She had turned up, looking strangely like the Mona Lisa, to dish the dirt with Barry Norman at Chasen's, a venerable Hollywood restaurant and the site of one of the glitzier Oscar parties. Barry himself was distinctly nervous, which was odd. He must have known that his British audience was in no state to care, either drunk or catatonic with sleep deprivation, but he skittered across the autocue like a novice skater, lurching forwards, nearly falling, fighting to keep his vocal balance.
In truth, though, nerves are the only thing that makes an Oscar ceremony watchable. The sight of these clichs of cinematic ease reduced to stammering uncertainty is part of the pleasure. On screen Keanu Reeves can rappel down a lift shaft and defuse a bomb without dropping a syllable; on stage plain speech explodes in his face. "We will be remind who those five are," he announced, keying us up for the night's main bout, the Best Picture Award. Jack Nicholson leered madly from one side of the screen to the other, flicking between autocues like a man watching a tennis match; he couldn't believe what he was being asked to say and neither could we. Uma Thurman, who can look cool and alluring with a hypodermic planted in her rib cage, fluttered a little. It is, as presenter after presenter proved, impossible to look at ease when your eyes are shifting queasily across typewritten emotion.
Even David Letterman was nervous, though his skittishness is more familiar, as integral to his act as Paul Newman's sidelong twinkle. He also added a bit of texture and bite to an occasion you could otherwise suck through a narrow-bore straw. "It's really a timesaver," he said about the new company formed by three of Hollywood's biggest names, "instead of hoping they're not successful individually you can hope they're not successful together." The best gag, though, was a little excursion with New York taxi-drivers, talking about the movies. "Wanna see my impression of Jack Nicholson, Edwin?" asked Letterman of one driver. Cut to Dave whacking divots into the taxi's hood with a nine iron. The Oscar for Most Gruesome Acceptance speech, hotly tipped to go to the lachrymose Tom Hanks, was actually taken by Quincy Jones. The Academy was reported to have been swayed by his description of several colleagues as "gurus of givingness".
"My Generation", a series of three films going out in the Without Walls (C4) slot, is proving compelling. It's partly the music of course, the infallible appeal of pop music collectibles, but the thing wouldn't be anywhere near as matchable without the counterpoint of recrimination and bitterness. The editing is fast and furious, cutting between different accounts of the past, but it is to a purpose, not the eczematic scratching that afflicts some documentaries. This week Ray and Dave Davies reminisced about the extended fraternal ruck that was the Kinks. "The tension created a different imaginative place," explained Dave.
It did for their luckless drummer, who finally snapped mid-performance and laid Dave out with a hi-hat pedal ("it was the only thing I had to hit him with"). He was convinced he'd murdered him and ran from the concert hall weeping inconsolably. Ah, great days, great days.Reuse content