Saturday, February 26, 2011

Red Carpet Blues

By some quirk of fate, I’m debuting my blog on the weekend of the 83rd Academy Awards. Will I be watching the show, every bloated and overwrought minute of it, in front of my TV set? Well, of course. Will I wonder, when the last envelope has been opened and the last tear has been shed, why I bother to obsess over this outdated Hollywood ritual? Well, of course.  

Truth be told, the Oscar broadcast has always been one of my favorite forms of reality television. Not that there’s much spontaneity to be found on Oscar night. Over the decades I’ve learned to expect lame speeches and canned jokes. Musical bits intended to seem clever (Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White?) come off as embarrassing. Which is why the deviations from the script—the goofs, the ad libs, the unexpected wit and weirdness—are moments I cherish. Sacheen Littlefeather! The streaker! Vanessa Redgrave raising hackles with an offensive political rant! Cher accepting her Oscar in a get-up that would have made Gypsy Rose Lee blush!

And of course there are those transcendent moments when a true sense of occasion overwhelms both the celebrities on the stage and the viewers in their seats (not to mention me on my couch). Case in point: Sidney Poitier, dignified as always, breaking the color barrier by winning a Best Actor Oscar in 1964. And Charlie Chaplin, light-years away from the lithe grace of his Hollywood days, shaking off the humiliations of the HUAC era while tearfully accepting an honorary award in 1972. Instances like these, in which a star becomes the face of triumph over historical injustice, make me feel better about a world that all too often proves dishearteningly cold.

Then there was 1968, the year that continues to fascinate me. Many of the top films nominated that year—Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke—spoke directly to my generation. Many in my age group were campus rebels, angry about a distant war and worried about the future. In an era that pitted the young against the old, the activists against the squares, it was easy to have a rooting interest. This year: not so much. I have my favorites, though, and I’m curious to see how it all plays out. And of course there’s always the possibility that something really weird and wonderful will justify my couch-potato evening.