Out of the two religious themed films released this year, as in epic retelling of bible stories versus the feel good films also hitting theatres in 2014, Ridley Scott, with his epic tale of Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, is to be congratulated for having the moxie, or belief in his subject matter, to allow his biblical vision to actually mention the “big guy” or God. The film, which the English director dedicated to his late brother Tony, feels almost like a homage to David Lean, another English director, sort of a Lawrence of Arabia meets Moses of Canaan, if you will.
With all the usual hype and build-up to the 85th OscarAcademy Awards, I suddenly realised that, unlike the ceremonies that I watched growing up, I did not care at all about the upcoming event.
I used to love the Oscar ceremony. The Academy Awards with all its pomp and circumstance kept me glued to the telly for the entire show. I saw my first “streaker” on the Academy Awards and learned that David Niven really was that funny when he quipped, “Now that chap will only ever be known as the fellow who showed the world his shortcomings on national television.”
When I used to watch, Bob Hope was the eternal master of ceremonies and each year a wealth of jokes about his being passed over for the little golden man were trotted out for the audience’s enjoyment. There were some great moments in the “old days” of the show.
I saw John Wayne moved to tears when he got the nod for True Grit. I saw a very young Henry Winkler telling the world about how excited he was and how star-struck he felt. I watched Clint Eastwood forced to “stand-in” for Charlton Heston; fumbling along until Moses showed up and took over. I also watched Sally Fields exclaim (in a statement that has had the eternal mickey taken out of it ever since) “You like me, you really like me!”
I watched Sir Richard Attenborough give his thank you speech where he talked for what seemed like hours. I also saw the resultant microphone cut-off that the producers of the show introduced after his mammoth acceptance speech. I saw Elizabeth Taylor get flustered when the above mentioned streaker dashed across the stage (or should I say flashed) during her relay of that category’s nominees.
I used to go and get a snack and use the bathroom when the live Broadway show of the moment came on and the other live acts that turned the Awards ceremony into a “variety show” came on. But I loved the awarding of the lifetime achievement awards.
I loved everything about the show, even its awkward (if I chose to watch them) live acts; even when Bob Hope ceased to be the master of ceremonies and was replaced by, among others, Billy Crystal.
Then I got older and began to notice things that I’d missed before.
I realised that actors “got the gong” for films that just were not that great. Other actors never got nominated for outstanding performances or never won when they did get nominated. Films won best picture that were not the best picture by any means. Horror films, screwball comedies, science fiction and a few other film genres were never acknowledged by the Academy’s committee. Steven Spielberg had to make Schindlers List to finally get the bald golden chap.
Films with “a message” always beat out films that were just damned good entertainment. Your chances of nomination went up with how popular you were. But most obvious were the winners who should have won the year before for an outstanding performance, film, score, et al; who were then nominated for and won the year after for a performance that was nowhere near as impressive. Guilt awarding, I call it.
The other type of award was the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award (which as I said I used to love) these were usually handed out to someone who had been snubbed by the committee for the entire length of their career. Usually trotted hurriedly out when it appeared that the recipient was about to die or, if the timing was off, just after they had died.
I began to realise that the Oscars were not about merit or excellence. It was about egos and agents and publicity and managers who could splurge for the biggest campaigns for their clients. It was a popularity contest. If your peers liked you and, more importantly, liked your political stance you were almost a shoo in.
Liberals were the fair-haired children of the business and right-wing “hawks” were not. Unless you were NRA hawk Charlton ‘Chuck’ Heston whom Hollywood has always equated with God. After all Charlton played Moses for Christ’s sake, you can’t mess with Him.
I think the honest humour that used to be present in the ceremonies has disappeared. They all seem to take themselves entirely too seriously. Maybe it’s because the “funny men” have changed or stopped caring. When the actor Chills Wills took out an entire page in Variety to plead his cause for winning the Oscar the ad said:
“We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.” “Cousin Chill’s acting was great,” he wrote, signing, Your Alamo cousin.” Another ad read: “Win, lose, or draw. You’re still my cousins and I love you all.”
Admittedly a somewhat “tasteless” lapse of judgement on Wills’ part, but a damned funny response from Groucho; but the Oscars have grown up and become more cynical, more about the money and the highbrow idea that these people are more than just talented performers, they are royalty and way above mortal men.
When I became older and more cynical, I began to realize that, just as they don’t make actors like they used to, the business itself has changed. Oh not the money bit, it has always been about the money, but the overtly political overtones have become unwatchable.
The cut-off microphone isn’t the only control that has been placed on the show; they also limited the amount of time that acceptance speeches could last. The televised proceedings have been shortened to show what “they” deem important. Lesser categories (foreign films, documentaries, et al) are not shown at all, except in a quick “credit” recap at the end of the show…if you are lucky.
For me, the magic has gone from the event. They might as well change the name to Ego’s “R” Us. It is all about who has the biggest ego and pocket-book to match. It stopped being about talent and the virtue of a single outstanding shining moment, if indeed it ever was about that to begin with.
The laughter of the audience (filled with the crème de la crème of Hollywood) looks forced and the comedic “in-jokes” have lost their ability to be really funny. When the event becomes more about who has been chosen to be the master of ceremonies; or who is wearing what on the red carpet, and less about the films and actors who have been nominated, it’s time to stop watching.
I’ll just wait to read the list on the internet of who won and who didn’t. Because I don’t believe in the integrity of the award any longer and cannot be bothered to see egos catered to and the audience talked down to. I also don’t want to be overwhelmed by the Botox brigade of new surgically enhanced actors who believe that the secret to a great performance is having the least amount of facial movement possible and big boobs, or a six-pack.
If you watch the show, enjoy it if you can. I’ll probably be watching a film instead; preferably one with the Duke in it.