The Whispers of the Gods: Oscars 2012
Frantically we went thumbing through “On Demand” in order to catch up with the Oscar nominated films we’d missed. It was uncanny how many there were! Where was I, I wondered, when George Clooney and The Descendants was playing in the theater? I must have been in the same place I went to in 2010 when that Annette Bening picture was playing—i.e., hiding from what I saw on the trailer for each. In The Descendants trailer, I got right away that Clooney’s wife is in a coma—sort of like the Solaris remake!—and instantly I knew that she would turn out to have cheated on him in some way while she still had at least one of her motor functions. The critics raved about how schlubby and plain Clooney had become to play the part—the Charlize Theron formula for acting greatness. I didn’t see it in the trailer, he still looked compellingly handsome and studlike to me, and yet I resisted, thinking to myself, doesn’t this plot sound exactly like Random Hearts, the Sydney Pollack film in which Harrison Ford found out that his wife was sleeping with the husband of Kristin Scott Thomas, when both cheaters die in a plane crash, leaving the survivors to drown their grief and rage in l’amour? The Descendants is apparently laid in Hawaii for some reason, but after the double blow of 50 First Dates (2004) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), I have been loath to go back there. So maybe that’s why I missed it, or it might have been that, after the inane wine country tour of Sideways, I took note of the name “Alexander Payne,” and had it tattooed on my penis bone, an organ I check every time I approach a movie theater just in case I’m tempted to ignore the lessons of history.
We saw The Tree of Life and it was definitely a split decision. I enjoyed the opening for the big bang theory, the clap of orange fire like a giant vagina at the center of the world and the loud music, music so loud you could barely make out Jessica “Religious” Chastain murmur out to God, where are you, why have I lost you, I implore you, help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive. It all reminded me of when I was a kid with a BB gun prowling the humid backwoods of Smithtown, Long Island, looking for other kids to shoot. It opened me up to death, to life, to my father. But in our household not all were as accepting of the work as I, not by a long shot! That story will be told another day, when we are all gathered on a beach together about to cross the bridge with more actors than were actually in the picture, which makes sense, doesn’t it? You know how some movies come with fanmade FAQ sites? I remember not understanding a frame of Twelve Monkeys, and then finding a FAQ for it which was like a light going on over my head. And Fight Club. And they’re all with Brad Pitt, the enigmatic Derrida of the movies.
We gathered together a small party and three pizzas (one of them was the chicken pizza from Extreme, they call it “Poultry-Geist,” groan, but very appropriate for we were all about to get sucked in by the TV just like that poor little girl.) We began to watch Billy Crystal, sort of glad to see him back. He told some good stories, though I began to wonder if I need a Billy Crystal FAQ when he had the camera pan down the front row of stars and told us he was going to read their minds and tell us what each was thinking. When he got up to Angelina Jolie, “she” reportedly was thinking, “Billy-gelina, I like the sound of that.” Well, I did a double take wondering if Angelina really misses the days of when she used to be married to Billy Bob Thornton. But for Billy Crystal, he was laughing at me, for totally missing his point. It wasn’t enough to use the term “Billy-gelina” once, no, he went back to it a second time, as if to say to me personally, Kevin, I was referring to myself. (I suppose in show business there’s only room for one of each, in one’s own mind, so when Jennifer Lopez walks into a room, Jennifer Aniston doesn’t even see her.)
The Oscars went to the people I thought might get it, though in the end, I was not happy about Octavia Spencer winning, and I thought Viola Davis might win, and I was sorry she didn’t. For The Help was one of the movies I let a bad conscience talk me into seeing. But yes, Viola Davis was robbed! For my still jelling thoughts on The Help you will have to turn to my forthcoming volume, Selected Amazon Reviews, Volume Three, by “Anonymous.” And until I produce not one, not two, but a dozen maids of my own, my New York based editor, Mary Steenburgen, won’t print a word of it. San Francisco must be filled with young people anxious to make $85 a month for helping a bohemian couple with three cats carry on with the mess in their lives? Send resumes to me on the downlow, but I’m getting pretty desperate as I survey our apartment this morning, so don’t be slow. I’m in that rare moment of post Oscar fright when everything looks a little bit too hard to handle—I’m fragile, like Faye Dunaway.
Though when Meryl Streep came on and gave that speech I did cry a little bit, and Oscar tears are getting rarer and rarer as time goes by and my post as Fanzine’s Oscar wrapper upper grows less secure—am I bitter? (Helpless little laugh.) Oh not much! I was bitter when the documentary “God is the Bigger Elvis” did not win the best short documentary award, for that would have brought us back Reverend Mother Dolores Hart to the Oscar stage. Most of you are too young to remember Dolores Hart, but if you were a gay boy in the 1960s you will remember the inane Florida mindwash of Where the Boys Are, in which four young Northern girls come to Fort Lauderdale for spring break to forget about midterms and think about s-e-x. They were a strange ensemble of talents, Yvette Mimieux—like a pale, washed out and childlike Brigitte Bardot; Connie Francis, the loudest pop singer in history; Paula Prentiss, wryer than a mouthful of pickle chips, and Dolores Hart, maybe the only normal star in the bunch and the nominal leading lady of the movie. Dolores Hart made, I don’t know, ten or twelve pictures for MGM, dated Elvis and Steve McQueen, but finally stepped away from Hollywood and went and joined a convent. The documentary pries behind the ivied convent walls and reveals that Reverend Mother Dolores Hart is still a star! You could see that, habit and all, as she strolled down the red carpet into the auditorium. People could barely believe she’s alive. I myself fainted; and when I came to, Angelina Jolie was standing onstage, black dress slit all the way up to her waist, one leg sticking out like the buttress to a Gothic cathedral, or so I learned in architectural school. Was she announcing the names of the winners of something? I scanned the plasma flat screen. Mother Dolores Hart was nowhere in sight. From our party guests I found out her movie had lost but hopefully the exposure will lead her to reconsider her Thomas Pynchon-like decision to disappear, and perhaps she’ll start thinking about return to mass entertainment on a regular basis. Perhaps in a scripted series like Touched by an Angel. Are you listening, Hollywood?
OK, then it was time for In Memoriam, the part of the Oscars people sigh about. Those who have been offended in the past by applause after each name—sometimes none for agents, managers, producers—must have been relieved this year that Esperanza Spalding, in towering Kathleen Cleaver afro, came out and sang through the whole montage, so that nobody dared to clap even when Whitney Houston’s picture came up on the screen, so young and beautiful. Oh! Those people who complained when they said applause was turning “In Memoriam” into a popularity contest! Did they ever miss the instructions, for of course it’s a popularity contest. How many Oscars telecasts have I sat through with a roomful of queens who clutch their Manhattans in hand and sigh, “Barbara Stanwyck, I loved her!” Or with a shriek of panic, “Deborah Kerr is dead? When did that happen? I loved her!” This year it was me, watching and wondering why I didn’t realize that both Jane and Ken Russell died the same year—as though the Lord Almighty were dealing out death according to alphabetical order—nor that Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara both went in 2012? But it was when the screen shifted to a goofy picture of George Kuchar—well, that’s when I cried for the first time. Under his name it read “Experimental Filmmaker.” I guess that fits. I guess it wasn’t demeaning or weird.
OK, what was weird was Cirque du Soleil! I understand that Cirque du Soleil is great because they abolished animal cruelty, but why give them the Oscar? They already gave the Oscar to Oprah Winfrey for her humanitarian work and she has probably spared more animals than all of Cirque du Soleil put together. Why did the entire audience leap to their feet when Cirque du Soleil had stopped jumping onto each other’s shoulders? You’d think they’d never seen entertainment before. I’m like that baby in the old New Yorker cartoon; “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it!” What other movies did we see? OMG the impossibly awful Midnight in Paris. Okay, I understand that for some, Woody Allen has been on some sort of amazing late in life creative roll lately—and I also understand that nobody likes a hater. But still, best screenplay for Midnight in Paris? I too could write a screenplay—in fact my cat Ted could write a screenplay—in which Rachel McAdams, whom I once used to like, is meaner and nastier than Bryce Dallas Howard in The Help and indeed complains that Owen Wilson is too nice to the help! Yes, Ted or I could write that movie but we’ve all seen that side of Rachel McAdams before, in Mean Girls, and she’s gotten positively bloodcurdling by now. Who would want to marry her in he first place? I would like to applaud Woody Allen for putting Josephine Baker into his movie, even if was only to sing sexytime song in French and shake sexy thing in aisle of bar. So many wasted words trying to persuade Woody Allen that there are black people in contemporary New York City, but he found one in 20s Paris, not that she speaks or thinks. And Owen Wilson, a novelist? Yes, think about that for a minute. Somewhere there’s a disconnect happening and maybe it’s me, eating my Poultry-Geist like a bitter little gnome, or maybe it’s them in Hollywood. Nine movies for best picture and—outside of the magnificent mumbo jumbo of The Tree of Life—all of them are the same? I can’t even remember one frame of The Ides of March, it was so forgettable that by the time it said, “No animals were harmed during the making of this movie,” I snapped my fingers realizing that even that last bit of suspense had been taken from me. Do you ever do that during credit reading sequences? See that announcement about “no animals, etc,” and wonder, gee, I don’t even remember any animals in that picture. During these credits I was like, ”George Clooney was some kind of political zzzzzzzzzz” (I blanked out) and “Ryan Gosling was helping him zzzzzzzzzz” (further blank out.) Really my only conscious memory is that Evan Rachel Wood was playing the role you usually think Blake Lively would have gotten if she were just a little bit more on top of men. I mean things.
I read in USA Today—so much more astute in their think pieces than say, Cahiers du cinéma or Positif—that this was the “year of silence” in the movies. It wasn’t only literal, the celebration of classic silent films in Hugo and The Artist, but there was silence everywhere. We saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Gary Oldman didn’t utter his first sentence until 27 minutes into the picture. Drive wasn’t nominated, but in it Ryan Gosling says only 14 things—his eyes tell the rest of the story, his eyes and his knuckles. During tonight’s Oscar telecast they showed scenes of, what is it called, I Remember 9/11?, in which Max von Sydow has “Yes” tattooed into one palm, and “No” on the other? Is that what the story is about? We had the legendary Beat poet Bob Kaufman here in San Francisco, who took a vow of silence like Reverend Mother Dolores Hart, and even Kaufman would mutter and mumble from time to time—in syllables—and he’d usually have a sidekick slash interpreter nearby, one who would listen attentively, then turn to you and confide, “Bob says, do you have thirty dollars? He needs a taxicab ride back to North Beach.” Let us be silent, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, that we may hear the whispers of the gods. It was like when Billy Crystal listened to what all the stars were thinking, and when he got up to Nick Nolte, he started to growl and bark like Uggie, the cute dog from The Artist which, since I’m feeling bitter and heretical nowadays, wasn’t half as cute as people make him out to be. You saw him on the red carpet, just sit there and look dumb, his bowtie askew? He isn’t any better in The Artist, it’s just that some people like Woody Allen, some Barbara Stanwyck, but everybody likes a comeback and everyone likes a dog.