Mar 8, 2010

THE OSCAR CRANK : “I want to know”

In Philip Roth's great short story, "The Conversion of the Jews," there is a refrain about his inquiring boy-protagonist: "What Ozzie wanted to know was always different." Call me Ozzie. Or call me Andy Rooney, whichever comes first.

Last night was my first experience with the Oscars on a flat screen TV, and I enjoyed the show more than I ever have—which isn’t saying much. 3.5 hours of flapdoodle and gossip, 3.5 hours of celebrating the flashy halfbacks of Hollywood (and to the Academy's credit, the writers and techs, who are the unthanked offensive linemen of the movie industry), 3.5 hours of self-indulgence on the part of hair and clothing designers who make women look plasticly absurd, far worse after than before—even so, it was a better spectacle than usual, or at least less boring, less offensive.

As emcees, the Steve Martin-Alec Baldwin team worked well. Scripted, corny humor can be good for the soul if it’s actually funny, and theirs usually was. Most importantly, the recipients’ speeches were shorter, a few actually said something, and no one tried to run for political office while accepting. As the stars sat in the audience, the candid shots of them were also more entertaining than I remember.

Even so, it was one more Fireman’s Festival, one more ceremony, and I hate them, with or without the corn dogs. For a long time I’ve suspected about all awards what one recipient implied last night: people get to that stage through connections and politics more often than skill. Then the performers read carefully scripted, vanilla statements (Shall we think of the Hippocratic Oath and "First, do no harm."). The women’s clothing and hairdos are absurd—I'm working to avoid words like "obnoxious" and "fatuous" and "sociopathic." Yes, a sociopathic hairdo.

A day or so ago, some show was featuring Sean Penn’s superbly good works in Haiti, which seemed to confirm my hunch that he’s one of those bad boys who does very good work but refuses to play certain stupid games. Last night he was handing out an award and appearing very awkward in the process. Was he blackmailed? Did he owe somebody?

And by the way, how hard do the up-and-coming young guys work at getting their hair to point in nine different directions? And why?

Which is dumber, that hair or sideways, stiff-billed baseball caps? I've heard that baggy pants evolved because of their efficacy in concealing handguns, so I guess I won’t blithely mock the britches, lest I be shot. If that story is true about the origin of baggy pants, how come I didn’t hear it until a couple of years ago? Why are they keeping me out of the loop?

Why can’t I know what I really want to know, which has nothing to do with gowns that draw white circles around the breasts of the starlet or gowns that make for pointy boobs, like ice-cream cones plastered to the pecs. For some reason, I think of headlights on a VW Beetle, transmogrified from prominent ovals to pointy radar detectors. I think of geometry.

I want to know who needs to pee during that or any ceremony. Who’s sitting there smiling through a significant ache in the buttocks or knife-pain in the lumbar? Who got plunked next to someone who just ate a gallon of (fashionable) garlic? Why else all that gum chewing? And which celebrities are as put off by such farce as I am? There must be a few. Sean Penn? Quentin Tarantino?

I want to know what it's like in a typical session of writers for a movie or TV show. Is it full of rivalry and acrimony? Or is it a brotherhood, a group bonding in pursuit of a common artistic objective? Why can’t I watch them in action? (Do I sound like Andy Rooney yet?).

On a positive note, I sort of believed Meryl Streep and one other actress—I’ve forgotten—who said they liked the occasion because they got to see so many of their friends gathered in one place. On the other hand, if their lives are that frenetic, what good is their gazillion dollars? They can’t have coffee or drinks together when they want? They could buy the restaurant each time they felt like getting away from the mansion to shoot the breeze with pals. Yes, they'd have to wear a disguise and sneak around in a modest car. Life is hard.

Speaking of acrimony, I'm sorry to say that I’m interested in who hates whom in that room, as they throw eloquent lines at each other. Who envies whom? With whom would I enjoy having lunch? Is there a vice versa to that, or would they be slumming to lunch with me?

(I ask the same questions about big-time athletes, another major category of entertainer. I admire their feats, but could we enjoy each other’s company? Ditto the most respected of serious writers. And do I really want the answers to these questions? I do not ask them about CEOs, by the way. They know what they can do with their lunch).

If some of the celebrities have insomnia, why? What do they lie awake thinking about? If they’re merely entertainers and not artists, do they know it? And how do they feel about doing something so inessential? Are they as phony or toxic as legend says they are?

What do they say with their mates and friends, when there is no script? Is it interesting? Could I interest them?

In their interviews on Letterman, some would appear to be intelligent, enjoyable human company. But those TV conversations don’t go deep. I cannot guess what they would contribute if the Breakfast Boys and I invited them to join us. Would they be mean to us as we speculate on the free will of barnacles or the tunes that are and are not plucked according to string theory? In what key does the universe play itself? As the saying goes, if you don't want the answer, don't ask the question. Or, in Hollywood, "You can't handle the truth!"

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Anonymous said...

I can only answer one of your questions. There's a collection of hired folks in gowns and tuxes called "fillers." When any of the real audience needs to use the toilet, the fillers take their seat (no, not that one, the chair I mean) so when the camera pans, the house looks full.

Banjo52 said...

Now THAT's interesting. Not quite a scandal, but a cool tidbit. Thanks!

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, your mind is running so much that I forgot you were watching the show! When you were a kid did you drive your mom or dad crazy with "why" questions? This is a total kick!!!

Did laws that outlawed guns in public lead to baggy pants? I mean, cowboys wore tight jeans, but only because they could wear holsters? Once permits were required to carry guns, baggy pants became the style? I just know there is a book on "The Law and Fashion."

And pointy hair? Didn't the Jetsons have pointy hair? I forget...The few times I put gel in my hair and then looked in the mirror, I scared myself. But then I wasn't getting paid money to have my image. Heaven forbid!!

Pointy cone bodices? As I often hear - they wear them because they can. Man, do you think they sleep on their stomachs? My mom's old wringer washer used to do that to our blouses, but I didn't see it as fashionable (no, I am not that old, but we had w/w in India, ok? We had it because we could. So there). And the concentric circled 'tops' looking like VW headlights - this explains why I ocassionally hear guys say they "got blinded by her headlights"? Obviously I need new friends. Is Sean Penn available???

My uncle worked at Universal Studios for years. We were allowed to spend days on the set with him - a total gas. Some actors were SO NICE - others would squash their adoring public with their thumb. But then, I see the same behaviour on my commute everyday.

You are a gem, B52. Are we having a contest to see whose tongue protrudes deeper in cheek? Does tongue in cheek cause jowls?? OMG.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, Brenda. Gem right back at ya.

Tongue in cheek for sure, though I really have had some of those questions pounding at me for years.

I wasn't allowed to ask "why?" So maybe I'm now obsessed with it. (Actually, that's a theatrical answer, though I don't recall a lot of open discussion or spirit of inquiry . . .)

Guys about headlights? Oh yes.

About the set at Universal--that's about what I figured, and yes, I've also seen it in faculty lounges, faculty meetings, social gatherings and on and on. Maybe there are only two kinds of humans: drama queens and Gary Cooper--and they have (almost) nothing to do with gender :) . . .

Lovers' Lane