TV Party: Oscars 2013
“I Want to Be Cohesive Too, Sea Captain”
The Oscars were hosted by Seth MacFarlane and I have to say, he did a better job than Billy Crystal, but that’s like saying the 21st century has improved on the 20th which can’t be true, can it? Seth’s cute in a Steve Lawrence way and he has that big band background (his grandfather played tenor sax for Benny Goodman’s swing band of the 1930s), so he has timing, sort of, and Family Guy, and Ted, and that must be what led the Oscar producers, always looking for the next big thing in timing, to bring him in as Oscar host. Though didn’t they learn a few years back that appealing to the young people isn’t going to help your telecast? Or was it just understandable miscalculation that had them hire James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts, not realizing that only a handful of the young actually can endure either one of them—and none both? Anyhow, Seth was so far under the radar that I’m wondering, maybe producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan had considered him for NBC’s Monday night series Smash, hired somebody else, but the sweet appeal of Seth lingered on their minds like the haunting perfume of Kim Novak in Vertigo or Jennifer Jones’s whistle-y waltz theme in Portrait of Jennie.
I think I was the only one in our group to realize what rhymes with Seth? Kristin Chenoweth—and there she was, on the red carpet, buttonholing every star with that same phony, “Hi Baby.” (I used to like her!) Death rhymes with Seth too, and crystal meth, like the guy with the funny Nero cut who wrote the screenplay for Argo and talked so fast all I heard was that Ben Affleck was his lord and master, thank you master. Out of all the stars, only Kristin Chenoweth, Kristen Stewart and Renee Zellweger seemed to me properly high, the way the Oscars used to be in the 1980s, when you could always count on Goldie Hawn or Burt Reynolds or Liz Taylor to fall down, or at any rate visibly sag, at the podium, enlivening many a dull telecast.
It’s been some 2013, ever since the nominations were announced. We dragged ourselves to theater after theater catching up with the nominees and in time the strain began to show. One night all I wanted to do was watch Smash, but no, Dodie had her heart set on Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the items high on the list of Best Picture Nominees. And also it was said to have the cutest little girl star ever. But oh, Smash was also playing—this conflict must have been visible in my face, for Dodie turned to me with an accusatory smirk. “For you,” she said, “Oscar movies are like punishment movies!” I tried to deny it but basically she’s right. For the most part they are dominated by the foul twin plagues of cinema—docudramas and biopics. We were stunned to actually watch Beasts of the Southern Wild and no title card came up to say it was based on a true story and now little Hushpuppy is making pictures of her mama and coining aphorisms in a new home. We were bewildered. It was not a true story? Then how was it nominated for an Oscar? Well, it was a real hurricane—Katrina, people explained. The truth is, ever since the 2011 Oscars, in which Cher and Christina Aguilera were robbed of the gold statues due them for Burlesque, and in which Cher was not even nominated for the titanic Wagnerian “(You Haven’t Seen) The Last of Me,” yes ever since that night two years ago I lost faith in the polis of the Academy. What had once been the rock of my self-identity had crumbled to pixie dust sparkles which vanish in the moonlight. Hushpuppy meets an elderly sea captain who gives her and three silent friends a ride to a whorehouse island where her mother works as a short order cook. The sea captain, played by the killer fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), tells her how eating chicken biscuits keeps him grounded, and that saving the wrappers from every one he’s ever eaten keeps him “cohesive.” Slow pan of dozens of wrappers littering cabin floor, then dart up to Hushpuppy’s delight. “I want to be cohesive, too!” she responds. I guess we all do, Hushpuppy, but thinking about the Oscars always kind of makes my mind splinter up into plates of grilled stickies. So yes, I tried to find the fun parts of Argo and Lincoln and Les Misérables and Amour, but they were far and few between. Twenty minutes into Beasts I had the compulsion to leave, right at the part where an upset Hushpuppy pounds Daddy right in the chest with the heel of her hand and he dies—or falls down as if dead. Too intense, I gasped to Dodie. Life’s too short, I thought, for that girl to know what she’s doing with her hands! I’m glad I stayed through it though, otherwise I would never know the way to catch a catfish and pound it to death, for times are getting tough all over and who knows what the future will bring. No wonder a rom-com nothing like Silver Linings Playbook has been greeted like it is Singing in the Rain! People are looking for a laugh or two or a love story like the one between shy Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary in Downton Abbey.
We all of us, watching the Oscars together, were wishing we were watching TV—that was the eerie thing. One fellow, Daniel, said the last movie he’d seen in a theater was No Country for Old Men. My God, that was when Josh Brolin was still a star! It hit me in a James Wolcott flash that this was the moment when TV had taken over from the movies, where it was answering the needs that people used to get from the movies. The writing is better, the acting better, and there’s heaps of it, you need never go hungry again. Did the movies used to feel like this, where twice a year you could go see another chapter in the life of Tarzan, or of Andy Hardy? You’d be catching up with old favorites? I don’t know. James Bond sort of feels like that, but not the way they’ve had six Bonds in fifty years and only 23 movies? Come on, if you cared for audiences’ pleasure you would have just kept Sean Connery all the way till today! At parties people aren’t talking about Argo or Lincoln—are they? No, they’re nodding and hurrying home to Netflix thirteen episodes of House of Cards or The Killing. Or the Danish version of The Killing, or the UK House of Cards. Binge watching, they call it, for the idea is that if you watch that much of anything it will seem good to you. That was true for me with Lana Turner movies—with Budd Boetticher movies—with Doris Wishman—with Selznick—but now it can just be one long show, with seasons, and when the season is over and you’re jonesing till season five, you can watch season two or three of one of your other shows that’s just begun, or start some whole ancient show like West Wing that you never bothered watching when you were still going to movies, and there are what, nine or ten years to binge through?
Cynically I believe that the Hollywood studios are picking up on this idea. Besides being noble, nationalistic propaganda how else were Lincoln and Argo alike? Both feature scads of TV veterans in supporting roles, everywhere, in Argo it became a joke, that Bryan Cranston was the boss of Ben Affleck and Kyle Chandler his boss, as though to acknowledge that the traditional TV-movies pyramid has been inverted, perhaps for good? In Lincoln even the very next tier under Daniel Day Lewis are from TV, Sally Field in ecstasy, her pulses and irises breathless, that she, once reviled for her parts in Gidget and The Flying Nun, and in TV movies of the week like Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, now gets to star in the prestige picture of all time, while Tommy Lee Jones, whom I admired in One Life to Live as a wee bairn, gets to toss his head in a shapeless wig like a horse its mane, like Mr. Ed snorting at Wilbur. Like every star career, that of Tommy Lee Jones can be divided into four equal parts, and the first and best one was playing Mark Toland, dynamic medical superstud, for four long years on One Life to Live (the equivalent of three times the length of all his subsequent movies laid end to end.) And really, did Sally Field ever improve on Gidget and the divine Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring? Opinions are divided, but yes, sitting through Argo and Lincoln was sort of punishment for all the times I failed to demand less content and more style in my movies! (Seth MacFarlane might have been smug and smirky as Oscar host, but at least he showed proper respect for Sally Field as Gidget and The Flying Nun.) When I reviewed Spielberg’s epic on Amazon.com, I argued that despite the ostensible hero, the eponymous Lincoln, the studio should have capitalized on the presence of so many TV personalities and called it Samuel Beckwith: The Brave Young Telegraph Operator Who Changed the World as We Know It, for young Beckwith is played by Girls’ Adam Driver, Hanna’s bipolar boyfriend, and when he appears on screen you could hear the hip whispering to, and nudging each other from the front row to the balconies in the crowded, dark, and bored theater. Suddenly there was a point of intense erotic interest on screen. For a few moments we felt we were no longer being punished, but instead rewarded, for following the tiny details of how telegrams were sent at midnight in the Civil War era, while candlelight played on Adam Driver’s newly blond and wavy ringlets—so real hundreds of hands reached involuntarily towards the huge screen to capture them between our fingers, to caress them. But that was only for a moment and then we were back into trying to keep track of how many Congressmen were bribed or blackmailed for this one vote, sigh.
So there we were, proud of having suffered through every one of the nine nominated films but one—and what wins? The Life of Pi—the movie we didn’t go to see. But holy cow, does that picture look awful! It can’t possibly be as bad as that upcoming movie pairing Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCartney as good cop/bad cop, but oh good God, are they serious? Did you notice that Ang Lee, and then Ben Affleck, both thanked Canada in their acceptance speeches? Did you notice a Canadian film was one of the five nominated foreign movies? What’s going on with this Canada vibe? We did clap and cheer three times—after the performances of Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, and Adele—but all that tells you is that we were watching in San Francisco. Soon enough Jack Nicholson and Michelle Obama gave out the award for best picture and then there we were watching Seth & Chenoweth struggle through an original closing number called “Here’s to the Losers,” which we largely ignored since we began passionately talking about Girls and which stage we were in—me and Dodie, who watch HBO, are up to date—others had watched only the first three or four episodes of season one—another couple were sort of in between, I think they’d begun season two. Girls is a peculiar show, not as wonderful as it thinks it is, but it’s better than all nine of the best picture nominees laid end to end and that may be a problem I guess. But it isn’t better than Magic Mike was and so, why wasn’t that nominated for everything Channing Tatum Channing TatumChanningTatum? Channing, cheated out of one Oscar for the original Step Up, another for the patriotic GI in 2010’s Dear John, and now a third for the best Robert Altman movie not made by Robert Altman? Yes, I’m bitter, bitter as Julia Stiles in Silver Linings Playbook, but I have a right to be! I’ve been watching these Oscars since Grace Kelly was alive and now Daniel Day Lewis is winning three Oscars, a feat matched by no man ever before? There should come a time when he should just declare himself in the hall of fame and announce he will accept no more Oscar nominations, let Channing Tatum have a look in. That’s all I’m asking. That, and when does Game of Thrones begin again? As Hushpuppy tells us, “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”
––––––––––––––Kevin Killian is a San Francisco playwright, poet, author, photographer…jack and smith of everything! His latest are the novel Spreadeagle and the photography book Tagged. His photos are currently on exhibit at 2nd Floor Projects in San Francisco.