Sam's Oscar Report

Mon, 22 Mar 1999 - Hollywood

It was the longest Oscar Ceremony ever.

So it's...

SAM'S LONGEST OSCAR REPORT EVER

Hello!

Sam Longoria here, your Oscar reporter.

It's been a busy month, March 1999. Without even getting time to recover from the
Grammy Awards last February, (the Firesign CD I helped on came in an honorable
second, to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, and I chased around after the 4 or 5 Crazee Guys
from party to party, and got my picture taken with Hugh Hefner and a Playmate for
_Playboy_), March roared in as a lion.

I had been dreading moving my 25-year accumulation of movie-making equipment for
years. March 1999 just STARTED with that grueling move, out of my editing room and
three warehouses in Hollywood and Culver City, to my new place, out in the middle of
nowhere.  I'm making my western, "Surreal West," there.

That's where I learned from the newspaper that my movie director idol, Stanley
Kubrick had died after delivering his 13th movie, "Eyes Wide Shut." I was VERY unhappy
about the news.

Some time back, I bribed someone to give me Mr. Kubrick's top-secret phone number,
and had called him. It was my goal to go to London to meet him, as I'd wanted to do,
since I saw "2001" when I was fourteen.  But now it won't happen.

Mr. Kubrick died on 7 March, and his funeral was 12 March, my 43rd birthday. I spent
that birthday flying back from Utah. I had spoken at Brigham Young University's Science
Fiction Symposium, with Marty "Droid" Brenneis of Industrial Light and Magic. The
flight back was the world's bumpiest flight, and I was wondering why I had not, as Mr.
Kubrick had, sworn off air travel.

The passengers and crew caromed around the fusilage of the Boeing 737 like billiard
balls. I was convinced it would be my last birthday. The thing I remember most is the
smell of burning wiring.

Somehow the plane landed safely in Phoenix, and I continued on to Burbank without
incident, unless you count my falling to my knees on arrival at the Burbank airport,
and loudly smooching the tarmac.

The next day, I taught a weekend Directing Workshop in Studio City, and the next
weekend was a 35mm film shoot at Raleigh Studios, and then the Academy Awards,
and next weekend I'm teaching another Directing Workshop.

In between, I'm sleeping.  But not very much.

So, anyway, Sunday night was the Academy Awards. I didn't really want to go,
honestly. I'd gone twelve times, mostly to root for films I'd worked on, that were
nominated. Twice, I've gone socially, as a guest of a nominee.

As I wrote last year, most of those times were with a ticket, a couple of times I
crashed. I'm not proud of crashing, but something good has always come of it, and I'm
pleased it's always turned out so well.

This year, my heart wasn't in it. Maybe it's sleep deprivation, maybe I'm getting older,
maybe I'm sad about all the movie persons who've passed away in the past couple of
years, with whom I won't get to work. Maybe I've got movies to make, and I really don't
want to go to the Oscars any more unless my name would be on the statue. Anyway,
something took much wind from my sails.

(Did you see the clip presentation they did of the brilliant Kubrick movies? It was
nice enough, until Whoopi Goldberg did her "well, let's move right along" afterward.
She wasn't very nice, but then she's not very nice.)

I had the chance to buy Oscar tickets several times this year, and didn't. THAT's when
I noticed I didn't feel like going. I can't explain it. Then, suddenly Sunday afternoon,
the day of the show, something clicked.

Maybe I was supposed to go. There were all those ticket offers, and a WHOLE bunch of
friends had called and emailed, all saying "I really look forward to your Oscar Reports,
be sure to send me one." So, mysteriously, after waiting beyond the last minute, I
decided to think about going. I realized a couple of things.

This is the last Academy Awards of this decade. I know they say the last one of the
century, but the Twenty-first century starts 1 January 2001.

(Don't listen to me. Nobody's going to wait the extra year to celebrate at the proper
time, if the turn of the last century's any indication. Only China is noting the turn of
the century properly, and it's not even their calendar.)

When the calendar goes all zeroes, the party starts, and maybe the world ends. That's
what the Firesign CD "Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death" is about. You can find it
at any record store, and I'm on the record, and in the liner notes.

This is the first Academy Awards to be held on a Sunday. A disastrous programming
decision, as it turns out. They lost nearly ONE-QUARTER of their watching audience.
That's some TWO HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION non-viewers. Wow!

(If that isn't the reason, there's always Whoopi's clowning.)

This is definitely the last Academy Awards to be held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
(They're building a new facility in Hollywood in which to have 'em.)

Last time at the Chandler. This was most important. I know the Chandler like the back
of my hand, and if I didn't have a ticket this year (I didn't), the Chandler on a Sunday
night would be a piece of cake to crash. Practically an invitation, certainly not nearly
as easy if I were to try next year. Hmm.

Well, there's still the lack of motivation. I still didn't feel like going...

Maybe I need a new reason to go.

Maybe I won't go to meet people or see movie stars or work deals or mingle in a tux.
Maybe I'll crash just to be crashing. Just for fun, just to get away with it. Just for
adventure. Just for the hell of it. Because I need a break, even more than I need rest.
To go just because I can. Because they can't keep me out.

(Which seems sometimes like the whole point of the movie business - to keep
everybody out.)

What would happen?

This would be my thirteenth attendance, and my first non-participant, non-socializing,
just for the hell of it, pure-dee CRASH. Never done that before. Hmm. That works.

Sunday evening found me trudging up the hill, to the Chandler Pavilion. I'd parked my
car on a side street, down below. I was togged in my tux, carrying a large padded
envelope.

I'm always surprised by how DIFFERENT the awards are from the television
presentation. When somebody makes a bad joke in the auditorium, there are often
boos and catcalls. None of that makes it into the sound mix we hear at home.
Only taped laughter and applause sweetens the presentation.

When you drive up, before walking down the red carpet into the Shrine or the Chandler,
the streets are FILLED with protesters every year. They never are mentioned in media
coverage, and cameras are not permitted to capture them.

Most years the protests are religious in nature, signs exhorting "Don't worship golden
idols," or "Jesus is the only superstar."

This year, there were also signs condemning Elia Kazan, for having testified before
HUAC half a century ago. I don't know if the protesters were sincere, or paid by the
Academy to add a bit of visual excitement. Which they did, by hitting each other over
the head with their little picket signs. But only when there were cameras.

I do know that the whole Elia Kazan thing seems pretty stupid to me. He's eighty-nine
years old, for heaven's sake, and all that HUAC stuff happened quite a long time ago.

Elia Kazan made some of the best movies ever, too. "On the Waterfront," "Gentleman's
Agreement," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Spendor In The Grass," and on and on. It can
be argued that Elia Kazan never made a bad movie, or even an average one.

Why is there even a question? Isn't this the Academy Awards, and aren't they supposed
to reward excellence, as they shamelessly flog the movie industry?

Well this year, the Academy voted unanimously to reward Elia Kazan, and the
protesters are mad. Their hand-lettered signs read "rat!" and "fink!" The more
imaginative ones have hand-lettered "rat-fink!"

I don't have to worry about them. I'm arriving at the last minute, and the protesters
are pretty much dispersing. But, because of the protesters, the LAPD cops are out in
force. More of them than usual, and they're turning away folks three blocks away.

"Where you going, sir?" I hold up my padded envelope. "Drop off for catering." This is
utter nonsense, but said in the proper tone of voice, they let me go. I nod to them, and
pass.

I walk up to the outer perimeter of the Music Center, next to the Oscar Staff HQ. At a
Postal Service mailbox, under a streetlight, I open my envelope. Inside are badge pieces
from various seminars, index file cards, and colored pens.

Staffers with badges are filing in and out of the Chandler. I watch their badges,
committing them to memory. A white rectangle, taller than wide, with a big yellow
rectangle inside a white border.

I take out an index file card, and a yellow highlighter pen. I sketch the yellow
rectangle within the border of the card. With a black pen, I make the black markings.
UPC computer-scan at the bottom, another black mark to the left, a capital Helvetica
letter to the right. There is a diagonal red stamp about one-third up the yellow badge.
I use a red pen to sketch an impression of that stamp.

It doesn't have to be exact, just approximate. Just good enough to pass a quick glance
by a bored security guard.

When I'm happy with the badge markings on the card, I put it into a plastic badge holder
from the envelope, and trim the plastic to fit the card with the scissors from my
swiss army knife.

I clip on a neck lanyard like the one that dangles the real badges, and hang my new
stinkin' badge around my neck. I'm careful it dangles on the outside, not obscured by my
tux jacket. If somebody can't see the whole badge, they'll demand to examine it,
and I'm ruined.

All this artistry takes about five minutes, and I put the pens and cards back into the
envelope, and drop it into the mailbox. It has my address, and enough stamps to get it
home. It's on its way. So am I.

I join the line of staffers going in, and in one minute more, I'm backstage, and then in
the lobby getting a program, then in the auditorium and seated. This is where crashing
has the advantage. With a ticket, it takes about an hour and a half to get in, with
parking and waiting and walking.

Usually when crashing, I follow the cardinal rule of the crasher: "Keep moving," to
avoid the scrutiny that gets you caught. But this year there seem to be quite a lot of
spare seats. So I stay put. Later, I'll range around the building, and go downstairs and
backstage. I'll get autographs from everybody I want, 'cause they're all here. (Except
Stanley Kubrick.)

And the Oscar ceremonies start.

Tom Hanks is fuzzy-looking, wearing a scruffy reddish beard. He's won Best Actor two
years in a row, he could show up in pajamas. Tonight Tom will appear with Sen. John
Glenn, who's apparently back from space.

Uma Thurman looks SO beautiful on film, and SO much better in real life.

Robert DeNiro has a haircut like his Mohawk in "Taxi Driver," only he let it grow some.
(He says it's for his role as "Fearless Leader" in "Rocky and Bulwinkle.")

Jack Nicholson struts about, terribly pleased with himself, as always.

Andie MacDowell may very well be the most beautiful lady in the world. I tell her
that "Groundhog Day" is one of my very favorite movies, and she gives me a look like
"everybody says that."

Mike Meyers is lurching about, having fun.

Celene Dion arrives, wearing pants and a backward jacket. I'm not kidding.

Gwyneth Paltrow is VERY tall, resplendent in a pink ruffly dress, yards and yards of
pink shiny material. Her hair is pulled back, and if the power went out, she'd still light
up the place. This girl is hot, and full of energy.

Gwyneth was wonderful in "Shakespeare In Love," as was every other element of that
movie, and all anybody can talk about is how many Oscars it'll take in. It's on Roger
Ebert's Pick List to get Best Picture.

Everybody loves it, but they insist it's a "surprise" later when it gets seven Oscars,
from thirteen nominations. Give me a break.

The only thing that could stand in its way is that "Saving Private Ryan" is a much
better picture. Luckily, that doesn't even slow "Shakespeare" down.

When Gwyneth wins Best Actress, she cries all the way through her speech, while
thanking her friends and her family and everyone she's ever even met. Jack Nicholson
has to prop her up, as she is severely dehydrated. I don't care. She is so cute.

James Coburn is still cool as ever, all white hair and beard and mischievous eyes.
He picks up Best Supporting Actor for "Affliction," mentioning that he's overcome
many obstacles to continue his career.

Later, at the Governors Ball, I get Mr. Coburn's autograph. (I got all the winners this
year.) I knew Mr. Coburn suffered from arthritis, but I had no idea how badly he was
afflicted. When I saw his hands, all distorted into claws, I felt like crying. But I didn't,
because he signed his name with a flourish, and grinned at me.  Mr. Cool.

Norman Jewison was very funny when he got his Thalberg Award. He danced out, saying
"Oy!" and deflated himself with "Not bad for a goy." I got to talk to him afterward at the
 Governors Ball.

Dame Judy Densch got Best Supporting Actress in "Shakespeare In Love," and she was
SO elegant, humbly accepting her Oscar, pointing out she only was in the movie for
eight minutes of screen time. Americans are SO impressed with royalty, even when it's
just an actress PLAYING the queen, and only for eight minutes.

Still, she has class, class, class. Or maybe it's just the accent.

Elia Kazan got his Special Oscar. If you're interested, as I am, in the symbolism
involved in Life and Art, and how Reality mirrors Inner Thought, there's PLENTY of
symbolism in this particular moment to go around. Perhaps the most obvious is up
there, on the big screen.

The Academy has chosen a clip of "On The Waterfront," to end their Elia Kazan montage,
before Elia walks out. It's the scene where Marlon Brando has to get up and walk, to
inspire everyone, after taking a terrible beating by thugs, because he's named names
and testified in court.

And now Elia Kazan must now get up and walk onstage to pick up his Oscar, carried as
he is by Martin Scorcese. I guess to inspire everyone. But this is Real, not reel.

Clearly, Martin Scorsese is, and symbolizes, an Academy member who LOVES MOVIES.
It's perfect casting. He's a perfect choice to represent the forces that want to give Elia
Kazan his Special Oscar.

But since this is real life, some things go wrong. Martin stands directly BEHIND Elia
Kazan, and when Kazan calls for him to come out and join him, Martin looks scared or
reluctant. I don't know what it means, but it's certainly strange.

The whole room is electrically-charged. Some actors stand and applaud, some sit
quietly.

A "sitter" (person who fills seats, so it never looks empty) hired by the Academy,
tells me they were instructed to stand.  They do.

And so does Warren Beatty (a leading Hollywood leftie, who made the movie "Reds,"
and who owes his "break-in-the-business" to Kazan), Karl Malden, Kurt Russell,
Helen Hunt, Kathy Bates and Robert Rehm, the President of the Academy.

Some Academy Members, like Steven Spielberg, stay seated and applaud.  No smiling,
though. Very clearly staying out of it.

The actors who are shown not smiling, not standing, not applauding are Ed Harris and
Nick Nolte and Amy Madigan. Why they're chosen by the camera, is anybody's guess.  Do
they disapprove, or is it that they've not won an Oscar?

Elia Kazan gets his Oscar, and thanks everybody without apologizing for anything.  He
ends on a wistful note, asking "What else do you want me to say?"

What's all this mean? Beats me. It wasn't a very satisfying real-life moment.  It
wasn't a real-life moment that resolved anything, as everything was so brilliantly
resolved at the end of Elia Kazan's movie. There wasn't really any forgiveness, or
redemption, or nobility of spirit. It was sort of sad and petty. It was really sort of
interesting, but only sort of.

Sometimes Life is only sort of interesting. And that is why we have Art.

If there ever was an ego on feet, it is Roberto Benigni, who capers goatlike about the
auditorium, walking on the seat backs, as he gets Best Actor in the Best Foreign Film,
"Life is Beautiful." (The first time that's ever happened.) Later, he will kiss everyone
within ten feet of him. (He is a good kisser, but not a great kisser.)

Roberto says he's used up his English, and cannot find the proper words.  Thank
goodness, or we'd still be there listening to him. I can tell when somebody is
improvising, reaching for anything to complete the thought they've started.  Such is
the case here. Roberto heaps fractured metaphor on broken phrase, stirring
enthusiastically, grinning like a loon.

He says he wishes to be Jupiter, kidnapping and making love to everybody. If he said
that in common language, out in public, he'd be arrested.

As Woody Allen says, "Spring comes, people marry and die, Pinkerton does not return."
Roberto goes on and on.

The whole room has waited for his award, just to see what he will do. What Roberto
will do (and does) is stretch his part of this particular Oscar telecast, far past his
forty-five seconds, far into the coming millennium, no matter what year it starts.
It is not unlike releasing a chimp into the auditorium.

This particular Oscar telecast is the longest one ever, and I blame Roberto.
But he IS funny.

There are many tributes this year. One for Sinatra, one for Kubrick, one for Norman
Jewison, one for Elia Kazan, one for Film Heroes, and of course one Memorial Tribute
for all the film folk, who are apparently dropping like flies.

Val Kilmer walks a beautiful palamino horse (Trigger, Jr.) onto the stage to do a
tribute to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and westerns in general. I perk up, because for
the past two years, I've been watching every western ever made, to help me make my
"Surreal West."

Both Val and the horse wear rubber shoes, to protect the floor. Backstage, techs worry
about cleaning up, if there's an accident. I hope they don't mean Val.

"Gods and Monsters" gets Best Adapted Screenplay. Later, I get Sir Ian McKellan's
autograph. I tell him it was a proud moment for me, when I was onstage with him
in his "Acting Shakespeare" show.

(In that show, Sir Ian would call for volunteers, and have them fall down onstage at a
certain point in the show. At the show I attended, he said "I need some volun..." and I
was on the stage before he could reach the syllable "...teers.")

He is funny, says "I remember you. You fell down onstage. You were very good."

The Best Original Screenplay goes to "Shakespeare In Love." Go figure.

Steven Spielberg gets Best Director for "Saving Private Ryan," and dedicates the
award to his father. I think that at this stage of his life, Steven Spielberg is making
nothing but masterpieces.

Aerosmith plays "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing," nominated for Best Song. Downstairs,
backstage, afterwards, their dressing room is filled with pizza boxes.  They lounge
about, looking strangely like a bowling team. I do not mention this to Steve Tyler,
because if some miracle happens and I marry his beautiful daughter Liv Tyler,
it would complicate things.

But Best Song goes to "When You Believe," from "Prince of Egypt," because they had God
on their side.

At the Governor's Ball, I am jazzed, and therefore invisible, and need no subterfuge to
just walk in the front door.

I was happy to see again Mr. Robert Wise, the Editor of "Citizen Kane," the Director of
"The Sound of Music" and "The Day The Earth Stood Still," and a past
President of the Academy.  Mr. Wise is very nice, and we discussed our mutual friend,
Mr. Linwood Dunn, ASC, who invented the optical printer, and who passed
away last year at the age of ninety-four.

I also introduced myself to Mr. Robert Rehm, the current president of the Academy.
He autographs my program as "Bob." Thanks, Bob.

I saw all the movie stars you can think of, and got autographs from all the winners
who were at the Governors Ball, and put the muscles back on my chutzpah.

Helen Hunt had long dangly hair, and a jewelled dress with no back on it. She was
fending off media, and worried that somebody might quote her. I know because she
said she was worried I might quote her. I asked if I could quote her on that.

Bruce Vilanch was there, in his tuxedo, sneakers, and red glasses. Dressed as he is,
can you tell he's the Comedy Writer for the Academy Awards? He said they always
write the jokes on the fly, changing material during the show, right up until it comes
out of the presenter's mouth. He's always nice to me, acting like he's known me for
years. Actually, he's only seen me thirteen times over the past twenty years. But he's
still nice.

The Governors Ball is held in a tent next to the Chandler Pavilion. Wolfgang Puck
serves champagne and salmon and "free-range veal" (what?) inside the big tent.

It's a big white plastic tent, with blue light inside and a band playing "Play That Funky
Music, White Boy," and other hits from the 1970s. It is elegant, and crummy all at the
same time.

Elegant and crummy. Beautiful and petty. Glamorous and vulgar. All at once.  Sound
familiar?  It should.

It's the prom. Just like your high school prom. I'm serious.

I've seen enough of them to make a judgement of some kind. Now I understand that
quote of George Lucas's that "Hollywood is High School." As usual, George is right.

The Academy members are the Student Body, and the movie stars are the cool kids,
and the Technical Awards are the AV club's geeks and copterheads. That's why they
have their own ceremony the week before, so they won't embarrass the cool kids on tv.

(I know that sounds bitter. Can you tell I was a movie technician for years, before I
leaped back up the food chain to Produce and Direct?)

It's the prom. Tuxedos and weird gowns and hair, and weird bands playing weird
music choices. Lots more money was spent on this prom than on your prom, and I
never got to dance with Claudia Schiffer at your high school prom, but it's the
same.

And mercifully, a high school prom only happens once during your four years of high
school. I've gone to this particular prom a total of thirteen times, and I never went to
my high school prom. So maybe I'm ready to graduate.

From an anthropology standpoint, this is all quite understandable. This is tribal stuff,
with status and costumes and pecking-order. If you're not an anthropologist, stick
with the prom idea.

About that time, I realized that Stanley Kubrick was the best of the Best Directors,
and he never won a Best Director Oscar.

Alfred Hitchcock, one of the very best who ever lived, was nominated six times,
but never won for Best Director.  Is that why they trotted Elia Kazan out this year,
why they still could?  Oscar, you're a hard black bird to figure out.

So I left the Governors Ball, and I crashed the Vanity Fair party where we danced 'til
dawn, and I met Monica Lewinski.

But that's another story, for another time.

It was all great fun. But I have to get back to work. I have a lot to do.
I don't know if I'll go to the Oscars next year.

But if I do, I'll write and tell you all about it.

In the middle of the night.
At the edge of the desert.
At the end of the twentieth century.
At the end of a long copper wire.

Best to you,


Sam Longoria

filmmaking
secret film school

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© 1999 Sam Longoria, All Rights Reserved