Suze Sylvester is the Oscar Grouch

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How it’s New York: we here in the Empire State like to take a glance at the annual LA-LA Land fête.

Natalie Wood and Tab Hunter at the 28th Academy Awards, 1956

How it’s Irish: Oorlagh George, the Irish producer of The Shore, sporting traditional Celtic braids, showed more class than most of the others onstage that night – and all without losing her youthful exuberance or clothing. And her dad, Irish director/writer Terry George, was rightly proud of her!  Don O’Neill, Irish clothing designer and Creative Director for THEIA, dressed both Oprah Winfrey and six-months pregnant Eimear O’Kane, the producer of the Oscar-nominated Irish short film Pentecost.
 

 Suze Sylvester wonders:
 Where was the glamour, the charm, and the genuine wit. Where were the glittering stars in the front row?
Why can’t the Academy Awards be a night when the movies are the stars? (Yes, I’m the grouch…) When the awards show began 84 years ago, it lasted 15 minutes, and the movies took center stage. Last night’s took 3 hours, very little focused attention (which was kind of a blessing).   The presenters grabbed and held onto center stage with all their might.


There were appropriately nostalgic leanings: stage performances were mostly replaced by entertaining black-and-white movie shorts (even that awful disclaimer was a film using written words and a voice over), older actors both winning (Best Supporting Actor Christopher Plummer) and simply seated in the audience were honored.   Presenters Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis successfully (They practiced! See below.) enacted the silly old dropping-the-cymbls routine; two movies about silent movies ran off with most of the awards (The Artist and Hugo), and even the long career of seat-filler Carl Swaybo got honorable mention by Tom Hanks.

Replicas of Academy Award statuette
By Antoine Taveneaux (Own work)

And there were modern touches: Cirque du Soleil turned the house into a huge circus tent by flying from trapeze to catcher and back again over the heads of the astonished glitterati, there was a send-up of documentary making (Note to Downey: no amount of badgering will make Gwyneth Paltrow – or us viewers – understand your disjointed parody.), and Chris Rock delivered funny observations and barbed jokes with a laughing, deceptively nonchalant attitude. However, from the beginning of the program some things became very clear:

Most actors don’t do very well unscripted. Presenter bits need to be rehearsed before they hit the stage. Even screen sirens like presenter Angelina Jolie need to practice reading the promptor. (These awards ARE talkies!) Somebody needs to mic emcee Billy Crystal – believe it or not: the orchestra drowned out his jokes…unless it was intentional. Lovely, voluptuous presenter JLo should definitely fire her stylist – or not quote the legendary costume designer Edith Head“A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.” Myrna Loy-style high-brow camp still trumps slapstick. (Emma Stone, you do it well – with Ben Stiller as your straight man, yet!)

It is vital to cut the mike feed before a jumble of men acts like X-rated-mouthed Keystone cops (the team from Best Documentary winner, Undefeated) . And I guess we all need to see the “popular” movies like Bridesmaids, whether we want to or not, or else the bits and jokes just look weird.

But where was the glamour, the charm, and the genuine wit? Where were the glittering stars in the front row? Billy Crystal making jokes half the night to a subdued George Clooney and date about being kissed by Clooney in an earlier skit/film  is not a reasonable substitute. Where were the sweet stories of first-time winners, like the wonderful Octavia Spencer?  She was so overcome that she needed help to walk to the stage for her Best Supporting Actress award, and received a standing ovation while she quipped “Thank you for putting me with the hottest guy in the room.”  Meryl Streep may be a “safe bet”, but she’s also one of the most versatile actresses today.
It was a strange night of change and juxtapositions. Commercials about smart phones, other “smart” equipment, and their ability to stream movies and TV programs were an ironic contrast to filmed interviews hailing the virtues of actually going to see movies “on the big screen”.  (I wonder what the AT&T, Sprint, and Samsung ad execs made of that?!)

Christopher Plummer and Chris Rock were genuinely funny in their own different ways. When a film made at an earlier date of Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, and David Smith receiving their special awards was shown, no one expected the next announcement to be that the winners were in the theater – and they were, in a balcony that acted like a wonderful frame for their august presences. The performers of Cirque du Soleil, fabulous troupe de tromp-l’oeil, wore  business suits and evening gowns. (While the stunts were thrilling, they also seemed out of place at a celebration of movies.)

The vision of Terry and Oorlagh George running up to the stage to collect their Oscar when The Shore won for Best Short Film, accompanied by a voice-over intoning that a lot of the cast and crew were family members of the Georges’, was followed by a shot of Ciarán Hines in the movie.

Pleased to report that  Oscar was surrounded by Celtic influences: not only did an Irish film win, but a trailer from Brave (due out on June 22, 2012 ), a Pixar film set in Scotland, came galloping across our screens during a break. Then a travel commercial with panoramic views of Britain worthy of a Merchant Ivory film wafted by. (Could Britain be the new Bahamas?) And of course there were the dresses from Irish designer Don O’Neill.

Towards the end of the night, there was another commercial: the Titanic movie has been adapted to 3-D.  The Titanic of course was built in Belfast, Ireland, its maiden voyage began in Southampton, England with a stop in Queenstown/Cohb, Ireland before setting out on the high seas.

What is to become of Oscar? Well, he will be getting around more than the Travelocity gnome, judging by the recipients impassioned thank yous in many languages. And, considering that many countries have their own film industry, perhaps its about time the rest of the world participates in the Academy Awards shows. 

We need the world view: to see where we came from, who is “in it” with us now, and where we can go in the future. 
For a full list of winners, check out the Oscar site!
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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts
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