Monday, February 28, 2011

OSCARS: Life After Death

So as it turns out, youth is not everything. The 83rd Oscars, revitalized as it was supposed to be, so the young would feel the same attachment to it as the older, was arguably as boring an Awards show as has hit, or, rather, leaned against the airwaves. Anne Hathaway was charming and showed she had physical grace, the ability to wear many dresses and even a tux, and sang impressively well. But James Franco seemed as though he would rather be at Yale, and the moments of deadness on air were... what?... well, what's the opposite of breathtaking?
The arrival of Billy Crystal reminded you what it was to have a wit picking up on dropped opportunities, and the ghost of Oscars past materialized with a sharp vengeance with the clip of Bob Hope, who, much as some of us thought we didn't love him when he was still here, knew how to keep a show a show.
A ton of years ago, the 42nd Annual Awards were celebrated at our house in Beverly Hills, an event covered by Time Magazine, in those halcyon days when both that magazine and the evening meant a great deal. The Vietnam war was on, so everybody we knew of a liberal persuasion, many of the truly glittering, was mad at Bob Hope for his politics, and knowing John Wayne, a rabid Republican, was probably going to win for the first 'True Grit', rather than go to the actual ceremony, came to our house. Lee Marvin who'd won best actor the year before was there, and Zsa Zsa, still with her wit intact, and Shirley MacLaine yelling at the screen("Oh, shut up, Bob Hope!" she cried, duly noted by the Time Magazine reporter, Sandra Burton, who was discreet and kind enough not to print the rest of what Shirley said, which was plenty.) Our house was divided into three rooms, Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed, (you couldn't speak in the first, the middle you could watch and talk, and the last was out of control.) Hors d'oeuvres made by the hostess(me) were constantly passed, along with drinks, and there was a Sabrett stand in the back yard so everybody could feel they were in New York while they ate their hot dogs. Everybody got prizes(Ruth Berle, the witty wife of Milton, brought a framed, autographed picture of Ruth Roman) and humor and fellowship reigned. It was a real party.
Last night, though, was an ordeal. Mostly it was about the clothes, with jewels and shoes that seemed obvious product placement. All the right people won, I think, though I was rooting for Annette Bening, who seems that she will never be rewarded for all her good work and reforming Warren, but all in all who won almost seemed beside the point. To have Eli Wallach at 95, and Francis Coppola, who absolutely transformed the storytelling capacity of motion pictures, and not invite them to say a word was as painful as having Kirk Douglas say too many. And breathing the same air as... WAIT FOR IT!... Oprah? You were expecting maybe Mother Teresa? What were they looking for, a spot on OWN?
Oh, dear. Was anybody really in charge who had any sense of movement, and comedy?
Nothing is sadder than people talking about the good old days. But hey... weren't they really?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


As one whose childhood was brightened by what seemed the great original American art form, my heart lifted by the brilliant lyrics of Frank Loesser, Yip Harburg and Cole Porter, my soul tintinabulated by a sense of personal destiny because I had the same birthday as Irving Berlin, I have watched and listened with great dismay to the devolution of the musical comedy. When Lincoln Center had its brilliant revival of South Pacific, I wept all through the overture: hearing real songs, feeling true sentiments, not just squishy things, but a modicum of wit that made you smile, and occasioned bursts of true joy. So it was with some alarm that I experienced Phantom, and the mawkish music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and grieved for what was doubtless going to be downhill from Lerner & Loewe.
But I had NO idea. Only as a vague sense of terror descended on me with the mounting cost of musicals, and the success of mirthless unfrolics like Spring Awakening, as my ears strained for real music, did I begin to feel what I loved was lost forever. So when the announcements started coming about Spiderman- Turn Off the Dark, that a theater was to be renovated to make room for the areial acrobatic, and a show was to cost $65 million i threw in my spiritual musical towel.
Having lived many years in Hollywood, the capital of Schaadenfreude, where one is mostly sustained by the failure of others, it is with a heart full of song that
I read today Ben Brantley's wittily negatived and admittedly early(although in terms of original scheduling, late) review of Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark. Any bad advance feelings I had towards the show had been exacerbated by the positive enthusiasm lately exhibited by the hysteric Glenn Beck, who endorsed it as if it were the musicalized philosophy of Sarah Palin. So to have a genuine theater critic from The New York Times see it at last, and express his tasteful disdain gave
a lilt to the day. The Gershwins hummed in my ears. Jerome Kern flooded my veins. I think the song he played was "Look for the Silver Lining."
Is it possible in this horribly confusing world where daily the values we once clung to are swept away, that virtue can still triumph? That Good-- that is to say not the comic book victory of masked hero over masked villain, but something of actual value, like a melody you can actually hum and words you can understand-- can prevail? Oh, God, I hope so. Are You there? Are You watching this? Or are you just trying to get out of the way before some more scenery falls?