Roger L. Simon

Academy Awards? There Goes the Neighborhood!

When I first moved into my house in the Hollywood Hills (1989), the Academy Awards were far away at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. No longer. As the world knows (or the world that cares anyway – more of that in a moment), in 2002 the Oscar ceremony moved to the Kodak Theater in that post-modern nightmare known as the Hollywood & Highland mall — home to myriad mediocre restaurants, retro Heavy Metal t-shirt shops and the odd Versace store. It’s not more than a half mile from my house as the stoned crow flies.

And there went the neighborhood.

This means that every year at this time, major arteries are shut off (making the already mind-bending traffic even more hellacious), the area becomes riddled with satellite trucks and temporary grandstands, and the usually quiet hills are filled with Oscar parties. Replete with bad, loud and often off-key rock and roll, echoing through the canyons — Bono doesn’t play for these things — these parties are anything but glamorous. Often an expensive-looking home is rented out to whoever (porn producers, racketeers, real estate developers) for a day or two of non-stop festivities, resulting in narrow winding streets littered with beer bottles, pizza boxes and, no surprise, condom wrappers. (Note that many of these homes these days are normally empty, luxurious remodels that never sold in the dead housing market, despite plummeting prices.)

At one point it seemed I gave up my neighborhood in support of something America cared about. Anecdotal information suggests this is not so anymore. As I write this, a snap CNN poll (yes, it’s Internet) registers that 62% will be following the Academy Awards “not at all” and 30% “somewhat” with only 8% at “very.” Actually I was surprised the “very” was that much. In the Tea Party era it would seem Hollywood and America were at a period of maximum estrangement.

Still, human beings that we are, we desire, maybe even need, entertainment. It’s worth remembering that some of Hollywood’s finest hours were during the Depression. (Of course, that was under an entirely different system than we have today.) So that pair of Oscar rejects — Lionel Chetwynd and I (we were both once nominees, but not winners) — will be covering Oscar night for an Academy Awards postmortem Poliwood, which should be up late Monday on PJTV. We’ll be reviewing the evening, including the novelty of having two hosts — Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin — and the even greater novelty of having ten best picture nominees.

On the face of it, I oppose the latter. It’s kind of like movie business “grade inflation.” And like most “grade inflation,” it waters down the results. But as Sly Stone once put it, “Everybody is a Star.” So why not?

And, of course, we’ll be watching for the amusing, infuriating or eye-rolling (your choice) use of the platform by Oscar winners or presenters to espouse the pseudo-liberal cause du jour. Be grateful for one thing: this year, at least, Al Gore is not nominated.

ADDENDUM: Lionel and I will be viewing the event, just as you are (if you are), from in front of our television sets. As Academy members, we are entitled to seats, but at a few hundred a pop, doubled for a significant other. And those seats would be in the distant balcony, since we are not nominees or related to one. QED: we’ll watch from home.