Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Naked Guy in Gold

Oscar telecast tomorrow night.

I'll be nested in front of the set as usual. And, owing to some long-seated sense of either commitment or stupidity, I'll hang in there for the entire broadcast, not clicking off the set until the last statuette has been awarded and the host waves his final goodbye.

My love of the movies has drawn me consistently to the Oscar telecast year after year. I distinctly remember my first; it was 1977, and Rocky won Best Picture. I wasn't old enough to be authorized by my parents to stay up for this telecast, but I did take advantage of the geography of our house to watch surreptitiously.

My bedroom was directly across the hall from my parents room, and, with both doors open, I could see their TV. Trouble was, I had to lean way out of bed get a clear view. So I spent the several hours' worth of that telecast with my torso suspended in midair, propped up by my left arm on the floor. It was very uncomfortable, but it got me through.

The following year, I had gotten permission to officially watch, and I've been a consistent viewer ever since. 

My parents -- both movie fans -- were interested in the Oscars, but Mom loved more of the people-watching. When the camera panned the glittery crowd, she rattled off the stars she could identify by sight; "That's Fred Astaire; that's Liz Taylor; that's Jimmy Stewart; that's Charleton Heston."

I admired her ability to do that, and so I went to school on the famous faces of the time until I could chant them alongside her: "That's Ellen Burstyn, that's Al Pacino, that's Chevy Chase, that's Jane Fonda." 

I liked them on a Monday night (Sunday night doesn't seem to generate the same buzz for me); there was a Super Bowl feel to that day, and friends knew not to call me that night, that I'd be camped out in front of the set, eager to hear the awkward speeches of the winners and deadpan reactions of eternal-host Johnny Carson.

My movie-going habits were much more frequent then than now, so it was the rare Best Picture winner that I hadn't seen, making the contest all the more engaging because I could root for dark horses and boo when films I considered lesser entries managed to sneak through (I'm looking at you, Unforgiven). Sad to say nowadays, I may have seen one of the nominated best pictures, if that. Kids and schedules have a way of disrupting even the most devoted and fervent cinefiles. 

Because of my interest in Classic Hollywood, I always enjoy the Honorary Awards; it was one more chance to see and hear the likes of Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Hal Roach (with the hilarious ad libbing of host Billy Crystal), Myrna Loy, and Chuck Jones.

The technical stuff makes me yawn, but I hang in there. The best part about the Oscar telecast is never knowing when something wacky is going to happen. So although I didn't see the telecast where David Niven was interrupted by a streaker (1973) for myself, I did watch Alberto Begnini climb over the seats to get his award for Life Is Beautiful (1997). And Jack Palance's one-armed pushups (1992). And Cher, who could always be counted on to wear something memorable.

The "In Memoriam" section makes me sad, year after year, bidding goodbye to the likes of Gene Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis, and Ingrid Bergman.

The broadcast has changed over the years; the producers used to stuff in a Giant Musical Production Number that would proceeded at a glacial pace somewhere in hour three of the four-hour show. This monster song-and-dance fest was my personal Wall, the toughest part of a marathon that, once overcome, means smooth sailing to the finish line. Many the year I fought droopy eyelids as a line of chorines danced a tuneful tribute to the theremin or their slick salute to the film cutter.

Yes, it's hokey. Yes, it's overblown. Yes, it's annoying. Yes, it's trite and egotistical and narcissistic and shallow and, all things considered, wholly unimportant in this era of financial struggle and war and injustice and strife and inequality...


Shh. It's starting!

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