Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for January 13th, 2014

As the globe turns

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Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes

I’ll admit it: I love awards shows. For the past quarter of a century, I’ve watched the Oscars every year—I remember laboriously filling out my printed ballot at the age of eight, in which I rashly predicted that Best Director would go to Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ—and ever since, it’s become one of those annual events, like Christmas and my birthday, by which I gauge the passage of time. (If Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, I’ve done the same with Billy Crystal opening medleys.) These days, though, my feelings toward these telecasts have undergone something of the same shift that has affected all other aspects of my viewing life. I don’t see as many movies as I once did; where I used to make a point of seeing every Best Picture nominee, even after the field expanded to ten movies, I’m lucky now if I see one or two. As a result, my love for these ceremonies has entered a weirdly abstract dimension, as I tune in faithfully without much of a rooting interest. And as I watched the Golden Globes yesterday, having seen only Gravity and The Wolf of Wall Street among the major contenders, I felt a little like Homer Simpson attending his first baseball game while sober: “I never realized how boring this game is.”

In other words, there were moments last night when I wondered if this was really the massive train wreck I thought I was watching, or if it was only me. The Golden Globes always have an air of perverse arbitrariness, perhaps because they come relatively early in the awards season, but looking back, I’d say that it was objectively one of the strangest, most uncomfortable awards shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched Seth MacFarlane host the Oscars. Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler were fine, although well below their heights from last year, and the broadcast itself was teeming with countless weird directorial choices and mistakes, from outright editing and teleprompter errors to clumsy bleeping—did Diane Keaton really launch into a ten-second streak of profanity during her tribute to Woody Allen?—to inexplicable oblique camera angles on the presenters and recipients. (If you’d ever wondered how a Golden Globe would look from behind while clutched in Leonardo DiCaprio’s fist, well, now you know.) And this doesn’t even include the many awkward, surreal moments that were out of any producer’s hands: Keaton’s odd little rendition of both verses of “Make New Friends,” countless peculiar mispronunciations (“Philomania“) and, of course, Jacqueline Bisset’s early acceptance speech, which set the tone for the entire evening by oscillating between moving, incoherent, compelling, and interminable.

Jacqueline Bisset at the Golden Globes

And with its long stretches of dead air, as the winners navigated what seemed like miles of territory from their tables to the stage, it gave me plenty of time to reflect on the curious drama of awards shows themselves. I’ve written before about how a jury delivering its verdict is as close to a foolproof scene as any in a writer’s arsenal, and much the same applies to the moment when the five nominees are announced and the envelope opened, a dramatic device sturdy enough to survive all kinds of shoddiness of execution. It’s hard to believe now, but when the first Academy Awards ceremony was held, the winners had already been announced three months in advance, which is an altogether more civilized way of doing things: nobody goes to the Pulitzer ceremony waiting for Katherine Boo’s face to brighten or crumple. But it was inevitable that an annual ritual based in Hollywood would switch to a live unveiling of the winners. This is an industry based on watching and being watched, and it never passes up an opportunity for canny suspense, even when it centers around who will take home the trophy for Best Sound Effects Editing.

In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more involved with the winners of the technical awards, since they allow us to witness nothing less than a series of life-changing experiences. William Goldman, wise in so many things, memorably sums up this point in Adventures in the Screen Trade:

Understand this, too: That nervous guy who is giving an acceptance speech for Best Black and White Short Subject, that guy whom you are hooting at in the safety of your living room as he rambles tortuously on, thanking his mother and his first-grade teacher who introduced him to the wonders of film—he may seem like a jerk to you, but you are very likely watching the high point of his life.

In that light, it’s no wonder that Bisset treated her win as an epochal event in the history of the medium: it certainly must have felt that way to her, and she had no reason to expect that the rest of the world wouldn’t share in those emotions. That’s why, for me, the most touching moment was seeing Amy Poehler, so cool and professional as a host, looking genuinely flustered at her win for Parks and Recreation. “This is so cliché,” Poehler said, “but you get really nervous!”

Written by nevalalee

January 13, 2014 at 9:20 am

Quote of the Day

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Julian Schwinger and Paul Taunton Matthews

The difficulty, as in all this work, is to find a notation which is both concise and intelligible to at least two people of whom one may be the author.

Paul Taunton Matthews

Written by nevalalee

January 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

Posted in Quote of the Day

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