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Length isn't Everything
Why a Shorter Oscars Doesn't Make a Better Oscars

by Jeremy Mathews
 
 

very year, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out all the Oscars, news organizations immediately use the handy tool that is their stopwatch to inform everyone how long the ceremony lasted. While this year's ceremony was hailed for being shorter than most, it was a giant failure that showed a great disrespect for the filmmaking crafts. While the ceremony is always a bit of a beauty pageant, it should also be a night celebrating cinema and the people behind it.

The ceremony three years ago was one of the best ever televised, with introductions featuring quotes from filmmakers and graphics that actually attempted to create an appreciation for the craft the academy was rewarding. This year, the effort was simply to get the unknown people out of the way as fast as possible so that we could see what Penelope Cruz was wearing. And this year's telecast reportedly scored even lower ratings than the previous lowest-rated ceremony of 2003, suggesting that factors other than length (such as how interested audiences are in the nominees and host) affect the ratings. A well-produced Oscars telecast would have made the event enjoyable despite the blandly predictable winners of what should have been a volatile night.

Those who watched the fantastic 2002 ceremony will remember amusing and insightful quotes on different crafts from people like the Coen Brothers and Martin Scorsese, an energetic "In Memoriam" tribute by director Gary Ross and a documentary on people's favorite films by Errol Morris. No one, however, will remember introductions that can kindly be described as pathetic: "Every of them did an extraordinary job of bringing their vision to the screen," for example. If anyone helped the ceremony, it wasn't the intermittently amusing hosting by Chris Rock and an occasional funny presenter (Robin Williams and Brad Bird's Edith Head-inspired costume designer from "The Incredibles"), but the winners, many of whom, especially honorary award recipient Sidney Lumet, gave more insightful speeches than the usual list of thank yous. And all they received in return was pressure to get off the stage (if they were allowed up, but I'll get to that in a minute). Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who won for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," commented on how intimidating the clock counting down was while he was trying to give his speech.

Every one of the Oscar winners from categories that weren't considered major were treated like second-class filmmakers. At first I thought that it was an interesting decision to have the nominees stand on stage while the award was given, thinking it was drawing more attention to them. But it became clear that the people were forced to come out on stage and smile while they lost because we couldn't spare the time they would take to get out of their seat, hug a loved one, shake the hands of a few colleagues and walk to the stage. Even worse, some awards were given from the isle in the middle of the auditorium, near the nominees' seats, so that half the audience had to turn their heads to see the winners and the other half could only see their backs. Even Rock made fun of the method, suggesting that next year they hand the awards out in the parking lot.

The clips and lack thereof were also insulting. The graphics for the footage of the films was standard and failed to show ideal examples of the categories, but it was most upsetting when no clips were present. The best live-action short and animated short awards were given out at the same time, in the middle of the auditorium, with absolutely no clips of the nominated films or even the winner. In the past, audiences might have been intrigued by the very brief moment from the shorts and sought them out despite how difficult some are to find. Some people found out about "Wallace and Grommit" because of the Oscars. Chris Landreth's "Ryan" features memorable and original character designs that reflect mental scars on outer physical beings, but no one who saw Landreth win would even know that, because the producers couldn't be bothered to put up a short clip. And think about it--these are being honored as the best films of their kind from the whole year.

The academy didn't simply insult the living in going along with these methods, it insulted the dead. In the past, when screen legends like Katharine Hepburn died, a special memorial film would show. The only extended memorial this year was to Johnny Carson, because he had hosted the Oscars. Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors ever captured on celluloid, merely had a few extra clips in the "In Memoriam" sequence.

The Academy Awards ceremony is a special occasion. It comes once a year. If viewers don't want to watch all of it, they can do other things, but this is a special occasion. People don't complain if the super bowl goes into overtime. Most of the nominees have been working hard in the business for some time, are being honored as the best people in their field. They only have 30 seconds to speak, even if three of them won in one category. These aren't the celebrities who get nonstop press, they're the ones who work behind the scenes to help make the movies magical. The Oscar ceremony is their night, and they deserve better than foolish event producers' "innovative" methods of treating them like obligations instead of winners.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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RED Magazine is a web-only Arts & Entertainment publication in Salt Lake City, Utah. It can always be found here, online. Copyrighted material remains the property of the original owner. Web Site Copyright 2004.

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