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Oscar Fever! Plus D-Day for TV

Monday morning quarterbacking on the Blah-scars: Going back to the '70s I've always hated myself for watching an entire Oscar telecast, and this morning hate myself more than usual. It's four hours of punishment. See Shales. I agree that Ellen was likeable, but didn't quite fill up the hall, which is the usual problem, and why big talents like Letterman barely make it out of the place alive. You had to be thrilled to see Scorsese win, finally, though I'm still steamed that he didn't win for Raging Bull. Forest Whitaker and the Little Miss Sunshine screenwriter made fine acceptance speeches, and Jodie Foster looked smashing. The big revelation was that Clint speaks Italian. Who knew? Still laughing at the Seinfeld riff on movie litter -- why can't he host?

As always, Hollywood celebrates perpetual youth and beauty even as we see, at the Oscars, that the power resides in the tenured generation, the generation of Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese, Sherry Lansing. As Joe Barber said this morning on Mr. Tony's radio show, the older Academy members dominate the voting, which is why Alan Arkin won for a fine but hardly spectacular performance in LMS. (How did Peter O'Toole lose??)

I'd riff on the wax-museum quality of the Oscars, but I did that years ago in an online-only column that has since been purged by dot.com from the website -- I specialize in the kind of writing that never sees print and even disappears from the Web -- but there's a 50-50 chance I can find it in our in-house data-base....Please stand by... Search for "Nicholson." Got it. From March 2000. In the spirit of recycling, here we go:


The most powerful narcotic known to man, the Oscars last night once again succeeded in making the viewer feel old, ugly, pointless, and most of all, asleep. Falling asleep during an awards show about movies that no one has seen is an American tradition. Personally, I try to stick with the show every year until I know who won Best Sound Effects Editing. To endure the entire show to the bitter end is an ambition I long ago discarded, along with my dream of becoming a cowboy.

No other program on television creates so intense a sensation of physical aging. You watch the Academy Awards and you become conscious of the life slowly leeching from your bones. You find yourself calculating what percentage of your life has been spent watching the Oscars. You want to stop watching, and yet you can't, on the off chance that something might actually happen, some excruciatingly embarrassing moment that can bring us all closer as a people. What if a gown collapses and there's a major event involving bosoms?

Sadly, the show has turned into Groundhog Day. It's the same show every year with slightly different movies but, mostly, the same stars, only older. It has turned into a documentary on aging. Of course these stars don't age normally. They're mutantly good-looking even in their dotage. It's inspiring to know that Jane Fonda can still be beautiful and sexy at the age of, what, 70?

Scan the front rows and you see all the old guys, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Caine and a bunch of other increasingly sedate senior citizens. These guys are the equivalent of the U.S. Senate in Hollywood, and there's no such thing as term limits. It is a well-kept secret in Hollywood that Clint was a star of the silents. Nicholson is so self-content he doesn't even try to look like a movie star anymore -- he radiates the air of a man who refuses to get on a jogging program.

Meanwhile, the host, Billy Crystal, has now done the show so many times he can do it with his eyes closed. His opening bits last night were brilliant, but you could see him getting bored as the show went on. He kept mentioning that he had done the show many times before -- right before our eyes he was turning into Tom Snyder. Crystal's just-me-and-you patter with Nicholson was the kind of shtick you'd expect from a Friar's Club roast. Where's Milton Berle?

Bulletin: Even Cher was boring. She actually apologized for dressing like "a grown-up." Good Lord, what's happening to Hollywood???

For Best Song, the Oscar goes to Mr. Cutting Edge Himself, Phil Collins!

Now, let's cut to a musical medley led by . . . Burt Bacharach! And who does he have waiting in the wings but . . . Ray Charles! It's one blast from the past after another. But there was more. Because buried somewhere within a dense bank of dry-ice fog we have . . . Isaac Hayes! These are people whose names are emblazoned on brain cells that I thought I had killed YEARS ago.

There were, to be fair, some younger stars on hand, but they had an evaporative quality, utterly without heft or significance. They were too thin or too silly. Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz did scarily dead-on impersonations of airheads. Keanu Reeves had deer-in-the-headlights problems. Angelina Jolie should go easier on the shoe polish the next time she does her hair. At some technical level, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are young movie stars, but they always have that odd quality of seeming not entirely human.

No, the young were outsiders last night. They were trapped in a world that is middle-age and fat and happy. Let's see what won Best Picture: Ah, a movie about a married guy having a mid-life crisis. Where do they get these ideas?

Old, old, old: In his speech, Kevin Spacey thanked Jack Lemmon, one of those actors who, like Spacey, was old even when he was a young man.

Next year there will be the ritual vows to improve the Oscars telecast, to speed it up, make it snappier, get rid of the boring parts. And yet it will somehow turn out to be the same. Hollywood specializes in doing next year what it did this year. It'll be tedious beyond belief -- and every one of us will watch.

Now here's some of last night's live-blogging, also known as gibberish:

[OK, we're switching between BabaWawa interviewing Ellen D. (and how many people are now Google Imaging the hottie girlfriend?) and Ryan Seacrest working the red carpet on E!

I vow that later I'll read the entirety of The New York Review of Books as penance. I'll do another Einstein item. We'll have three consecutive days devoted to the 10 most obscure elements in the Periodic Table.

Nice new do by J.Lo, and I applaud Leo for finally looking like a man, though some observers think the slicked-back do is a disaster. Jennifer Hudson may win but she's the first fashion disaster -- a dress with wings on the shoulders in a blatant violation of the rule that aerodynamic is never a good look at the Oscars.]

[The Glam-a-strator on E! is amazing -- it's just like football, like what Madden does when he shows how the pulling guard levels the linebacker. Only it's about lapels and hemlines. Wow. This is so 21st Century.]

[I should mention that I'm watching this with a roomful of females and I don't think they're going to be happy when, at about 9, we have to switch to the NBA game.]

[Big feather night. Feathers are in. Even Clint looks a bit feathery. "Is this Vegas?" asks the E! fashion expert upon examining Kirsten Dunst, who looked pretty good from over here in the bleachers (except for the feathers of course). Beyonce looks great except for the kelp crawling up her shoulder.

OK, just to keep things honest, here's Scientific American on Why We Shouldn't Be Surprised That Chimps Make Weapons:

'....spears are just one more example of the kinds of tools we've seen chimps use and transmit before, such as nut-cracking and termite-fishing technology.'

I disagree. The fashioning of weapons indicates PLANNING. It's not technology that's grabby here, it's that the chimps are planning ahead. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.]

[From Google Images, here's Ellen and the implausibly named Portia de Rossi.]

[Cate Blanchett: "I was told i was only going to get parts as a fat girl." [WAIT: Getting some feedback here that it was Kate Winslet. You mean they're TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE???] Eddie Murphy hilarious in interview with Walters. Nicole Kidman looks great but the dress is a shade of red that is burning out the electronics on my TV. Expert says the shoulder carbuncle, the excrescence, better than the one that Charlize wore last year to great derision on the A-blog.]

[Here's the thing about the chimps and the weapons: It shows they perceive themselves in all four dimensions of spacetime. Right???? Didn't you have that same thought? Anyone can take a stick and use it as a weapon, but to make one for use later, that's a whole new ballgame.]

[Jen Chaney is doing a live chat of the Oscars on dot.com, please check it out. Meanwhile, here is the Hollywood Stock Exchange.]

The guy in the room says of Cameron Diaz: "She looks puffy." The 13-year-old says, "She and Justin joke broke up." Got it.

By the way, my stature in-house has gotten a boost from the revelation that I once interviewed Andre Leon Talley. He said to me that the Manolo Blahnik stilleto is THE SHOE, and clearly there was not going to be any debate about that. And when they first showed Talley they showed him going into a Blahnik store. I wonder if it's still THE SHOE or is just, you know, a shoe.]

[For fellows who can't handle the red carpet reports, here is someNBA news and, why not, the Black & Decker power tools website.]

[Word on the street is: Boring start. "It's the Everyone Gets A Trophy Oscars!" Decent but unspectacular intro by Ellen. I really like her standup routines but this venue has a way of confounding even the biggest TV talents (not that I have any particular late-night TV host in mind.) She never quite got on a roll but I liked the joke about Gore. Your thoughts?? I miss Billy Crystal.

James Bond looking positively dwarfed by Nicole. And, oh yeah, I CALLED the Art Direction win by Pan's Labyrinth. Saw that coming a million kilometers away.

Now here's boodler bc on his blog with a great idea: "I've been thinking, wouldn't it be easier if we could just have chip sets planted directly into our heads? Project the display directly onto our retinas from fiber optics implanted into our eye sockets, take input from our nervous systems as control commands ..."]

[I smell a Letters From Iwo Jima sweep. Calling it now at 9:19 p.m.]

[I mean Dreamgirls. That's what I meant to say.]

[Arkin was great in Sunshine but I was pulling for Eddie Murphy. Funny stunt by Ellen handing Scorsese a screenplay she'd written, but this is still shaping up as an Oscars to forget. We need Sasha Littlefeather. We need a streaker. Maybe Jack Palance will show up! Oh, wait. Never mind. One other complaint: It drives me crazy when two people get the award and only one gets to say something. I know, we don't want to hear long-winded speeches, but this is this person's ONE GREAT MOMENT, his or her 30 seconds of fame. Let the winner speak.]

[James Taylor...Randy Newman...paging Cat Stevens!!!]

[Gore shows some nice timing! Give that man a contract!]

[Cameron Diaz: Did I say puffy? What I mean is: HER CHEEKS ARE THE SIZE OF TENNIS BALLS.]

[To be continued tomorrow...thanks for tuning in. The boodle remains open for business 24-7.]

[My column in the Sunday magazine.]

Someday everything will be digital, including your toaster, your wallet, your shoes and your under-garments. All toilets in the house will have their own individual Internet address, and they'll be e-mailing one another promiscuously. The march toward this technological utopia will reach a milestone in less than two years, on February 17, 2009, when all television stations must go entirely digital. D-day for TV.

This is going to complicate life for many people. More than 20 million American households still rely entirely on analog TV. There are tens of millions more second and third TVs that are analog-only. I have such a set, a tiny thing that I drag from the kitchen to the porch to the garage, watching sports on a screen so small that I would no sooner be able to spot a hockey puck than perceive an individual atom of hydrogen.

Forgotten in the lore of America is that not everyone set out for the frontier in a wagon. Many thought the wagons had gotten too fancy. They didn't like the new trend in mules. They were content to stay home with their fellow Late Adopters, sticking with pewter rather than making the switch to porcelain, and sharpening the old plow rather than buying one of the fancy new ones with the curved blade. Naturally, they spent a lot of time fiddling with the rabbit ears to find that CBS station out of Jacksonville.

There is much to be said for the old ways. When you aim the rabbit ears correctly and get a clear picture and good sound, you feel not only clever but triumphant. You say to yourself: Yes! Right there! And then when you step away, the signal goes sketchy again, forcing you to move back, adjust some more, do this whole little dance with the antennae and the set, and thus integrate yourself into the electromagnetic fabric of space-time. You become, in a sense, one with television.

But on D-day, your trusty old analog TV sets must be trashed. Either that, or you can buy a "converter" box, though that will surely be seen as the equivalent of repairing broken eyeglasses with duct tape. What the capitalists prefer is that you purchase a brand-new $7,000 103-inch, LCD, high-def, flat-screen Jumbotron with a picture so crisp that when you watch the fight scenes in "Rocky" you get sprayed with sweat.

Of course, the one challenge with such a fancy TV is figuring out how to turn it on. A truly advanced household has at least eight remote-control devices, or perhaps 30, each associated with a different consumer electronics apparatus, at least in theory. Most are utterly useless, surviving the clutter purge only because we all carry a special gene that makes us afraid to throw away remotes.

The owner of all this technology has to struggle to recall the protocol for doing something as specific as finding the channel showing the Super Bowl. If the home has a satellite dish, you usually have to resort, at some point, to prayer. Many a time you'll just give up and start switching back and forth between The Laundry Network on Channel 787 (the national stain-elimination championship) and The Lawn Darts Network on Channel 923 (the regional semifinals of an obscure sport played in an unknown Anglophone country that is possibly New Zealand).

In a pinch, the owner may call his or her personal Technology Adviser. Usually this is not a paid professional but a friend who has willingly offered assistance in exchange for the right to be acknowledged as technologically superior. The Technology Adviser switched to digital in 1950, owns a communications satellite and has transferred all personal data, snapshots, financial information and memorabilia onto a pinkie-size flash drive that the Technology Adviser carries around in a breast pocket.

But here's the headline: Even the most technologically savvy members of society do not know what's happening with consumer electronics. Corporations stand to rake in billions or go bankrupt. Everyone wants to own the new platform, the new standard, the new Chosen Gizmo. Steve Jobs regularly short-sheets Bill Gates's bed. No one knows if we'll carry our data (iPod-like) or get it wireless. And TV is part of the confusion: Will that be the 1080i standard or the 720p standard? Cable, wireless, phone line?

Wireless is worth rooting for. Over-the-air digital TV means that, even in a high-tech culture, you'll still have to fiddle with some kind of antennae -- with all the attendant triumphs and tragedies.

Only one thing is for sure: Whatever becomes the new standard will itself become obsolete, eventually. The ultimate goal in capitalist society is not the creation of a technological utopia but the creation of technological obsolescence. Novelty is a technological and biological imperative. Life needs fresh blood and new gadgets.

But in the meantime, I'll be back in the garage, searching for a ballgame on an old TV and telling anyone who will listen that football hasn't been as good since they legalized the forward pass.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 26, 2007; 8:54 AM ET
 
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