2010-03-11 / Sam Bari

The winter respite – when Oscar was the last hurrah

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The little window of peace between Valentine’s Day and Easter has finally arrived. It’s that perfect time of year when we will not be pressured by the unreasonable demands of celebration.

The holidays are over, the Super Bowl has hit the record books, the Winter Olympics have concluded and the golfing community is still awaiting the return of its repentant son. We have a moment to breathe between athletic endeavors and major holidays.

Back in the day, the last event before the celebratory void was the biggest soiree of all – the Academy Awards. Oscar night inspired a celebration from coast to coast with extravagant social gatherings that would make most Super Bowl parties look as exciting as afternoon tea.

Last Sunday, Hollywood rolled out the red carpet, but with less flamboyant aplomb as when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of old presented Oscars to the deserving few.

For the last few years, many motion picture fans have expressed disappointment in the presentation of the Academy Awards. The proof is in the statistics. The number of viewers has dramatically dwindled.

The controlled format of the present-day production limits recipients to 45 seconds to say “thank you.” If they exceed their allotted time, technicians silence their microphones, and attendants unceremoniously whisk them off the stage. The impromptu drama between competitors that was often created during acceptance speeches was one of the highlights that Oscar fans looked forward to witnessing.

Using the venue for inappropriate political statements, personal charities and causes was part of the appeal. The Academy has whittled the production down to a choreographed parade of award winners making perfunctory acceptance speeches that are terse at best.

The sprinkling of polite contrived humor by well-rehearsed presenters was hardly enough to raise the entertainment value to acceptable levels. They distributed the coveted statues as if they were diplomas at a graduation from an institution of higher learning.

The saddest missing element was the obvious absence of Hollywood “royalty.” Ten years ago, the Academy Awards without the presence of Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood, as well as the grand dames like Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Deneuve, would have been shocking.

The new guard was also conspicuously missing. It seems that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as well as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones – and apparently, a host of others of similar stature – had other plans.

Some of the big names attended, but like presenters Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand, chose to come in through the Kodak Theater stage door instead of walking the red carpet.

The much-loved and anticipated night at the Oscars used to be broadcast on all the major networks, and the program lasted well into the small hours. This year, the program was aired on ABC and cable TV, and it lasted for threeand a-half hours.

In the heyday of the gala affair, fans would watch until the closing credits rolled off the screen. On the morning after, a sleepy-eyed work force pried itself out of bed to head to offices across the country. Upon arrival, they gathered around water coolers to discuss the previous night’s festivities.

Now, the pomp and circumstance of a gala event that was a shameless display of Hollywood wealth and power is a gathering of well-dressed entertainers hoping they don’t get bad press from the fashion police.

The displeasure over the once “must see” Oscar extravaganza was good news for television production companies. Many viewers watched their regular Sunday night programming and chose to read the list of Oscar winners the next morning.

The sentiment appears to lean toward a general desire for the return of the opulence, glitterati and attendance by many more signifi- cant stars. Bob Hope and the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra will never be replaced. But the Academy and Hollywood powerbrokers need to get on the good side of the actors who have lost faith in the way the industry does business.

I believe a new Hollywood is emerging – I think for the better. In the years to come, the awards presentation will be restored to its lofty position amongst gala productions. Oscar will regain his position in the hearts of movie-goers everywhere.

So – open the windows, take in the fresh air, reacquaint with family and friends, and recognize priorities. That is the order of the day as we muddle through life in a system we can’t understand.

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