Monday, February 25, 2013

And the winner is ...

Looking south along Park Avenue from 90th Street. 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, February 25, 2013. Fair and cold in New York. Rainy Saturday; no snow.

A good, grey weekend to stay home and read, which is what I did. Except for Friday night when I had dinner with friends at Swifty’s. A lot of the talk was about the Oscars at table. Zzzzz. I haven’t seen any of the nominated films. I can’t remember the last film I saw although it must have been sometime in the last few months. It’s a time matter for me. Although I have a lot of friends who see everything and go every weekend because they love movies, so don’t mind me.

I grew up on movies like most 20th century American children (after the second decade). The impact of film on me, on the American culture gave America the image it has in the world, and defined the American Way for a lot of people.

Brando and Hope at the Academy Award Show, 1955.
I watch the Oscars sometimes although growing up it was a must. People have been criticizing them (after the show) for decades too. For years, when I was a kid, they were held at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. There were Klieg spots lighting the sky and shiny cars pulling up to the theater’s red carpet. Fans would be screaming and the stars would be waving. Television was black and white then, no color at all, so for the tens of millions of us sitting in our living rooms, there was another element of glamour that’s been gone ever since color came in.

Bob Hope was the Master of Ceremonies of the Academy Awards twenty-two times. His jokes were often about how he never got an Oscar for a film performance (he got three Honorary Oscars over the years) and they were so (deliberately) corny that everyone agreed with the Academy. He was as much a part of the Oscars as the Oscar itself, and beloved for it.

Hope’s distinguished reign as emcee ended in 1974 when “Hearts and Minds, a hard-hitting documentary on the Vietnam War by Bert Schneider was chosen as the best documentary. Hope, who was emceeing that night was also featured in the documentary, but presented in it as a hack comedian and cheerleader for what many Americans now believed was an unjust war.  
Academy Awards host Bob Hope (second from right) regales Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and David Niven with a crack about Russia during rehearsals for the 30th annual Oscars, 1958 (Leonard McCombe/TIME & LIFE Pictures).
When Schneider’s win was announced, he took the opportunity to read a message from the North Vietnamese after the recently signed Paris Peace Accords: “Please transmit to all our friends in America our recognition of all they have done on behalf of peace.”

Hope was furious. He felt it was a vote for what he regarded as “the enemy.” He scribbled a message and talked fellow presenter Frank Sinatra into reading it “on behalf of the Academy”: “We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.”

The dance kings of the movies in the 1930s were Fred Astaire and his choreographer-partner Hermes Pan. Together they created the famous Fred and Ginger routines that made stars of everyone, Hermes, who joined Astaire in the dance studio when he was preparing for "Flying Down to Rio" in 1933, worked with Fred for the next 30 years. It was a unique artistic partnership. Fred was the star and Hermes was his dance alter-ego. A lot of the famous Astaire numbers came out of Hermes's natural wit for dancing. He and Astaire also shared a zany sense of humor both in the rehearsal studio and in life. Hermes won the first Oscar in Dance Direction (which is what it was called before "choreography" became the title) for "Damsel In Distress" with Astaire and Rogers (and Burns and Allen) in 1937. The ceremonies were then held at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. Hermes's Oscar was a big feather in his cap. He got a raise and bought a brand new yellow Buick convertible to reward himself.
That did it for Bob Hope and the Oscars. He did not have the right to speak for the members of the Academy (who represented all kinds of political opinions). He became persona non grata for invoking the name of the academy because of his bruised ego.

Nevertheless those turbulent years of the Viet Nam War, the liberation movements, the Hippie culture was reflected in the movies and their influence on the American culture (and vice versa). My favorite film from that era was “Shampoo,” written by Robert Towne and Directed by Hal Ashby starring Warren Beatty as a Hollywood hairdresser (hairstylist). “Shampoo” and “Sunset Boulevard” are, in my humble opinion, the two best films ever made about the movie industry and the universal myth of Hollywood. Lee Grant took home an Oscar for her performance as Best Supporting Actress in “Shampoo” and everyone associated with it was highly praised and rightfully.

I did watch some of the Awards last night despite my so-called lack of interest. I missed the Red Carpet, (without regret). I never saw Seth MacFarlane before and because I rarely get to watch TV, I didn’t know about his own great success at it. In the beginning, the show had for me a kind of plastic, whitebread TV sitcom quality.

Watching it and watching the very expensive looking commercials (for very expensive products), and all presented in that sunshine and white-picket fence way, I could see why so many people I know who watch a lot of television are completely distracted from the realities of the international financial and economic circumstances. It’s what I think of as the Valley mentality that is a mix of a lot of Sun and warm weather and who cares.

However, with all that in mind, and not having seen any of the nominated films, it was interesting to learn of the brilliant creativity and quality of the films themselves. Every single nominee and every performance looked like something that was first rate and powerful even if I didn’t want to see it.
The dance number of Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron.  
A dance segment with Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth MacFarlane, and Daniel Radcliffe.
Seth MacFarlane’s performance as a song-and-dance man was hardly award-winning but nevertheless, he was pleasantly likeable and joined by a lot of great talent including the dance number of Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron.  

No Fred and Ginger there, true; but despite the heavy feet, they did evoke the idea of Fred and Ginger and performed it with the gumption of a pro that forgave the lack of panache. They were a wonderful moment. Same with a couple other dance numbers including that blossoming Daniel Radcliffe and his peers.

Then Shirley Bassey sang “Goldfinger” after a montage of Bond film clips and theme songs, she brought down the house (and it was a big house) with it. Then we had Catherine Zeta-Jones reminding us of why everyone who can, still sees “Chicago” when it’s playing. Then Hugh Jackman and what seemed like the entire cast of “Les Mis” performed; then Jennifer Hudson, then Adele ... it was fantastic. Little David was glad he turned on his TV and everything old was new again.
The big winner, Ben Affleck and Argo.
Anita Sarko reports: It may have felt like 54 below outside, but inside 54 Below, tucked beneath the infamous Studio 54, it was HOT HOT HOT.  A motley assortment of good time Harrys and Harriets stuffed themselves into banquettes, mingled at the bar and shook their booties on the dancefloor.  

The occasion was Michael Musto’s Disco Extravaganza. Resplendent in a black sequined Kevin Novinski-designed jacket on stage (he wore a different, equally splendid jacket to welcome everyone) and backed by  Elektrik Company with Tish and Snooky providing additional vocals , Michael belted out a hilariously revised “I Will Survive”, replacing love addiction with pizza addiction, dueted with Elektrik Company’s Lisa McQuade on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", and finished his solo warblings with “Last Dance”, after forgiving Donna Summer for her transgressions (the alleged anti-Gay remarks attributed to her when she became a Born-Again Christian, words later denied by Summers).
Michael Musto ...
Guest soloists included Tish and Snooky ("Le Freak"…the Chic classic about NOT getting into Studio), the Tony-nominated Orfeh ("Come To Me"/"Don’t  Leave Me This Way") and Village People’s darling Cowboy, Randy Jones (“YMCA”, naturally).  The rousing finale was “We are Family”, sung by all, including an audience made up of friends and fans, such as infamous photographer Patrick McMullan, Paper Mag’s Mr. Mickey Boardman, concert pianist Chau-Giang Nguyen, social treasure Roy Kean with Stanislav Sokolov, music industry legends Michael Ellis and Jane Friedman , performers Brandon Olsen and Marty Thomas, journalists Charles Isherwood (NY Times), Adam Feldman (Time Out NY)and Drew Grant (NY Observer), filmmaker/DJ Erzen Krivca (who recorded the festivities and posted on YouTube), publicists Sam Bolton and Alan Rish, stylist Christian Freedom (responsible for Mikey’s look) and scads of others.
Elektrik Company.
Orfeh. Randy Jones.
Snooky and Tish Bellomo.
Orfeh. Anita Sarko.

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