Show business glamour is gone, long gone. That was clear from the moment crude Chris Rock stepped on stage to host the 77th annual Academy Awards and received a standing ovation–for just being there. By contrast, one of the show’s classiest hosts, the late Johnny Carson, received a polite round of applause after a taped tribute. Thirty years of a top-rated show and several Oscar telecasts, no ovation; one minute of one show hosted by a foul-mouthed cable comedian, instant ovation. Is it any wonder Oscar’s losing its audience?
Cartoon by Cox and Forkum
Sunday’s awards were dominated by a gaggle of shrill, red carpet mongers, twittering about something called swag (free stuff), bling (flashy clothes and jewelry) and the Academy’s stupid new rules. Presenters were relegated to the aisles and nominees were herded on stage as if they were being lined up for a firing squad, not an Academy Award.
At times, the show reflected the drift from director Martin Scorsese’s Hollywood–where ability can be measured by how deeply one cares about making movies–to actor and director Clint Eastwood’s Hollywood, where squints, sneers and gimmicks are used in pictures that are typically tragic and really about nothing at all.
In the new Hollywood, one’s value is based, at least partly, on one’s race–not solely on one’s ability to act. Best Actor winner Jamie Foxx, like HalleBerry before him, transformed an award granted for an individual’s performance into a statement of allegiance to his race, which is racism. This attitude is exacerbated by people like Oprah Winfrey, whose quasi-Black Panther salute from the audience is rock bottom for a guilt-ridden billionaire with more power than practically everyone in Hollywood. What a fraud. Cheering a winner for a characteristic beyond his control–race, sex, nationality–is among the ceremony’s worst unspoken traditions.
Racism’s corollary, multiculturalism–the idea that all cultures are equal–had time in Oscar’s spotlight, too, with Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas celebrating a folk song sung in Spanish that was awarded Oscar’s Best Song over superior work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glen Ballard, among others. Million Dollar Baby’s toothy Hilary Swank chimed in, citing her own subculture–trailer trash–as a claim on the Best Actress award. Someday, sometime, some lone actor will have the self-confidence to rise and say, simply, “thank you.” And walk away like he means it.
Of course, there were the movies. Mr. Scorsese’s The Aviator, whatever its flaws, was lavish, grand moviemaking about a larger than life subject–and that, apparently, was its downfall. Too little death, gloom and doom and not nearly unremarkable enough–the new Hollywood regards high aspirations, Mr. Scorsese’s trademark, as showy and arrogant. There is no place for the exalted–only the downtrodden, done with mediocrity.
Mr. Eastwood, like most conservatives, appeared content to have gained the approval of others, especially liberals. His Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, seems to have dragged even producer Albert S. Ruddy–who produced Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and once sought to make Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged–into what Miss Rand called “the cult of moral grayness,” which, in Mr. Eastwood’s case, means a bleak world drained of color, purpose and life.
We watch the Oscars for a sight of Hollywood at its best. While it hasn’t been pretty for years, we keep looking, hungry for a glimpse of someone who sparkles with the confidence of having achieved something–something good. We look for our favorite movie stars, we root for our favorite movie, we wait to be moved, touched, humored–and, in that rare instance, enlightened. But, year after year, it does not happen. That’s why Hollywood is losing its luster.
The glow of Hollywood’s Golden Age stems from splendor on the screen, and that was replaced by unending assaults on both sense and sensibility long ago. Real glamour is gone. Accordingly, and encouragingly, so is the audience, which is waiting for a reason to return.