Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Brief Oscar Backlash


Here's one writer who can stay on strike for good, as far as the Siren is concerned: the one who decided it would be a kick to mock Sunrise during the Oscars. It takes some kind of four-door, chrome-plated, 400-horsepower nerve to diss that movie for being soooo old-fashioned and simple ("the Woman from the City"! "sounds like a fun shoot!" tee-hee!) when it's visually and thematically more sophisticated than a whopping majority of last year's Hollywood output. And then they hand that crass joke to Cameron Diaz, no one's idea of Janet Gaynor Redux, right before she gives out the cinematography award. Hey, if you're honoring cinematography, Sunrise is a natural choice for a bit of ribbing. Just like if you're handing out the Nobel Peace Prize, you wanna warm up the crowd with some well-chosen Martin Luther King jokes. The Siren only now has managed to get up from bed and remove the ice-pack from her forehead.

Aside from that moment, which should live in infamy, the Siren has a radical thought.

The Oscar show is too short.

Yes, you heard me, too short. Too short and too goddamn slick. No wildly inappropriate speeches, no gasps, no boos, no one going off teleprompter. Just patter, Oscar, speech, orchestra play-off. The show has become as exciting as watching a line of limos pull up to a drive-through bank and getting the statue from a Marchesa-draped teller. Thank goodness for Jon Stewart bringing back the charming young woman from Once, and Tilda Swinton putting her thumb in the eye of fashion editors everywhere with that deconstructed, proudly asexual velvet dress, like a monk's robe that the brothers forgot to finish sewing after vespers.

But that wasn't enough, was it? It's just no fun anymore. Between seeing some of the most talented people in the industry given the bum's rush off the stage, and stylists who insist on dressing every starlet like AudreyGraceAva, the Siren is seriously wondering if next year she should just watch old Oscarcast clips on Youtube.

29 comments:

stennie said...

Hear hear! Gee whiz, if you're going to pick on past Oscar winners, make it something like Cavalcade. Not Murnau's beautiful, haunting, lush Sunrise, a film more people should see.

My other criticism to the Oscars was leaving poor Brad Renfro out of the "In Memoriam" clip. I'm not even a fan, but Hollywood chewed up and spit out the poor kid, the least they could do is remember him in passing.

Campaspe said...

Exactly. Or pick on The Broadway Melody, where they basically point the camera and shoot, making sure the whole chorus stays in frame. Due to the limitations of early talkies the technique is somewhat akin to the Siren shooting her twins' Christmas performance with her cellphone camera, trying to keep them both in the picture so she won't have to hear charges of favoritism when the darn thing is re-run at a Christmas twenty years from now.

I noticed poor Renfro's absence too! and Heath was a sad loss, but Bergman needed to close that montage. It's a natural choice, though; many people there worked with Ledger and he was painfully young.

Part of the problem with the montages in general in recent years is the dreadfully pedestrian taste of whoever is doing them. You could shut your eyes and predict most of it. They have such a huge archive, couldn't the guys surprise us a bit?

surlyh said...

Campaspe-- I believe a howl rose across the entirety of the film world when that attempt at a Sunrise joke was uttered. The fact that the joke was based on the film's premise of universality--the "Song Of Two Humans" is what galls. Now if they had made a joke about Murnau's cinematography, say... "That Murnau moves the camera like a long tail cat in a room full of rockin' chairs" Or... "There are more tricks turned in Sunrise than on Hollywood Boulevard."

Flickhead said...

I don't think it's anything to have a hissy-fit over...oops, my bad...now, repeat after me: "Sin-Na-Ma-Tog-Rah-Fer".

Peter said...

A paid professional blogging for msn.com wrote a snide comment about Swinton being the best dressed man on the red carpet. Between that and that piece you linked about Mary Astor, I feel very much like an odd man out in how female beauty is perceived. This has been one year where I don't feel like I missed much not watching the Oscars. The Oscar show writer with his "crack" about Sunrise is even dumber than the ignoramus who wrote that Infernal Affairs last year.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Sunrise is one of the most extraordinarily magnificently shot and optically processed movies I've ever seen. It. Is. Stunning. And it's story is completely universal in its telling. So not only am I in agreement with you about the joke but I get annoyed with the industry insiders themselves who have so little knowledge of the history of their own business that, in the case of Cameron Diaz, they don't say, "No, I'm not doing that joke." Ah well.

And there has never, ever been a better pig scene in a movie (and that includes movies about pigs). Chasing that dirty little pig around the fair while it swills up beer from the floor. Seriously, Murnau was some kind of deranged genious, the kind they don't make anymore.

By the way, I searched YouTube for "Siren's twins' Christmas performance" and couldn't find it. Surely it's online. I must see it.

P.S. I have four kids ranging from six to eighteen so I can tell you no matter how old they are the charges of favoritism will never go away. Resign to that now.

Steve said...

I missed the SUNRISE diss, but otherwise you captured my feelings about the show exactly. They seem to give the winners less time each year to deliver their speeches. Aren't the unscripted, unteleprompted moments the only ones everyone remembers from past Oscars? The current clock-punchers running the show seem to think that they're bigger stars than the people winning the statues.

surlyh said...

Well, I think the show should be short, but long enough for the winne--um, I mean accepters to say something personal, whether it be meaningful or ridiculous. But the endless lists of names of agents and acting coaches and babysitters is the most boring waste of time. I, for one, was grateful that there was less of that this year.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Surlyh - I completely agree about the lists. I haven't won too many awards (and no Oscars) but I know when listening to someone make an acceptance speech I want to know what it means to them, not the name of everyone they worked with. As Jim Emerson said recently, that's what trade ads in Variety are for.

Tonio Kruger said...

Preach it, sister.

Dissing the old does not necessarily increase respect for the new....

(And now, I suppose I need to find out if my favorite indy video store has a copy of "Sunrise." I should have checked that out a long time but...Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Besides, I've had other things on my mind this weekend apart from the Oscars.)

Glenn Kenny said...

It's not even a matter of dissing the old...I was so infuriated by the comment I couldn't even liveblog about it, as I most likely would have written something libelous, and my blog is under a corporate umbrella. It's actually not libelous, actually, to point out that whoever wrote such a joke is ignorant scum...and anybody who ever had the misfortune to have seen Diaz's travel show on MTV, wherein her buddy Fonzworth Bentley would, you know, mock Peruvian goat herders for the amusement of her and her entourage, know that she's...—oh, to hell with it—the same. One dearly hopes for her career descent to accelerate.

PS: Tonio: Get thee an all-region DVD player, followed by the Masters of Cinema disc of "Sunrise." YOu will not be sorry.

CathiefromCanada said...

Well, there's one thing about short acceptance speeches...at least nobody had time to thank their lawyer this year.

Flickhead said...

Maybe I missed something, but exactly when were the Oscars about quality and due respect?

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, the award eighty years ago to Sunrise is one of AMPAS's few instances of quality and due respect, so indeed I did have a hissy fit/cow/kittens/conniptions. :D

Flickhead said...

OK! OK! I'm sorry...

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Too bad the Césars (ie, the French awards) are not shown here, because if you want speeches that go off the rails, there's usually quite a few. Last year, Pascale Ferran read a rather long impassioned plea about (I summarize roughly) saving French auteur cinema. This year Mathieu Amalric complained because the speech he had given the host to read in case he won was censored; indeed Amalric won for Best Actor (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) but the host only read the grateful part of the speech, not the bit railing about multiplexes. Fun stuff.

Also the frocks, for those who follow these things, are also more interesting at the Césars, or at least less cookie-cutter.

Campaspe said...

Elisabeth, welcome. I haven't seen much from the Cesars but a few years back Sophie Marceau gave a speech at Cannes that was pretty hilarious, even if your French is as rocky as mine. It was one case where the orchestra play-off would have come in quite handy, or possibly even an old-fashioned hook. If I remember right Kristin Scott Thomas finally had to jump in or Marceau's free-form musings would have gone on all night.

Cinebeats said...

Thank you for summing up many of my own feelings about the Oscars Siren!

I couldn't even watch Diaz deliver the award for a category she couldn't pronounce correctly. I think I was uncorking a second bottle of wine around that time. Like many of Hollywoods current crop of popular actresses she gives me the creeps. Between all the lemon sucking that the actresses do and all the plastic surgery (I swear that 75% of Hollywood now share the same nose, ass and cheeks!) I can't tell half of them apart. They all dress the same too which doesn't help things.

The slickness is dull as dishwater! I want to see drunk actors shouting from the stage and jealous actresses cat fighting. These people are in and out of rehab all year long, forgetting to wear underwear and stealing each other's spouses on movie sets so why doesn't any of that transfer to the awards show? Even if I did though, I'm not sure I'd care all that much.

Karen said...

I discovered "Sunrise" after watching the great documentary "Visions of Light," in which "Sunrise" is pretty much the poster child for inspired, genius cinematography. At the time, it wasn't as easy to find obscure 80-year-old films as it is today, so it was on my list for a while before I got to it. It was so beautiful it took my breath away.

I'm not sure what the names of the characters have to do with cinematography, anyway, but hearing cracks like that from a woman who made her name being filmed with semen in her hair is a level of irony that fails to amuse.

Campaspe said...

Karen, I always thought Diaz had an enjoyably daffy sort of screen presence but apparently it isn't an act.

It did make me wonder how many people in the Kodak Theatre had seen Sunrise. PTA and the Coens, for sure; probably all the director and cinematographer nominees. In fact I am willing to bet a higher percentage of the "technical winners" whom supposedly no one wants to listen to have seen it than the faces in front of the camera. The producers ... hmm, would be interesting to know.

It makes me think of Altman's "The Player" which I loved for so many reasons. But the whole trope about "The Bicycle Thief" was my favorite part. On the one hand there are the cynical jokes about remaking it. On the other hand, there is the fact that Tim Robbins' greedy, hard-hearted producer sees it and this art film IS able to touch something way back in the dark walk-in closet of his soul. I think Altman believed a great movie could speak to all but the most brainless or soulless individuals. That belief is the most optimistic part of that very dark movie, and the Siren has always shared it.

so the question becomes, is there any way to get Diaz to watch the movie? :D

Karen said...

Well, Siren, perhaps we can tell Diaz it's the prequel to those Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy films.

But, as you rightly pointed out in your post, it's the writer who gave her that line to speak. How do we get THAT guy to watch the film? Surely the writers can acknowledge the power of the cinematographic art in a film like "Sunrise"?

Patrick said...

I think I agree with Peter above about Tilda. Anyway, I just had my own backlash when I discovered that Marion Cotillard, is, well, there's no other way to say it, an idiot. After tossing out the WTC conspiracy theories, she threw this one in for good measure (from the Telegraph) -

Turning to America’s space programme, she said: "Did a man really walk on the moon? I saw plenty of documentaries on it, and I really wondered. And in any case I don’t believe all they tell me, that’s for sure."

Campaspe said...

Patrick, I read that too and as a New Yorker and a person who prides herself on a capacity for critical thought I simply have no words. I'm married to a Frenchman and I assure you this is the first time I have encountered ANYONE who believes, as Cotillard evidently does, that New York landlords cope with outsize costs on office buildings by pancaking them. I still want to see her as Piaf and I won't avoid her movies if she continues to give good performances, but I do intend to avoid interviews with her in the future. Which isn't that hard. I've been doing it for YEARS with Bardot, as has most of France I think.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I'm French myself, and living in NY, and sadly I can confirm that there are quite a few people ready to believe wacky conspiracy theories about 9/11 in France--so much so that at least one book arguing that no plane crashed on the Pentagon was a bestseller there (L'effroyable imposture, by Thierry Meyssan). I'm bummed to see that Cotillard buys that claptrap; I myself interviewed her last year and she seemed to be pretty poised. Of course, neither the moon nor 9/11 came up in the conversation...

Campaspe said...

Ack. I must be fortunate in my circle of French acquaintances. What was also kind of hilarious is that today her spokesman seemed to be questioning why these remarks are coming up now (cue sinister music), thus accomplishing the nifty trick of propounding a conspiracy theory about why we're hearing about Cotillard's conspiracy theories. I suppose I could shrug and say "oh those wacky actors" but I respect actors and acting and I don't believe that, actually. There are a few actors I just don't want to hear from outside their performances, though, and Cotillard has now made the list.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Back to Sunrise for a second. I was reading an interview with Clotilde Hesme (a 28-year-old French actress who costarred in Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers and in Christophe Honoré's forthcoming Love Songs) and she talks about seeing Sunrise: "It's the most beautiful film in the world. It was a physical shock, I was shaking." See: There is hope. (She's a wonderful actress too.)

Campaspe said...

E., Sunday night I sat down to watch "Street Angel", which is considered the THIRD-best movie that Janet Gaynor made that year, another Borzage made to cash in on Seventh Heaven with as similar a plot as possible. And it knocked me sideways. I think my husband was pretty much in love with her by the end of the movie. And despite a print so bad you could weep the visual vocabulary is incredibly beautiful, poetic in a way that most movies just aren't anymore.

Phooey again on the smartass Oscar writer.

saintcat said...

Anybody seen Lucky Star?
It was restored to gossamer several years ago and was presented at the silent film festival in Pordedone Itlay, then went to Telluride, then was brought to Melnitz Hall at UCLA I saw it projected twice. slice of heaven, really. It's a Charles Ferrel Janet Gaynor melodrama directed by Brozage. I recommend it to you all.

Campaspe said...

It sounds wonderful. Borzage is VERY poorly represented on DVD; Dave Kehr has written about this but the situation continues. I have a whole laundry list of Borzages I am dying to see.