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NOW DEWITT has nothing against sentimentality, sui generis, you know. Some of our best friends have sentiments. Even we have been known to harbor a kindly, uncritical pang from time to time. We have also taken trips. And although these voyages never have precisely coincided with that state of spiritual soupiness to which we were just referring, it is conceivable that Dewitt might one day embark on a sentimental journey.
And we have long recognized that sentimentality is what Oscar Night is all about. Trot out the footage from the old classics, give a special award to some doddering luminary in a nursing home somewhere, let Shirley MacLaine do that same old number from Sweet Charity she does every year--and give those coveted golden cross-your-heart statuettes to the sentimental favorites.
No one really deludes himself that the Academy has any integrity. And artistic sensibility never has been an issue. Oscar Eve is the night when the hacks pay homage to their peers. And although some of us tend to remain bored throughout this self-indulgent spectacle, we've been around long enough to realize that there are many who wolf this movie Maypo down. They love it, we suppose, because it's lavish and sequined and hob-nobbing and....well, the more self-congratulatory and decadent--come on, admit it--the better.
Which is why--as we settled into a hedonistic slouch on Monday night to glutton ourselves with the faces of stars who were there, the cynical speculations about stars who weren't there, the silly name-pronouncing slip-ups, and the predictable choices--we couldn't quite figure out what was going on. The show seemed to be taking itself seriously: and we don't mean as entertainment, but as a self-consciously elitist and self-indulgent social event. The new generation of topical, issues-oriented liberals had arrived, and they seemed to be working out their liberal guilt by taking potshots at that squatting duck of hoopla and inebriated inanity--The Ceremony.
THE FIRST THING Richard Pryor tells us when he reaches the podium (to do the first lap in the night's relay of guest hosts) is: "I'm here to tell you why no blacks are going to be nominated tonight, for anything." None were. Jane Fonda is another guest host. Hanoi Jane announces Lillian Hellman, who praises this younger generation for inviting her after all the years she was blacklisted. The audience gives Hellman a standing ovation; we could not help thinking of all the stalwarts in the theater who probably played strong supporting roles in Hellman's feeding to the lions--but, as we have often remarked, selective memories and hypocrisy spring eternal.
Of course, we thought, the Academy always has flirted with these stabs at social relevance. But lo and behold, this new mood of reflection and self-criticism seemed to be translating into intelligent choices. Jason Robards, for his role as Washington Post managing editor Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men pulled the Best Supporting Actor prize from under the long nose of heart-strings favorite Burgess Meredith (who, we must conclude, kissed away all his chances of redeeming respectability when he played the Penguin in television's "Batman" series).
An unofficially financed film from the Ivory Coast called Black and White, in Color, by the maker of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, won as Best Foreign Film, over the gross and grossly overrated but commercially successful Seven Beauties. The harshly critical Harlan County, U.S.A. won as Best Documentary. Things were getting so radical that even a dyed-in-the-wool, if not so endowed in the head, liberal like Warren Beatty (McGovern benefits in '72, and all that) sauntered on and suggested that to add some political balance he should put in a good word "for Goldwater and Reagan."
Yet there never was really any chance that incisive criticism or debate really would invade our great Sanctum of Superficiality. It would have been worse than sacriligious; it would have spoiled all the fun--you know, all the traditional fellow-felling. (We read Meredith's lips during the show calling Robards a "Greenwich Village fruit who promotes himself anyway he can, if you get my meaning.") That's what it looked like to us, at least.
SO AFTER All the President's Men took the first few rounds, snatching Best Supporting Actor, Best Set Design and Best Sound, Network began bearing down with Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Faye Dunaway) and Best Actor (Peter Finch, who, as a knowledgeable friend of ours in Minneapolis put it, won on the death angle, since he suffered a fatal heart attack several months after the picture had been finished). But the evening finally went to a fairy-tale called Rocky, which, like three very dry martinis, makes you feel good. But Rocky takes much longer. Relevance had taken a prearranged dive.
You may have wondered, now that we bring it up why we made no pre-Oscar predictions, why we did not match our wits and savvy against the Sarrises, the Riches, the Ansens and the Canbys. It's simple: Dewitt does not stoop to being wrong.
That established, we would like to conclude with a few awards of our own for the evening:
THE MOST STONED LETTER OPENER AWARD: To Jack Nicholson, who was able to contain his giggles just long enough to present the Best Picture award.
THE MOST PLASTERED JOKE TELLER AWARD: To Norman Mailer '41, who told an incomprehensible zinger with a punch line implicating "one philosopher and two perverts," but still managed to pronounce Cousin, Cousine and Lina Wertmuller with the proper accents.
THE SINGLE MOST TASTELESS PIECE OF FILM FOOTAGE AWARD: To the stooge who selected a scene out of Network, screened minutes after the deceased Peter Finch has won the Best Actor Award, that showed the news anchorman he plays in the film having a heart attack on the air.
THE IT'S NOT HOW DUMB YOU MAKE IT, BUT HOW YOU MAKE IT DUMB AWARD: To Beatrice Straight, who couldn't keep her acknowledgements either straight or under five minutes.
THE MOST OBVIOUSLY--and DESER-VEDLY--OUT OF WORK AWARD: To Tom Jones, who stooped so low as to sing one of the Best Song nominations, but not as low as the neckline on his blouse.
THE AT LEAST SOMEBODY'S GOT SOME TALENT AND DIGNITY AROUND THIS PLACE AWARD: To Red Skelton, who brought back fond memories.
THE WHEN IT CAME DOWN TO IT MOST INTERESTING CONTEST OF THE EVENING AWARD: To the Battle of the Pageboys, waged between the permanent hair-dos of Oscar-presenters Tatum O'Neal, Ellen Burstyn and Anne-Margret.
Accuse us of sentimentality, but we think the gold should go to Tatum.
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