Ohh the Oscars. IT’S MY SUPERBOWL. The Oscars were this past weekend, and for those who don’t know what that is - you obviously aren’t the people I have directly sent this post to. Also, it’s an awards ceremony hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honor achievements in film, first presented in 1929 and fighting harder to maintain relevancy more and more with each passing year.
The rundown of the actual events of the ceremony weren’t all that exciting. In fact, viewership numbers were way down - nobody really had a pony in this race, as it were. There was no “Titanic” to root for, no “Lord of the Rings” to be awed by.
All of the intrigue was brought on by the casting of Chris Rock as host, because in light of the #oscarssowhite controversy in which no actors of color were nominated for awards, NICE MOVE BRINGING IN CHRIS ROCK, PEOPLE WHO PRODUCE THE OSCARS. And boy. Did Chris Rock EVER deliver. He showed complete control and a willingness to talk about anything. Does he flat out call Hollywood racist? YUP. Did he make a cops shooting black people reference? YUH HUH. Did he make a lynching joke? WHY YES. YES HE DID. Watching it the whole time I was like, “He’s going there! Oh man, he’s really going there! Oh shit he’s still going there!” (I always like recapping TV events like this with my mom the next day. Quoth Leslie: “And those people he interviewed in that one segment! I didn’t realize til later that they were ‘straight outta Compton!’”) He wasn’t a flawless host, but he actually brought more relevance than I really could have hoped for.
In other news, Leonardo Dicaprio did finally win his first Oscar at 41, after six nominations - and delivered a speech with such internal satisfaction that I felt like, empathy pains for him, like a partner who’s wife is pregnant or however that works out - I don’t know I’ve been single for a long time. “Spotlight” - a film about the 2001 journalistic breaking of the Catholic priest abuse scandal - was an exciting and unexpected win for Best Picture - favoring solid storytelling and an important message over the other more flashy films. And even though it was SO EXCITING that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was up for so many awards, INCLUDING BEST PICTURE, the big takeaway was every time one of their crew won a technical award, I just wanted to get a better view of what they were wearing. Costume designer Jenny Beavan rocking a leather jacket with the Fury Road logo bedazzled on the back. AT THE OSCARS. and whoever all those sound engineer nerds were wearing more kinds of velvet than I knew existed. Seriously. Squad goals.
This year’s Oscars were a bizarre meeting of the modern culture in the auditorium of the old. An award ceremony telecast in itself is a weird, arcane relic from a bygone television era, but the pure awe of seeing all of those famous movie stars in the same room together, talking and tispsily flirting with each other, still holds it’s same appeal as it did when I was a kid. The Oscars for me hold a nostalgic quality - this is a world where the thing I love more than anything in the world, movies, are the currency - and I can fantasize about being there and giving my speech and being a part of history.
But, when you zoom in on it, in the modern era, it’s all these seemingly disjointed elements coming together: Chris Rock’s classic stand-up setup/punchline structure, video interludes and gigantic renderings of nominees’ faces hovering upstage. The musical performances are staged like any other telecast, but “Earned It” by the Weeknd from “50 Shades of Gray” features overt bondage imagery while “Til it Happens to You” by Lady Gaga from the documentary “The Hunting Ground” features real life survivors of sexual abuse - both fairly daring stagings, but kind of tasteless juxtapositions against each other within the same show the more you think about it. The whole night was made up of weird juxtapositions. Like watching winners having to accepts awards while underscored by --
(INSERT SOUND CUE: RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES HERE)
-- a truly strange choice of music with entirely the wrong sentiment, as they go on to thank their agents, cast, crew, family, teachers, god --
-- and as they try to squeeze in something political before --
(YUP, STILL GOING)
-- and then maybe internally question whether Vagner was the right choice for “wrap it up” music?
(SOUND CUE RAGES ONE LAST TIME)
It’s true. In this Oscars, the actual “wrap it up” music, instead of a subtle orchestral nudge, was Richard Wagner’s 1870 opera excerpt “Ride of the Valkyries,” as featured in the film “Apocalypse Now.” The whole ceremony featured a slew of famous movie music (Leslie LOVED that), but for the “wrap it up” music… that was your choice? I mean, there were a MILLION other songs they could’ve chosen to wrap it up. Like literally, any other movie music. Hell, even “Stuck in the Middle with You” from “Reservoir Dogs” would have been more tasteful. The viewer ended up with this very bizarre experience - artists accepted their award of recognition, knowing they had to hurry, even though this was amidst an already bloated four hour television extravaganza, set to the background of perhaps the most stressful music in the classical canon. Best director for “The Revenant” Alejandro Innaritu just talked straight through the music, and “A Girl in the River: a Price of Forgiveness” director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy got cut off by this music when talking about honor killings.
Which just begs to ask, who is making these decisions? And who is really making these decisions for the industry? Is there even some one, or is it lots of little decisions piled on top of each other, resulting in one big choice? Because when you play “Ride of the Valkyries” under an important emotional moment for an artist, you’re telling the viewer how to feel, regardless of what that artist is trying to express, and someone made that decision. When an industry systematically shuts out stories of people of color or women, the culture makers are making that choice for the culture as to what they think the story should be. Some body has to be making these decisions. But, if we keep working and creating amidst all this noise like we did with this very ceremony - I can’t wait to see what the media landscape is going to look like by the Oscars of February 2017.