Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

A Lifetime at the Oscars

It is not my custom to view the Oscars, but love prevailed this year, with the understanding that I could opt out should my eyes glaze over. Over prior years, I had lost appetite for people passing out valentines to each other, and “winners” meaning perhaps the more deserving are by inference “losers.” But, hey, America demands a winner! If eleven o’clock on Sunday is our most sacred hour, the Oscars are “where ego and excess have a good name,” as some wag has eloquently said.

This time, I found myself staying with the Oscars because it was a departure from the same old, same old crashing bores of yesteryear. There were actually moving parts and a host diversely talented and not trying just to be humorous–a vast improvement from Bob Hope’s too-many and very unfunny one-liners. There were also some very good actors–another departure, considering we used to try to make them out of fashion models like Faye Dunaway, Ali MacGraw, Cybil Shepherd and Lauren Hutton.

I dispute not the importance of entertainment, but the need for it on a 24/7 basis means that life among a frightful number of us must totally suck. Thoreau said the mass of humanity have lives of quiet desperation–an observation made without benefit of TV and movies. My spouse has a full life away from film and screen but in childhood fell in love with Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Now we have a period guestroom devoted to furnishings a la Gone With the Wind; I call it our Shrine to Something that Never Happened. She thinks guests adore the privilege of sleeping therein; I suspect they inwardly freak out at the prospect.

The horror genre of film astounds me. Were someone to grab us from behind with a loud “boo,” we would scream to not EVER do that again, on threat of a harassment suit. But that evening might find us, armed with coke and popcorn, at a flick advertised as gory and unnerving. When The Exorcist came out to a chorus of acclaim, the critic Stanley Kaufmann said all it takes to really scare us is for someone to jump out of a closet; so why are we surprised that experts with millions of dollars at their disposal are able to work the worst on our souls?

Also, we are more tolerant of the screen than with real life. The slightest gaffes of family and co-workers we take to be signs of their dementia, but it’s okay that in Star Wars, Luke returns from the climactic last battle and calls Princess Leia, “Carrie,” (Fisher, the actress); that in Cleopatra, Liz Taylor, as the queen who died in 30 BC, processed through an arch that didn’t exist for another 300 years; and in Anatomy of a Murder, Lee Remick left a café in a skirt and was clad in slacks by the time she was outside.

Nor were there catty remarks when Julia Roberts, in Pretty Woman, undressed Richard Gere in a sequence where his tie and collar went from unbuttoned to buttoned to undone again in a matter of seconds–after all, it was about sex! But with scores of technicians, including gaffers, best boys and key grips (whoever they are), not to mention a freaking director, and all the money spent, you would think someone would catch the obvious. But heaven forfend I should spill my water glass during a job interview.

I once ventured unflattering remarks about Frank Sinatra and Joan Crawford and you would have thought I dissed the pope and Mother Theresa. A woman nearby almost punched me. Joseph Campbell noted that, though actors are not in the movie theater, they “arrive” there nonetheless, as if from another plane of existence, and we accept these large, mythic figures as models. TV however creates merely celebrities, who are less our models, and more our objects of gossip–because they are seen in the familiar confines of home and not in a special “temple” like the movie theater.

Would that we were wise as Linda Blair, only a ninth-grader when she was the possessed girl in Exorcist–grossly made-up, spewed tasteless obscenities, kicked a doctor where it hurt, attacked her movie mom, puked on priests and did ugly things with a crucifix. Asked how she could, she replied, “because I didn’t really believe the story.”

Keep that in mind between now and next year’s Oscars.

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