The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You could almost hear Scorsese saying "Yeah, sure, this makes up for never winning an Oscar"

My biggest question about The Golden Globes is – how do they know when not to chew? Unlike the Oscars – that awards show no one is supposed to mention during this gilded hoedown – guests have dinner and bottomless champagne to enjoy during the ceremony. And with cameras constantly roaming among the beautiful faces so we can get on with the star-spotting and dress-criticizing most of the world really watches for, it seems all-but impossible to me that we never caught one Prince or Princess of Hollywood mid-nosh.

I think there’s increased caution in the Globes audience. Because of that bottomless champagne, and deeper than that, because even among vapid awards shows this one has about the widest ratio between popularity and genuine usefulness as a critical barometer, guests have a tendency to drop their guard, and the Globes thus have a reputation for being the zany, spontaneous awards show where you never know what zany thing is going to happen next, spreading the zany throughout the…zany and the….


Embarrassment-wary celebs need not have worried, though, as this year’s ruthlessly mechanical ceremony was about as spontaneous as
It’s a Small World. With no host, no musical performances, barely any film clips and just two or three seemingly random backstage interviews, the show, touches of Fellini-esque grotesquerie aside, clumped out of the gate and proceeded with Nurse Ratched-like efficiency through its list of trophies, as if the biggest thing the worldwide audience cared about was getting to the end credits before their TiVos cut off.

They’ve even adopted one of (in my opinion) the Oscar broadcast’s worst features – that draconian time prompter during acceptance speeches. I know that producers fear losing minutes to addled stabs at eloquence, but what happens is, instead of people finding their most magic brevity while the timer ticks down to that “get off the stage” music, they turn into stammering thank-you-bots. Once you’ve thanked a single person, you are now required on pain of shunning to thank all of the following:

The organizing body (in this case, the mysterious “Hollywood Foreign Press”, whom we’ll discuss more in a minute)

The director

The writer(s)

The 4-5 most famous actors in the film

“The crew” (can be done collectively)

Your agent

Your lawyer

Your manager

Your publicist

All their assistants (time permitting)

The studio heads – even if they never wanted to make this movie/show in the first place and slashed your budget at every opportunity.

All the producers – and these days, since they give producing credits out like Mardi Gras beads, this takes awhile.

Your spouse or significant other (time permitting)

God (time permitting)

No one outside of Los Angeles County has clue one who even half of these blighted people are, and the names come spewing out so rapidly that there’s no opportunity to spell out just what made their contribution so special. The global audience is effectively held hostage to the egos of people who think this name-check will make them seem more important to the other people in the room, and who exert monstrous psychic pressure on the creative people actually EARNING these awards to make sure their names are written on that little folded speech.

But when the shackles are off, as they often are quietly removed for the bigger-ticket prizes, some rather lovely things happen. Like Forrest Whitaker’s totally overwhelmed emotional short-circuit – he’s always carried himself like a man who is grateful just to be allowed to do this for a living, and to see him absorb the standing ovation and crumble in front of it was the emotional highlight of the evening. The comedy highlight, which snuck right under the noses of the presumably-horrified broadcast standards crew, had to have been Sacha Baron Cohen’s acceptance speech for
Borat. Watch and admire his maestro’s sense of timing. It’s not just the vulgar things he’s saying, it’s the space he gives you to think about each thing before giving it another twist.

I still remember when Steven Soderbergh accepted the Oscar for Best Director for
Traffic, and instead of the usual List of the Obliged, he instead thanked every person in the world who spends time in their day creating something, anything. He only had the space to paint that beautiful idea because he said “to hell with the clock”. If the Golden Globes wants to recover its reputation, it ought to say the same thing.

Because otherwise people might stop to ask just what standards the nominees are being judged by. The Foreign Press is a shadowy bunch, they’re described as writers for foreign publications, which does not necessarily make them film or television critics, whose opinion we’re supposed to scorn anyway. Nor is there much publicity about how many of them there are, or what their criteria for membership are, or how they vote, or if they actually file stories on a regular basis.

What we do know is that they really like beautiful famous people, and giving them awards. Other awards shows make a pretense of celebrating some aspect of craft, not so the Foreign Press. They throw a pity award at screenwriters, but for the most part it reserves its honors for million dollar smiles and the movies and shows that feature them – the only acumen required is the ability to point at a title or celebrity and say “me like”.

Which is why things were at their most surreal when Renee Zellweger strode on stage to encourage applause for the Foreign Press. The director cut to a wide shot of the ballroom and I thought these enigmas were finally going to emerge and take their bow. I’ve always pictured them as sort of like the bomb-worshipping mutants in
Beneath the Planet of the Apes, with purple-veined skin and weird psychic powers, huddling underground in robes and singing in trendy augmented harmonies.

And the crowd applauded, but none of them appeared. The stars looked around nervously – they’d been duped into reinforcing the Foreign Press’ self-image as invisible all-seeing potentates. Listen, if I had the power to get Angelina Jolie to pour body glitter all over herself and come to a Beverly Hills Hotel because of nothing but some hazy perception of my ability to build Oscar buzz, I wouldn’t push my luck by appearing in public too much, either.

But to my surprise, the Fearless Leader of the Foreign Press came tottering out on stage, and proceeded to give a baffling address that sounded like four different speeches run through a shredder then re-connected with 3M Tape. At one point he was talking about a quote from
Sunset Boulevard about great stars being ageless, and the camera cut to Jack Nicholson, looking over his shoulder furtively like he suddenly had the Fear of the Shroud.

I also had the pleasure of seeing both Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood, in turn, giving the same extraordinary facial expression – a kind of toothy, upside-down smirk. I think they wanted to put on a show of affection, but the Foreign Press is so unknowable an entity that the proper method escaped them. And there was fear there – fear that someone was going to take the Moët bottle away.

It’s collectively one of the acting challenges of the year to put stock in this award. When an actress gushes “
this means SO much to me!”, for once the essential vagueness of that statement provides refuge. What it means is that they have some Big Mo their publicist can apply to that Oscar or Emmy campaign, and something that writers for Entertainment Weekly can spend eighteen months pretending has anything to do with your talent – I still fondly remember that stretch where that glossy headache of a magazine was proclaiming that Keri Russell was An Actress to Take Seriously.

But there were nice moments to be found – Whitaker’s being one. And Jeremy Irons took a bold stance with his acceptance speech – showing that with enunciation and a posh accent, even a
LIVING CORPSE can charm the masses.

And speaking of the Living Dead, did anyone catch that Orville Redenbacher commercial, soon to be known as The Most Terrifying 30 Seconds Ever Glimpsed on The Teevee? If you didn’t, my friend, count yourself lucky. If you did, watch this
Old Spice commercial with the Mighty Mighty Bruce Campbell immediately. You’ll live longer, and smell better, too.


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