoration of Newsies. And nothing says up the revolution and save the poor more than the millionaire cast of Les Miserables singing in their Vuitton and tuxedos in the Dorothy Gale Pavilion. Pity no-one told poor Helena Bonham Bit-Parter she was onstage in two minutes as she stumbled out, clearly having been dragged backwards out of Tim Burton’s consciousness. Again.

But whereas the subject matter likes of Lincoln, Dark Zero Thirty, Life of Pi and Django Unchained are not the campest films, the chief awards show that honors them certainly was. As if underscoring every point of procedure with Forrest Gump, Out Of Africa and 19 renditions of Hooray For Hollywood is not textbook gay enough, this year’s Oscars morphed even more into its gay cousin, the Emmys—with openly gay Broadway stalwarts Craig Zadan and Neil Meron on telecast producing duties and the clearly Broadway savvy Seth McFarlane in the host’s seat (until of course time is too tight for those “kernels of truth” and a faceless announcer just throws the presenters on with scant introduction).

Is this particular gayness at the Oscars actually grossly patronising to the gay (and straight audiences) watching? Is this year’s show—like most Oscar nights—a curious bit of gay for the straights that sort of falls inbetween either camp. In a year when a President of the United States discusses gay marriage and equality rights in his inauguration might the Academy have been wiser, braver and even cooler had they taken a step out to honour all the LGBT roles that have won Oscars over the years: Philadelphia, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Boys Don’t Cry, Silkwood, Capote, Milk andDog Day Afternoon. OK, having The Muppets bob up and down with a tribute to the songs of Philadelphia ain’t going to work. Yet how detrimental would it really be to the Oscars and its all important TV pageant if a bit more honesty about Hollywood’s gay influence was popped in place? Race, disabilities and women have all had their montage moment in recent times. Why not LGBT subjects?

The Oscars are a curious mix of identities. It’s a Broadway revue show stuck in a TV closet. The show is not entirely sure what it wants to be, let alone who it wants to include. Forever harping back to the Golden Age of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood (with its set designs, fonts, ballgowns and swinging chandeliers), the show is also wanting to relive its ratings glory days of the 1960s and 1970s (with its irreverence, Carson self-mockery and use of Jack Nicholson).

So what was the best, most deserved win of the night? Well, as a self-confessed and self-penned Bond fan, it was an utter thrill to see Adele and Paul Epworth bag the Best Song award for Skyfall. Les Miserables's Suddenly ultimately didn’t quite cut the French mustard in a category that is usually dominated by Glee-friendly Dreamworks songs called Suddenly orBe Mine or Evermore or—better still—Suddenly Be Mine Evermore. Les Miserables’s keen attempts to get a song gong may just have been superseded by the fact that after 50 years the very franchise that has single-handedly preserved the old school gesture of a signature song (something Hollywood once did all the time) has never actually won one. Cue this Bond’s fans highlight of the 85th Academy Awards.

When Dame Shirley Bassey sashayed out at the tail end of a slick 007 montage, I could see my 14-year-old Oscar-watching self peering through the glass at my flat-screen with beguiled delight (and possible slight confusion that Jack Nicholson is still reading out the Best Picture winners). Bond, Bond music, Shirley Bassey, the Oscars and those Errol Flynn camera sweeps all briefly combined into something special, glamorous and relevant – unlike those tributes to Chicago or The Flying Nun.

Bassey and Adele were not just highlights because of Bond. They were highlights because they owned the stage with poise and relevance. With her sparkly beatnik gown and cut-crystal vocals Adele was a welcome (albeit briefly nervous) breath of fresh air. Amidst the concerted attempts by show producers to revere old-school musicals and movie song-making, in came Ms. Adkins and wiped away any thoughts of "tribute" with a solid contemporary song that has lived beyond its film as the movie song standards of old Hollywood once did. There was something very Barbra Streisand at the 1970s Oscars about Adele’s inclusion this year. Which was most confusing when proceedings clipped 9 on the gay Richter scale as Streisand and her soft lighting glided out to sing The Way We Were in understandable tribute to the late songsmith Marvin Hamlisch. Though in a Bond-skewed year perhaps Carly Simon doing Nobody Does It Better would have been marginally more apt. But admittedly nowhere near as gay.

I could be biased, but when that Bond montage unfurled with frenetic aplomb suddenly the Oscars telecast woke up. It was contemporary all over again. For a brief moment it was not trying to ape the glory years of Bob Hope numbers with Rat Pack jazz hands and gags about Clooney the yesteryear hosts threw at Dean Martin fifty years ago. This was the Oscars celebrating a series of films that underline the very reason folk go to movie theaters. And there was not an Oscar-bating Holocaust, wheelchair, ill-fated CIA operation or Civil War in sight. The James Bond movies simply do not have “For Your Consideration” pretensions seeping through their DNA.

In a world where these things really matter (usually on the last Sunday of every February circa downtown LA), it would be a travesty that movie composer John Barry or Shirley Bassey never got an Oscar for their Bond efforts. It is wrong that designer Ken Adam did not win for his volcanic work on You Only Live Twice. And why did A View to a Kill did not beat Out of Africa at the 1986 awards?! Because Meryl Streep was replaced by Tanya Roberts over an accent wrangle, that’s why (possibly). When Bassey beamed with pride as that final note of Goldfinger was the only one she had left to give, the audience got to their feet with a genuine Double O-vation. It was not just film geek Tarantino that had all his guilty-pleasure dreams fulfilled (which is seeing Bassey sing Goldfinger live, trust me), it was the Witherspoons and the Jackmans, the Therons and the Day-Lewises smiling at the films and cinematic verve that made their younger selves want to be in this fickle cupcake industry one day. In a ceremony and institution which rewards artifice, it was an authentic moment of audience pride in a 50-year-old franchise which underpins the very tenets of movie making and watching. And that was only reinforced when Adele subsequently nabbed Skyfall’s second Oscar of the night to add to her 129 justified Grammys.

So who would have thought – the most masculine, manly element in a very gay and flouncy Oscars show was not Russell Crowe, Jeremy Renner, or Anne Hathaway’s new bob. It was James Bond 007, flanked admirably by Shirley Bassey and Adele. And unlike the Oscars, James Bond is no cupcake.

Mark O’Connell is the author of Catching Bullets –Memoirs of a Bond Fan (with a prelude by Bond producer Barbara Broccoli) available now from all book/e-book stockists and www.splendidbooks.co.uk

Mark O’Connell can be found on Twitter and www.markoconnell.co.uk

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