A friend of ours is an esteemed member of ‘The Academy’. Like many Canadian actors, in an effort to make a living, he has spent much of his career shuttling back and forth between Los Angeles (the third largest Canadian city in North America) and The Great White North, playing assorted cops and judges in a bunch of American TV series. While on an extended gig in Hollywood, a few years back, he seized on the opportunity to join up to AMPAS or whatever it is that gives out the annual statuettes. His generosity enabled me to learn about and to share with my media students, a ‘behind the scenes’ lowdown on the workings of the annual event from an insider’s perspective.
During the ‘VCR’ days, he would begin to receive, by very special delivery, strange and wonderfully packaged presents from the producers and studios promoting their films for ‘consideration’ during the nominating season after Christmas. The expense and creativity displayed in the packaging of these materials explains why the movies are now too expensive to actually go see at the local Bijoux. The lousier the movie, the fancier the packaging. For example, one that stands out in my mind was an enormous and elegant pink wedding album which, when opened, displayed a press kit and box containing that cinematic classic, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, which, if my memory serves me, which it still does, albeit occasionally, won nothing. Wasn’t even nominated. But what a piece of promotional material! Now the ‘presents’ are somewhat smaller, since DVD’s don’t take up so much space and studios are trying to cut back.
The paltry annual dues afforded him the opportunity to enhance his film/video collection to the delight of friends and family (I can’t say how or he might be carted off to jail). As a member, he was also given the opportunity to vote for a few of the acting categories, a privilege that I don’t believe he ever exercised. Sometimes, he gave me the printed materials to show my media classes, who got quite excited in those ‘olden days’ when kids actually went to movies and had an interest in such things, which, by the way, they no longer do or have. At least he didn’t give his ballots to his custodial staff (maids, chauffeurs and assorted pool cleaners) as some members are rumored to do.
So I am not really excited by the latest attempt by Hollywood to revive flagging public interest in either the awards or the broadcast of a parade of stars nobody ever heard of. I am not stunned by the announcement that they have bribed two aging entertainers to front the program, where one old Bob Hope or ‘Johnny’ used to do nicely. I am not troubled by the new voting system for best picture, since everyone knows these awards have nothing to do with the best of anything and never have. In fact, it is precisely because low budget works of art have been making inroads in the past few years, that the money makers in Lotus-land have felt the need to pull the whole mess back from the brink of artistic integrity to the good old days of commercial viability, when studios ran the system and everyone voted for wherever they worked or else.
It is my contention that the big problem here isn’t the length of the show, the host, the big musical numbers, the boring speeches or even the technical awards. It’s that Hollywood is no long ‘glamorous’. Nowadays, everyone with a cell phone and hook-up to YouTube is a celebrity, for a while, anyways. Talent is no longer the criterion for fame. No tall poppies. And the chosen few who are supposed to stand above us all, are way too exposed as real people, with faults and foibles, chips and dents, just like everyone else. Whoever thought up the idea that making movie stars more ‘human’ made a big mistake. They are no longer far above us, ‘glittering in the cinema firmaMENT’ as Lina Lamont was fond of saying, in her distinctive voice. These days, they are shlepping through grocery stores in sweats, crashing their SUV’s in parking lots and going around without makeup, looking like hell, like the rest of us. Occasionally one even runs amok and goes dancing without panties, just for fun, but lately, those events are as rare as bathing in asses’ milk.
The mostly scrawny young actresses all look so much alike. If one stands out, it’s not long before she runs to the nearest plastic surgeon to remedy the situation. If you don’t agree, take a look at the recent cover of Vanity Fair. Without the old ‘studio system’ there is no one around who takes an interest in grooming these girls for movie stardom. Who is left in charge to change their names? Mia ‘Wasikowska’? They become the fashion victims of ‘stylists’ with not-so-hidden agendas; witness the peculiar getups they display on the ‘red carpet’. None of them can mince elegantly down a staircase like a Zigfield showgirl, hence the necessary elimination of any requirement to do so during the Oscar telecast. No more ‘big entrances’. They are herded, like cattle headed for the slaughterhouse, along that crimson path, which has become more important and, dare I say, often more interesting, than the show.
Did anyone ever wonder whether Marilyn, Raquel or Sophia was wearing Louboutins or Blahniks when she undulated across the stage to announce the next winner? These days, the curves, front and back, are usually as fake as the hair extensions, and the girls can barely locomote without clumping, like toddlers, in their mommy’s heels. It isn’t pretty. When Julia Roberts won her award a few years ago and galumphed up to the podium, hoisting her ‘vintage Valentino’ above her ankles, and let out her iconic snort, I shuddered with melancholy, for all the lost elegance of a vanished era. (To digress a little on the event, but not the theme, I know it was for the Golden Globes, but did we really want to know that Renee or Kate or whoever it was, almost missed her award when she went to the bathroom? Movie stars do not pee! Or they shouldn’t. Certainly not in public. I’ve never been able to take Nicole Kidman seriously, no matter how much she quivers and suffers, since she squatted on that toilet in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”. Who's in charge, here?).
Liz didn’t need to borrow her jewels from Fred or Harry when she had Richard.
We all knew the price she paid for them and it was worth it.
The pedestal of pulchritude has bitten the dust, to mix a metaphor!
As for the men, I will never understand this recent penchant for bloodless or unshaven shlubs, especially in tuxes. Except for the occasional Clooney or Eastwood, there is no more male gravitas or what they used to call, ‘star quality’. Brad, cute as he is, is no match for Newman or Lancaster, in their prime or even well beyond it. Now that I think of it that probably explains the flurry of interest over Jeff Bridges this year.
At least he acts like a man.