Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How the Siren Jinxed the Oscars



Clearly, the Siren needs to get out of the Oscar Wishlist business. Because she could not have jinxed the ceremony more thoroughly if she'd sent Brian Grazer a link to Dan Kois.

The Siren's been watching this hoedown since she was a wisp of a thing, pleading with her sainted mother to let her stay up and watch in case somebody important--meaning someone OLD--showed up. And despite the fact that two nominated films were explicitly about film history, and the additional fact that a silent movie--a silent movie, my friends, has that really sunk in?--won, the Siren has never seen a show less indebted to any true sense of Hollywood history. It bordered on the perverse. No, fuck it; this crossed the border of perverse and entered the Crown Territory of Bloody-Minded on a permanent visa.

Part of the reason the Siren was MIA yesterday was that she had scheduled a physical bright and early, but the main reason was that this show just about broke her heart.

The Siren knew she was in trouble when the first "old movie" montage showed exactly one black-and-white movie--and it was Raging Bull. A fine film. If anybody had bothered to ask Mr. Scorsese, he might have told them about his movie's debt to
Body and Soul, to name only one, but evidently film history stretches to Midnight Cowboy and no further. The other bone thrown to anybody who's ever clicked over to TCM was an inexplicable Cirque de Soleil flying-trapeze act, which started with North by Northwest (a film that went unnominated in all major Oscar categories, by the by) and continued with the decision to screen a clip of the most famous Technicolor movie of all time in black and white…because Gone with the Wind is flippin' old, kids. There was some flapper-style hair around, but any silent clips aside from The Artist itself were so brief as to pass the Siren right on by, which in fairness could have happened, as she took some breaks and spent some quality time with her head in her hands.

The fine old Academy tradition of taking the easiest task in the show, which is to put together a montage of the Great Film People Who've Left Us, and royally screwing it up, is in no danger of being violated, it seems. This one was particularly ghastly. Bleached-out stills, because that's what we remember about movie artists, their ability to hold still, and because if you didn't show a literal reminder of the mists of time, people might not realize these folks are dead. And bad music; in this case, "What a Wonderful World," sung by someone who is Not Louis Armstrong.

And look, the Siren realizes it's mandatory to leave someone out. At this point she suspects it's the AMPAS equivalent of Al Hirschfeld's "Nina" or Jack Lemmon muttering "magic time." Snubbing Harry Morgan, who made more than 100 movies including at least a half-dozen permanent classics…that makes me mad. It also made goddess Kim Morgan mad; she took to Facebook to swat away remarks that Morgan was primarily a TV actor with, "Yeah, and so was Fred MacMurray." (Kim is in Paris with husband Guy Maddin, offering her acting presence and invaluable cinematic intelligence as he makes a project about lost films. You can watch the filming progress live, right here, and the Siren recommends doing that with all her heart. Might cheer us all up.)

No Oscar show is ever completely worthless, though. (Yes, the Siren means that.) In this case, the award of the Foreign Film Oscar to Asghar Farhadi's A Separation was the single most moving and wholly, perfectly correct decision of the evening. If you haven't seen this superb piece of filmmaking, get thee to an arthouse on the double. Needless to say the Siren was also pleased with every Oscar that went to Hugo, a movie she's convinced will live a long time, perhaps long enough to be too old to get mentioned on the Oscars.

But say what you will about The Artist (although the Siren is kind of hoping we already took care of that, to be honest), two of its winners showed some class. Michel Hazanavicius thanked Billy Wilder; the Siren wanted King Vidor, as she said, but Wilder will do nicely under the circs.

And Jean Dujardin thanked Douglas Fairbanks. The Siren doesn't care if you thought his performance was Virginia smokehouse on rye. This was a Frenchman in a roomful of Americans, the sole person up there thanking an artist of the old days who directly and substantially contributed to what got him the Oscar.



Small mercies and small mercis. Who knows, maybe next year, Angelina Jolie will remember to thank Joan Crawford, for helping her perfect THIS POSE.

47 comments:

Chris Edwards said...

Would it be uncharitable to point out how much healthier Crawford looked while striking that pose?

Train-wreck though last year's telecast was, at least it created some buzz. This year's show was just... I dunno what. Nothing comes to mind. Crystal put me and my Oscar party of munchie-eaters to sleep. His act was forced and old.

A Facebook friend of mine summed it up best: "Take my awards show, please!"

Someone Said said...

Hammer. Nail. Head.

Right down to the last photo.

joe said...

The choice of "What a Wonderful World" made me laugh, as in, what a wonderful world now that you're all dead? or what a wonderful world that you dead suckers can't enjoy anymore? Also, no Ruiz or Angelopoulos in the montage.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I watched the Oscars annually from the time that Lawrence of Arabia was crowned until Martin Scorsese was awarded for a remake of a Hong Kong thriller few Americans would bother seeing. I just don't care any more for the show or the awards.

As for the In Memoriam section, I finally saw the Youtube version. Where was Oscar winner John Barry? I also seem to be the one-person committee for Per Oscarsson.

The Siren didn't jinx the Oscars. They done it to themselves.

DanShaw,Nyack said...

Full agreement; especially that Hugo will live on. Took the wife and kids last week to see it, even my 13 year old son was not snarky and cynical about it - a very big and rare thing. He did think I was a total dork because the tears fell at the close-up of the projector, with the piece of film being threaded. I don't think he quite got how beautiful that was - that once upon a time, there was film, it got threaded, and projected, light shining through it, to create magic. Well - I hear young kids today are into vinyl records; maybe young kids a few generations from now will get how wonderful a piece of film with light shining through it can be.

Larry said...

I only watched pieces of the show, but didn't Michel Hazanavicius end his speech with "Thank you, Billy Wilder, Thank you Billy Wilder, Thank you, Billy Wilder?"

The Siren said...

Larry, yes, and I said he did? But Hazanavicius' film doesn't owe much to Wilder, as least not nearly as much as Dujardin owed to Fairbanks.

Sing said...

If I may add to your rant, I have been appalled for years now at the PRESENTERS, TV personalities in (mostly) pretty dresses at best, when there are still a few real movie stars out there. Still, I like to look on the bright side, and I adored the French ham and its homages.

Tinky

Trish said...

"What a Wonderful World" is not the best choice.

They could have made room for Harry Morgan in a number of ways: Cut the Bieber bit, cut a few George Clooney reaction shots, cut the Ferrell/Galifianiakis schtick, cut, cut, cut. If there was a mention of Wings on the broadcast, I missed it. I'm guessing that audience probably wondered "Who the f*ck is Douglas Fairbanks?"

Tony Dayoub said...

I liked nearly every movie awarded (we just got A SEPARATION here in Atlanta, so it's next on my list), but none thrilled me like TINKER TAILOR (Oldman was robbed) with the exception of TREE OF LIFE, PINA (both ignored) and HUGO (which I still think shouldn't have beat out TOL for cinematography... it's mostly CGI).

Still, despite the long running joke of how awful the Oscars are, this year is the first time I ever truly felt like I wouldn't be missing anything if I shut the TV off by 9pm.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

They also forgot James Farentino, who I think died at the same time as Ben Gazzara, from the telecast. He made more movies than Whitney Houston yet somehow he didn't make the In Memoriam section.

barrylane said...

There has been something wrong with The Oscars Show for some time. Probably goes to the crowd running The Academy. Whatever it is, soulless. I had been watching since the beginning of television broadcasts, say 1950-51. They lost me when Dorothy McGuire was snubbed, and the excuse made, the snub was intentional. What a bunch of assholes.

Arthur S. said...

What was moving to me was Thomas Langmann, thanking his père Claude Berri(director of THE TWO OF US), after winning the award for Best Picture.

Never did I think I'd see a Producer be more sincere on an Oscar stage than a director, Mr. Ham, Hazanavicius.

Vidor, a director who started the DGA(in his own house), and never won an Oscar, is apt. Because SHOW PEOPLE and THE PATSY are the definitive parodies/homages to silent cinema, and great silent films to boot. On an off-note, I saw THE ARTIST previous Friday and my mother saw it this morning. Mom tells me that she found the film vastly inferior to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN(which did not win any Oscars).

I also liked Meryl Streep's terrific self-deprecatory speech. I had a faint hope that the Oscars might award Terrence Malick instead of the other guy because it could have really done wonders for the film, as such undistributed in India and of course honouring a great body of work. Scorsese and Woody Allen don't need honours either.

That said, I liked MIDNIGHT IN PARIS winning Best Screenplay and liked even more, Woody Allen's non-participation of the Oscars.

Trish said...

And they forgot Peter Breck from Shock Corridor.

whereareyoufromoriginally? said...

omg that clip was hilarious!!

Shamus said...

A Separation really was a wonderful crowd-pleaser and I'm not surprised at its win (possibly, it deserved the Screenplay Award as well). In the screening I attended, the crowd cheered and bellowed itself hoarse on numerous occasions (including a few inopportune ones), and most of them even stayed on till the end of the credits, anxiously watching the couple in the movie who are anxiously waiting in the corridor. Inexplicable, considering that it is a depressing divorce drama about the scarcely tolerable life of women in a much-villified country in the middle-east.

And this was the same crowd that was so obnoxious during the screening of Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, I almost cried.

VP81955 said...

But Hazanavicius' film doesn't owe much to Wilder, as least not nearly as much as Dujardin owed to Fairbanks.

Couldn't at least one of those three "Billy Wilder"s have gone to Ernst Lubitsch, who at least actually directed silent films? (Wilder himself no doubt would agree.) And Dujardin's shout-out to Fairbanks' granddaughter Melissa Fairbanks -- who apparently sent him a letter, in French, congratulating him for the film and for capturing the spirit of a grandfather who died a few years before she was born -- was pure class.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood heaven, Anita Page and Dorothy Provine (Anita was the last living attendee of the initial Academy Awards, for crying out loud!) are among those similarly snubbed who are telling Harry Morgan, "Welcome to the club."

As for the winners, while I'm happy "The Artist" won the big award, it was good that both it and "Hugo" each won five. I appreciate it when the industry remembers where it came from, even if the Academy itself sometimes doesn't.

Vanwall said...

I liked Dujardin's personal salute to DF's granddaughter, that was class.

Re: "The Artist", even the short clip of Dujardin in a dirty white suit jumped out at me as a swipe, intended or not: Louise Brooks at the end of "Pandora's Box" wore her favorite outfit, deliberately ruined by Pabst to make her feel worse for the camera; that kind of vérité seems calculated now in too many ways.

The RIP was more like an RSVP, it was horrid. Beth Accomando in San Diego was wondering if Pam Grier's gun was in that 'fro, BTW - which was my exact same quirky thought.

You hit all the nails, and even drove 'em flush with a finishing hammer.

The Siren said...

VP, I can't psychoanalyze Hazanavicius except to say that the Billy Wilder shoutout, while welcome, puzzled me no end. He's never talked about Wilder as a direct influence on The Artist, to my knowledge; all I can think is that he got up there and started blurting out his favorite director, or at least the one who was foremost in his mind at the moment.

I do get tired of rapping the death montage every year, but Jesus Christ in a slit skirt, it really shouldn't be this dang hard. It would be easier to make excuses if TCM weren't showing up AMPAS every year like clockwork. It doesn't have to be perfect; I'm not always a fan of the ultra-emo music TCM uses, or the way the clips are framed or cut, and they leave people out too, I'm sure. But they do it RIGHT nonetheless by giving the segment the time it deserves (usually about 4 minutes) and not applying some kind of arbitrary hierarchy that nobody understands.

Like Trish said, you need some extra time to pay tribute, cut Justin Bieber. What the heck was he doing there?

VP81955 said...

Love the new header of Doug and Mary. Pickfair lives!

Yojimboen said...

I thought it was my TV, poor Billy Crystal was doing his level best to make me smile but I couldn’t hear a word of his funny (?) lyrics, the music was simply blasting too loud. I wrote it off, my giant screen is due for replacement, hey-ho. Then the phone rang: “What’s with that music?! Can you hear anything??”

Story short: Five different locations coast to coast couldn’t hear a word from Billy. Story shorter: Next day I spoke to my pal the studio musician who was there playing in the orchestra pit.

Most of the guys in the pit were getting frantic tweets from family and friends all through the show: “Play softer! Can’t hear singers!”

How long did they prep for this? Four months? Five? And on the big night it comes down to SOME FUCKING MORON in the Kodak Theater control booth (it wasn’t the Network, the commercials sounded fine) screwing up the broadcast mix levels and ruining my annual chance to throw things at the screen.

Then I remembered, Brian Grazer was in charge. And so it goes.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

agree with all of this, but for one thing: I don't want to come down too hard on the In Memoriam segment. Yes there were omissions as always, and perhaps the music could have been better chosen. But the worst thing about this segment over the years has been the applause contest the thing turns into within the Kodak. This year wasn't the first year a wise person with a line to the sound mixing board decided to prevent the home viewer from being able to hear how much (or how comparatively little) clapping is occurring for various departed souls, but any year this wisdom is continued deserves my appreciation.

Did the TCM tribute include George Kuchar? I didn't see it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm thinking Billy Wilder was named because of Sunset Boulevard, although the film could hardly be called a Valentine to silent movies.

Had someone been smarter, instead of a poorly chosen song, a suite of music composed by John Barry should have accompanied the In Memoriam segment as a way of saluting the Oscar winning composer.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually Sunset Boulevard IS a Valentine to silent movies, albeit the darkest one imaginable.

Norma may be deluded, but her delusions a imbued with grandeur making her end as tragic as that of grand opera. Every time I watch it I cannot help but think of Callas in Tosca

Yojimboen said...

@Peter N – You’re not alone, kind sir, I posted an obituary of Per Oscarsson on this blog on Feb 1st 2011 – in plenty of time for last year’s Oscars – but then as now, they apparently have never heard of Sweden’s best actor since Sjöström. (sorry, Max)

The Siren said...

Glenn Kenny and I were discussing Sunset Boulevard and the silents the other day, matra' fact. And John McElwee's terrific piece on it, in which he dissects the Waxworks scene and points out that not everybody in it was the heap of has-beens the movie insists they are, including Buster. Where I diverge from John is the fact that the wondrous clips from Queen Kelly do undermine Joe's casual contempt for the oldsters.

Arthur S. said...

It also has to be pointed out that the perverse melodramatic story of SUNSET BLVD. is very much in the vein of Stroheim, who like Wilder would link love, sex and money in all his great silent films. Hollywood being the logical intersecting point of these passions.

Wilder may have wanted to be Lubitsch, but he was more like Stroheim.

The thing about SUNSET BLVD is that at the very least it looks at silent film without nostalgia and sentiment. Which is to say, it takes its defeats seriously.

THE ARTIST doesn't. The other thing that should be pointed out that, this kind of thinking about silent cinema being dinosaurs or sadsack suggests that the majority of them couldn't have done well in sound. That's neither true nor fair. And certainly the number of artists who made the transition is greater than the ones who couldn't.

Kevin Deany said...

Peter N: I'm almost positive that John Barry was included in last year's In Memoriam montage. I remember thinking last year they should have had a Barry melody over the montage.

It seems like the Siren and I were channeling each other. I was thinking many of the same thoughts during the montages. The oldest movie clip was from "Midnight Cowboy" (1969) and the only black and white clip was "Raging Bull." Sheesh.

Like many readers of this site, I do miss the Special Achievement Oscars. It's very boring to hear nothing but acceptance speeches all night. Having a Special Achievement Oscar speech means it comes from the heart and can generate some real emotion.

I remember Barbara Stanwyck getting her Special Oscar, and she thanked the directors, writers, actors, crew members and everyone who made her career a success. And then the shout out to William Holden at the end...that's the kind of speech that makes for a memorable Oscar telecast.

And if the younger demographic can't relate to it, so what? They have the summer movie season to themselves, leave something for the rest of us.

Want to get people to watch? Announce you were having a tribute to the most successful franchise in film history, the Harry Potter series. Have as many of the cast members that they can round up appear.

2012 is the 50th anniversary of the cinematic 007. I bet people would tune in to see a Bond tribute, specially if they could get all six Bonds to appear on stage together. Maybe next year?

rudyfan1926 said...

"The thing about SUNSET BLVD is that at the very least it looks at silent film without nostalgia and sentiment." - Of course it did, Rex Ingram's favored cameraman John Seitz was the cinematographer. That man was a master!

I dunno, I take the Academy Awards show for what it is. Entertainment that can sometimes be painful. It's a Self-congratulatory pat on the back with generally lousy and unfunny patter. The patter was better in the days of old with Johnny Carson or Bob Hope doing the hosting duties.

The like or dislike of a film or performance is purely subjective to the Academy voters. I do not know too many people who agree with them and the list of better pictures that were not "Best Picture" is a long one.

Most fine filmakers and actors don't make films to win Oscars and 99% of the films made any given year are not even in the running.

After the SNAFU of last year, I thought this telecast was crisp, quick and an easy watch. Most entertaining show I'd seen in a long time. The patter fell flat with the various presenters and I thought the Wizard of Oz focus group was a complete miss, even with a great cast. Crystal came in to do the nostalgic and I still loved him for it.

Trish said...

Such a snooze of an Oscar show. Should have watched this instead:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWfSM_m40jo

Dave said...

I just want to provide a small antidote to the meh-titude expressed toward "The Artist" in these here quarters. I liked "Hugo" -- a lot -- but "The Artist" went straight to my heart, and those of virtually all the people to whom I've recommended it.

The Siren said...

Why thank you Dave. :)

I have such a love/hate thing with the Oscars but when I don't get my clips I get CRABBY...obviously.

Yojimboen said...

Heaven knows the “no-matter-what-you-do-it’s-gonna-be-tacky-and-you’re-gonna-piss-off-somebody” obit montage has been discussed in some detail in these pages; my own question of “if they applaud louder does that mean they’re happier he’s dead?” remains unanswered. (In another time and place Harry Cohn would’ve received a standing ovation.)

Well, someone appears to have been paying attention (or reading the Siren’s blog – hey, it could happen!), because here’s what went down on Sunday: During the commercial break an announcement was made from the stage requesting the audience to remain silent during the obit montage and hold all applause until the end. They did.
Sounds like a plan to me.

A further FYI: the girl who wasn’t Louis Armstrong was Esperanza Spalding; an odd choice, for while a decent singer, she is much more famous as possibly the greatest acoustic double-bass prodigy in the history of jazz.

Jeff Gee said...

This isn’t OT, because it concerns NEXT YEAR’S Oscar show: the first published reaction (not an official review) I’ve seen to Damsels in Distress.

Well, maybe it doesn’t concern next year’s Oscar show…

Trish said...

Further to Yojimboen's post on Esperanza Spaulding, some of you may also remember that she beat Justin Bieber and Drake in the "best new artist" category at last year's Grammys. Bieber's fans went ape-sh*t, and hacked her Wikipedia site, while the little monster encouraged the rampage via twitter...

DavidEhrenstein said...

I believe I made mention of it earleir but in case I didn't I have to say I utterly adored Damsels in Distress. It's Whit Stillman keep faith with his aesthetic while expanding upon it. Plus it ends with two dynamite musical numbers -- the first of which is a hommage to George Stevens as it recreates the "Things Are Looking Up" number from A Damsel in Distress with actresses who can dance a whole lot better than Joan Fontaine.

Dave Enkosky said...

Wow, I'm glad I missed the Oscars. And crap, how did they leave out Harry Morgan? That's absurd.

Jan said...

No one's mentioned my favorite humorous aspect of the evening (yes, there was one!). The "Wizard of Oz" skit with Eugene Levy, Katherine O'Hara, Willard Scott, and others, was funnier than anything Billy Crystal attempted. That was my first Oscars since the mid-80s, only because I had actually seen some of the movies this year, thanks to my film major son. :)

The SCTV moment brought back some wonderful memories, though not of film. I think that says something about the Oscars.

Noel Vera said...

"No Oscar show is ever completely worthless, though"

Say it ain't so, Siren!

Best moment for me was Cohen pouring pancake mix on Ryan Seacrest.

Otherwise--haven't seen the show in years; don't intend to.

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chubby rain said...

I was surprised that they left out Kevin Jarre in the In Memoriam section. He wrote Glory, among other films including Tombstone, produced The Mummy, and was a cineaste to his core, and died at a very young 50 or so. Leaving out Harry Morgan is appalling!

Yojimboen said...

Link to news item of discovery of long-lost Period Posters.

X. Trapnel said...

The posters are beautiful, but I'm trying to determine the philosophical (or philological) relation between the propositions "a challenge to women in love" and "John Boles."

Mary said...

Even if you don't like it, watch the show. That's where AMPAS gets all its funding.

cgeye said...

Husband? HUSBAND?

Though I'm always the last to know.... Congrats, Mrs. Maddin? Hmmm.... sometimes the world does make sense.

The Rush Blog said...

"That said, I liked MIDNIGHT IN PARIS winning Best Screenplay and liked even more, Woody Allen's non-participation of the Oscars."


Oh . . . my . . . God!! I know I didn't read this. "MIDNIGHT IN PARIS" won the Best Original Screenplay? Oh God! This is just too horrible to accept.