Under Stormy Skies: Oscars 2014

Kevin Killian


The Oscars producers are canny and unleash, like the Star Wars producers, only one little hint at a time about what the spectacle is going to look like. We knew last year that Adele was going to come in and sing the theme from Skyfall (and say, whatever happened to Adele, a year ago it seemed she was everything to everybody)…. I wasn’t prepared emotionally for the power of Dame Shirley Bassey, a lithe and ancient tigress from Mesopotamia, belting out “Goldfinger” in honor of James Bond again. So this year I have been listening carefully with one ear cocked to the Oscars telecast tidbits and of course, the other ear cocked to the news from the Star Wars camp of Adam from HBO’s “Girls” starring as the new Star Wars villain. Yes, tremendously exciting for Adam fans, but one knows from the shoddy example of Star Trek Into Darkness that yes, casting one’s favorite TV star as a suave supervillain may sound good on paper, but my wife’s idolization of Benedict Cumberbatch began to wilt from the day we saw him whining as Khan on the huge Metreon screen and he just wouldn’t—fill it up. Not the way Ricardo Montalban did all those years ago! Now I’m no one to weep about the new Hollywood, and in fact I think Adam from “Girls” should be cast in every motion picture (singlehandedly he saved last year’s Lincoln with his touching portrayal of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved telegraph operator Samuel Beckwith), however though I hate to admit it—okay I’m nervous about Star Wars, and not only because I’ve never seen an episode of it…. Anyhow what caught my attention about the 2014 Oscars was that one day, the producers said that Bette Midler was going to make her first Oscars appearance ever, but they didn’t say why, and then about ten days later The Hollywood Reporter announced that the children of Judy Garland were going to reunite onstage and do something in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz!

Yes, all three of her children, even the mysterious Joey Luft, last seen as a little boy squirming in his mother’s arms on an episode of her early 60s CBS variety hours, as she crooned “Happiness Is a Thing called Joe” into his little blushing shell of an ear…. Joey, the greatest living recluse of American culture now that J.D. Salinger has gone to his reward—indeed Joey Luft might have been Seymour Glass from “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the agonized survivor of sibling stardom on “It’s a Wise Child,” but somehow he—unlike Seymour—found the courage to live, even when Liza was making Cabaret and Lucky Lady and Lorna Luft was stumbling through her turns in Where the Boys Are (Remake) and Grease 2. Even Joey, said The Hollywood Reporter, will join his sisters on stage, but they didn’t know what the children were going to do. Like a cryptographer I began putting two and two together—rather like Benedict Cumberbatch in the memory palace of his mind on Sherlock, sliding and sluicing items of furniture and clues and sudden closeups together until the camera seems to explode with pure knowledge! Maybe, I said to my friend, maybe Bette Midler is somehow going to appear as a hologram of Judy Garland and greet her three children from another world! Like Oz! She could sing “You are the wind beneath my wings,” to each of them, as she did to Barbara Hershey’s little girl in Beaches, and everything would be all right again. My friend, a numerical type of guy, countered with his vast knowledge of algebra that in fact with four movable living parts, and one additional, dead one (Judy Garland), there were approximately 3,725 permutations of what could happen and as you now know, both of us were wrong and even Sherlock blanked out on this one….

This in the middle of stormy skies in the days before the Oscars, and all of LA drenched by persistent rainstorms delivering up to two inches of rain an hour, forcing persistent party planner Barry Diller to cancel his elegant traditional Oscars party and leaving Oprah and Ellen and Anderson Cooper with nowhere to go at lunchtime. We looked up at the skies thinking of the annual Oscars “In Memoriam” segment about which many a fan’s dreams are molded, wondering if proper tribute would be paid to the sad genius of Philip Seymour Hoffman (“like Seymour Glass!” my otherworldly friend whispered in my ear, “A perfect day for bananafish!”) and if it was really sad that stars who had lived great long lives had finally brought them to an end, you know, like Esther Williams and Joan Fontaine, or should we more regret the early deaths of the jejune like Cory Monteith from Glee or Paul Walker from The Fast and the Furious. Or, if all deaths are subtractions from some vague glowy illumination? Tragic questions in the air tonight and inside brave Idina Menzel of Rent and Wicked clears her throat and sails into “Let Her Go,” from the Disney animated feature Frozen, despite determined Mormon opposition from that grandmother who claims Frozen is complete pro-gay propaganda, even though it’s delightful and well made, says she.

I don’t understand people who complain about Disney cartoons, or the pro-gay agenda, but the connection’s there, otherwise the pro-gay people wouldn’t have hired Idina Menzel anyhow. Last year it was Kristin Chenoweth on the show, helping Seth MacFarlane host, and they performed a duet at the end that said, “Here’s to the Losers” and awful or not, it must have convinced the producers (who as we know earlier gave us the controversial Sound of Music live telecast with Carrie Underwood playing the will o’the wisp, the scamp Mari, with Bill from True Blood as Captain Von Trapp), “OK, you did well sneaking in Kristin Chenoweth, it’s time to unleash the big gay guns and bring on Idina Menzel.” Already notorious is the moment in which Travolta introduced Idina by calling her “the wickedly talented Adelle Dazim.” You couldn’t believe your ears. Was he reading the letters of Menzel’s name backwards and if so why? Was it apotropaic magic invented on Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard three hundred million years ago to prevent gay stars from acting out? Is Travolta dyslexic like Tom Cruise? Those of us who know nothing about dyslexia might well imagine the dyslexic subject reading everything backwards, like the dyslexic driver who brakes at every red octagonal sign that reads “POTS” to him. Anyhow like the Broadway pro she is, Idina Menzel didn’t break a sweat, just launched into her new signature number and, well, I’ll just say, it must be very hard to sing, although people have said that it is the most covered song on YouTube by little girls between the ages of eight and twelve, like she’s getting somewhere down deep with the children of the Millennials. (I assume Ellen’s introduction of Goldie Hawn as “Holdie Gawn” later on in the show was her salute to Travolta’s training in backwardism.)

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto were shoo-ins for their weird physical weight loss looks in Dallas Buyers Club, but I do think that the severe weight loss affected their brains in some bizarre and alteric way, for nothing of what either of them said made any sense and for McConaughey not to mention nothin’ about AIDS was so startling I, for one, lost track of how to become a hero to myself in ten years time. Gravity winning for Best Director? Our little group was united in amazement, though not as much as the surprise one of us showed at the clip of Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, acting severe to a black Somali pirate in an abbreviated wifebeater shirt that looked like it as made of a wet dishrag, and she said, “I didn’t know Tom Hanks was in 12 Years a Slave?” Then it was explained to her that Captain Phillips was not a movie about the American South, though I guess “Captain Phillips” could have been a good title for some antebellum drama, right?

OK, then the magic moment comes and Whoopi Goldberg comes out and she begins to introduce The Wizard of Oz segment and Liza, Lorna and Joey don’t even get to leave their seats, they’re asked to stand from the audience and wave! Joey’s sort of troll-like, ordinary looking, like Danny Bonaduce or Paul Giamatti. Bette Midler was nowhere to be seen. Instead they brought out Pink and she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in front of a montage of Oz clips. Pink of all people! Do you suppose they wanted Pink Floyd maybe? And got Pink instead through some celebrity switchboard slip-up? Those of us without tech savvy have always longed to do that thing where you load your DVD of The Wizard of Oz and right after the MGM lion’s third roar you start to play The Dark Side of the Moon, and album and film seem magically to coalesce? They could have done it right in front of half of Hollywood, and all of Judy Garland’s children, but instead no, instead it was Pink period. End of dream! I like Pink of course, but she doesn’t have a vulnerable bone in her whole persona, she always looks jaunty as a bobblehead, like you couldn’t knock her down, so distant from the fragile sparrow that was Dorothy Gale. (What was nice is that after she finished singing they showed Lorna and Joey who were bleating with happiness and obviously they adore Pink. Liza just sat there like, uh-huh, until Lorna tugged at her arm to get her to stand up like everyone else in the auditorium. So one didn’t know which sister to emulate, Liza, who seemed to be acting out her every feeling, or Lorna, so good at heart she was quick to excuse a lifeless Pink performance in the name of show-biz camaraderie? Or maybe it was a fellow feeling because in her heyday, not that she had one, Lorna Luft was sort of like her generation’s Pink?) Anyhow finally Bette Midler made an appearance, after the In Memoriam segment, to sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” in a long pleated dress very similar to the upholstery my Mom and Dad had on this one sectional couch they kept in their basement rec room, and I cried and cried! I don’t know, maybe because I’ll never see that basement room, nor my mom or dad?

Everyone at our Oscars party was disgusted that The Butler and 42 and Fruitvale Station and Mandela weren’t nominated for anything much, for earlier in the year didn’t it look as though the Best Actor nominees would have four black stars and one white one maybe, and yet when January rolled around it was just the reverse? And that one didn’t get it? And Lupita was great, but Oprah deserved a nomination too! Oh well, I for one appreciated seeing the legendary Joey Luft, surfacing at last before, oh how did Adorno put it, returning “to emerge tracelessly into the totality.” And then Kim Novak came on, to the Bernard Herrmann theme from Vertigo and it was just like that Frank O’Hara poem about Mal Waldron and stopping breathing! Okay, her facelift is pretty radical, but it was her all right, and she spoke about what a long time it had been since she was at the Oscars, in that gorgeous whiskey voice….

At the end of the show Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier came out arm in arm to present the award for best director, and her exaggeratedly slow progress, as though she had not legs but wheels, towards the podium, puzzled us all until we realized she was staggering slightly from having to carry Poitier? It didn’t seem like he wanted to walk, move, talk or smile, and she was doing a lot of heavy lifting with just that one expression of, what an honor, Mr. Poitier! I guess they were brought together as examples of actors who turned to directing films? No wait, perhaps they appeared together to clarify that everything at the Oscars telecast, and in Hollywood, exists as forms in a Lacanian symbolic order—everything exists in dasein in order to symbolize something else not immediately available to us. And seeing Jolie and Poitier persuades us on some level that—or am I overthinking, like Myra Breckinridge?—that this is the case with daily life at all registers. IDK. Anyhow maybe it might have made a great photo op had it been Steve McQueen accepting the award from Sidney Poitier, but it was not to be, instead Cuaron popped up and nothing was going to spoil his moment. That’s the lesson I took away from our 2014 Oscars party: just when storms rage in the heavens, sometimes a bright star falls, yet symbolic order is ever upheld.

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