The annual idiocy of The Oscars (live on BBC2, abridged version on BBC1) is the best indicator of which films not to see. Drunks in Las Vegas, nuns on death row, Scottish heroes with big hair? Please. And the magnificent Ang Lee, barely mentioned. The fun is in watching actors proudly watching themselves in short clips from their films, and the ludicrous acceptance speeches. Why must so many publicly declare their love for some acquaintance or other, just because they've been handed a golden dildo for making a movie? The strict time limit on the speeches gets tricky when two arrive on stage to collect the same award. The first to reach the microphone never stops talking, while the second becomes increasingly grim-faced. The temptation to deliver a sharp pinch must be acute. To the organisers' evident alarm, one holocaust victim insisted on extending the time, and gave the best little speech of the evening, but in general winners allowed themselves to be herded off the stage so that Lyle Lovett and Bruce Springsteen could sing film songs, and Whoopi Goldberg could pause in a self-satisfied way after her every joke.
But what was she wearing? Whoopi had the flattened, battened-down breasts that seemed to be de rigueur this year (how do actresses project their voices from these crushed diaphragms?) and four million dollars' worth of jewellery (according to Barry Norman), but there the glamour ended. She was shrouded in the black robes of a fundamentalist preacher or university graduate, and from them her hands emerged and flapped about as if controlled by an invisible puppeteer. This set the tone for the whole event. No one seemed entirely conscious, nor needed to be (as it was broadcast here initially between 2am and 5.30am the audience apparently didn't need to be either). Most of the proceedings could not have galvanised a frog. How about the Dance of the Costumes, in which so-called supermodels displayed Jane Austen frocks and shawls, or Scottish Highland leisurewear, looking sultry or tossing their ringlets in a provocative manner? Who thought that up?
And yet everyone seemed close to tears and keen to believe that making mainstream American movies is some sort of noble achievement. They wore Aids ribbons and other flimsy tokens of political or social concern, as if their ballooning egos were in some way linked to healing the ills of the world. They're really just good luck charms, tiny symbols of atonement for being healthy and wealthy. Then Christopher Reeve was wheeled on, his immobile form somehow propped into a sitting position, only capable of issuing half a sentence at a time. In an orgasm of Los Angelic compassion, a sea of stars rose and wept for him, trying to obliterate him with applause and tears. But there was something spooky about Reeve, the spectre at the feast. There's always the chance that the Hollywood actor, if put through enough physical discomfort, social isolation and time for contemplation, might come to question the morality of commerce based on cloying sentimentality, an obsession with the body beautiful and a willingness to reduce all of human life to porn, violence, and anything else that goes with popcorn. The paralysed Reeve was out of place amongst people so eager and able to pat themselves on the back.
We had competitions of our own to deal with: Young Musicians '96 (BBC2) (I liked that bassoonist) and Modern Times's Beautiful Men (BBC2), about the Mr UK beauty contest. It all starts with getting crowned Mr Plaistow or Mr Torbay, (if you lose in one place you can always drive to another). It's not like female beauty contests at all. There are no chaperones, nor any need to declare that you have a personality or a desire to save the world. When asked about his hobbies, one bloke replied that he liked drinking and girls ("little boobs, big boobs, big butt, anything"). The loutish female audience lapped it up. Manly beauty is also a new field - the male judges were embarrassed even to think about it (whereas women are all well-qualified connoisseurs of femininity). One contestant felt that strutting around in bathing trunks might be demeaning. It seemed a bit late for that sort of scruple. In the end Mr Essex, the most brainless of the lot, with his granny in the audience, won the title. Next stop, Mr World.
Compared to that, acting begins to look like a real profession after all. Acting with ... Prunella Scales (BBC2) turned out to be a complicated business involving "comedic texts". "It is our artistic duty, I believe, to look after the sculpture ... and the dynamic of our performance, within the bounds of truth ... and of course by agreement with the director," she proclaimed. Phew! I thought comedy was all a matter of jokes and timing, but instead it rests on music, "thickness" and the occasional "stretch". Sounds more like six hours of Wagner. Despite the impenetrable theory though, you trust every word Scales utters, and when she complimented one of her volunteer students, she meant it, often almost falling off her chair in her enthusiasm. She suggested to a Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest the mileage in playing it as if she were very short-sighted, with very great results. I was less convinced by her views on the word "succulent" in Pinter's The Birthday Party. But it seemed fitting that she herself earned the best laugh of all with a paroxysm of self-abasement after unthinkingly calling someone Luvvie. "No, not luvvie!" she cried. "No actor ever calls another luvvie. This is a myth!" Yeah, yeah.Reuse content