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Mark Steyn

Ten Years Ago

Sod's Law

ImageIt's Oscar Night in America! Among this year's nominees, I rather liked Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel but would be surprised if either found big-time favor with the Academy. Instead, it's American Sniper vs identity politics, with Clint Eastwood and Chris Kyle squaring off against a tragic gay, an inspiring cripple, and an extremely boring MLK pic. In such circumstances, I'd bet on the gay guy but he's British, which may lose him points. At any rate, we shall know soon enough. In the meantime, here's how I saw the 77th Oscars a decade ago in my column for the Speccie:

I wonder which Jude Law took more offense at on Oscar night: Chris Rock's affable riff in his opening monologue β€” 'Whassup with this Jude Law guy? It's like he's in everything, man. He's the hero, he's the villain, he's British, he's American,' etc., which has a grain of truth in it; or touchy Sean Penn's portentous riposte to the throwaway gag later in the evening β€” some three hours later, but evidently it still rankled β€” that, au contraire, Jude Law was a great artist and we should honor him as such. All it needed to seal the moment was Yo-Yo Ma to come out and do some mournful cello arrangement of "I Fought Jude Law (And Jude Law Won)" over a montage of Chris Rock's non-Bush gags bombing.

I haven't had the opportunity to perform a forensic examination of the Sean Penn puppet in Team America: World Police, but it would be a marvel of marionation if he were thinner-skinned than the real Penn. One day Hollywood limousine liberalism will collapse under the weight of its own humorlessness, but till then Sean reserves his right to reply to any cheap cracks that are disrespectful of his fellow 'artists', and even if the viewers flee in their millions, what do those losers know? The Penn is mightier than the bored.

Ratings for the Academy Awards were down this year, though not as all-time-record-low six-foot-under down as the gloomy Iraq war Oscars of 2003. Still, there were no big movies in contention β€” Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, the supposed break-out hit, never quite broke out; Ray, as in Ray Charles, is a glossy formulaic biotuner; and the rest of the stuff β€” from sentimental movies about Che Guevara to sentimental movies about backstreet abortionists β€” reflected mostly the industry's laughably cobwebbed radicalism. The boffo smash of 2004 was The Passion Of The Christ, but that got frosted out in the nominations. The Academy would have been better served to toss Mel Gibson a bone or two at the nominating stage and then shaft him on the big night. The show would have had something at stake, a grand over-arching narrative.

But, alas, a business built on storytelling couldn't find one to bind together its biggest night of the year, so it fell back on that old favorite β€” racial breakthroughs. Look! A black man's been nominated for two Oscars β€” the first time that's happened since Steppin Fetchit got a Best Supporting Actor nod for Second Pullman Porter From The Left in Broadway Melody Of 1934 and a Best Supporting Negro nomination for Third Shoeshine Boy In The Second Row in Ice Follies Of 1934. Half a decade into the 21st century, Hollywood's self-congratulation on race is just plain weird β€” like an Alabammy lunch counter bragging in 2005, "Enjoy A Tuna Melt In Our Now Fully Desegregated Dining Room".

Still, it was a great night to be black, if one overlooks RenΓ©e Zellweger's hair. (And how come, post-Bridget Jones, her breasts have shrunk but she's had implants in her eye bags?) Personally, however, I thought the wrong black man won. Jamie Foxx is a very likeable fellow and was a very plausible Ray Charles. But Don Cheadle pulled off a much more difficult trick in Hotel Rwanda: this is the performance of his career, and in the kind of film where an Oscar or two would have made a big difference. And, for all Hollywood's bragging about its social conscience, Hotel Rwanda was the only film dealing with a great question of the moment: when should the West intervene in failed states? All the rest β€” Che, Imelda Staunton's abortionist turn β€” is "bold" "courageous" artistry in the service of causes won decades ago.

So, in the absence of any other controversies, they argued about the jokes. One of Chris Rock's gag writers came up with this intro for Halle Berry: "Our next presenter has lost more men than the Iraqi army." But Rock couldn't quite bring himself to use it, whether because it was disrespectful to the Iraqis or to Halle will be for future scholars to unearth.

Also, Robin Williams' song got axed. Written by Marc Shaiman, it was a holy-rolling hot gospel number about the secret life of cartoon characters, bouncing off the alleged allegation by a prominent minister of the Christian Right that Spongebob Squarepants is gay. That's not exactly what the preacherman said, but let's not let that get in the way of mocking these uptight Republican God-botherers. Williams had planned to sing:

Pinocchio's had his nose done!
Sleeping Beauty is popping pills!
The Three Little Pigs ain't kosher!
Betty Boop works Beverly Hills!

I yield to no one in my respect for Marc Shaiman. He wrote the all-time great Oscar song parody for Billy Crystal a few years back ("The Tender Trap", reworked for The Crying Game). But honestly β€” "Pinocchio's had his nose done"? I'd have axed it on lameness grounds, but Gil Cates, the veteran Oscar producer who's been doing the show for years even though he never gets it right, told Shaiman and Williams it was "too political". So they rewrote it even lamer:

Pocahontas is addicted to craps!
Josie and the Pussycats dance on laps!

And this time ABC objected to the 'sexual tone', and the possible offense to native Americans.

So in the end there was no song, and Robin Williams did an impression of Marlon Brando doing Elmer Fudd, which would have been cutting-edge comedy in the 1954 Oscars. And after everything else was rejected, the only material everyone agreed was wholly unobjectionable was Chris Rock saying the President is an idiot and his war is a stupid pointless waste of human life.

After which, they dedicated the show to America's men and women in uniform.

Robin Williams pirouetting from Marlon Brando to Elmer Fudd is one thing, but Chris Rock lurching from Michael Moore to Betty Grable is far less convincing.

from The Spectator, March 5th 2005

from Ten Years Ago, February 22, 2015

 

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