Ed Driscoll

'With Hindsight, The Seventies Were The Golden Age of Oscar Shows'

As screenwriter William Goldman once quipped, “Every Oscar night you look back and realize that last year was the worst year in the history of Hollywood.” Reading Mark Steyn’s reprint of an article he wrote a decade ago about the 2000 Academy Awards is a reminder of how much rot has occurred in Hollywood, just in the last decade alone, during which Hollywood was largely asleep at the Steadicam:

`I see dead people’ from The Sixth Sense was the big line of the night, but I found myself thinking: I see dull people. Aside from Michael Caine, who was at least human, most of the other winners just read out lists of names, which is the equivalent of a box of Kwikkie Krapola breakfast cereal thanking his E-numbers. Why can’t the Academy just tell these butt-numbing yawn-mongers that all the people they want to thank will be listed on the official website but that they have to use their 45 seconds on TV to say something else? When Emil Jannings picked up the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Last Command in 1928, I’ll bet he said something more than simply thanking Tamsin Weiner, Doug Vest, Armand Croissant and everyone else in development at MiraWorks.

But it’s hard not to feel that these surly, charmless grunters really don’t have anything to say: they’re all credits and no show. The only contentious moment came when John Irving, screenwriter of The Cidar House Rules, dedicated his award to the fight to keep `a woman’s right to choose’ – not exactly a controversial stand with this crowd. In the Seventies, Bert Schneider, winner of Best Documentary Feature, read out a telegram from the Viet Cong. Then Frank Sinatra came on, attacked Dustin Hoffman and Francis Ford Coppola, and read out a disclaimer from the Academy about the Viet Cong stuff. Then a furious Shirley MacLaine attacked Sinatra because she too was a member of the Academy and no one had asked her if she’d wanted to dissociate herself from the Viet Cong. Then John Wayne said the Viet Cong guy was a pain in the ass. In those days, Hollywood was still diverse enough to have two points of view on any subject. Now it doesn’t have any view, just a lot of portentous generalities about how motion pictures `show us the truth in all our lives’.

With hindsight, the Seventies were the golden age of Oscar shows. It was fun when Marlon Brando had his award picked up by Sachem Littlefeather, Apache Indian and President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, protesting about the treatment of Indians by Hollywood. It was even better when she turned out to be Maria Cruz, struggling actress and Miss American Vampire of 1970. It was touching, in 1977, when Debby Boone sang `You Light Up My Life’ backed by a chorus of 11 children from the John Tracy Clinic for the Deaf interpreting the lyric in sign language. It was even more poignant when it subsequently emerged that they were just regular Equity kids pretending to be deaf and that the signing was complete gibberish. Ah, happy days. For next year’s Oscars, I intend to turn the sound down and sign it myself.

But for those who want the “highlights” this year, without watching the entire 27-hour craptacular experience on TV, John Nolte, majordomo of Big Hollywood will be tweeting and live blogging, as will Hot Air. At the New Ledger, Mike Tunison, the co-founder of the often very funny Kissing Suzy Kolber sports blog, among numerous other projects, will be liveblogging as well.

Related: “The Real Oscar Race: Who Will Say The Dumbest Thing?”