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No stutters, no sparks

It was an Oscar night tricked out as a meeting of Old Hollywood and New, a contest between the heart (King George VI) and the brain (Mark Zuckerberg), and most of all, a melding of old-school network tradition and internet age connectivity.

world Updated: Mar 01, 2011 01:08 IST

It was an Oscar night tricked out as a meeting of Old Hollywood and New, a contest between the heart (King George VI) and the brain (Mark Zuckerberg), and most of all, a melding of old-school network tradition and internet age connectivity.

Inevitably, with a movie like The Social Network one of the night’s favourites, there was bound to be an aggressive infusion of social media name-dropping. But at times, the prolonged effort to pander to younger viewers was downright painful. The producers cast the young stars James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts, then kept the writing old and hoary — no aren’t-we-hip nudge was left untouched. Franco came onstage at the opening reading messages on his cellphone. While introducing a change in the set, Justin Timberlake smirked, “I’m sure they make an app for that,” and whipped out his phone as if to make it happen. Even when Franco came out in drag as Marilyn Monroe, he mugged, “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen.”

The Oscars could have honoured the older generation by showing large-type tweets from AARP; instead, Bob Hope was brought back from the dead with a clip from one of his old Oscar routines that was funnier than many of the live jokes.

And a frail Kirk Douglas, whose speech was slurry from a stroke, was brought onstage to present the award for best supporting actress. He did his best. The winner, Melissa Leo, had a personal worst, letting fly on an obscenity that was barely blurred by censors and that suggests that the foulmouthed mother she played in The Fighter wasn’t such an acting stretch.

And for all the winks to hi-tech and salaams to old actors and classic movies like Gone With the Wind and Casablanca (the ‘As Time Goes By’ theme song was introduced by President Barack Obama in a taped message), the ceremony, like almost all award shows, came down to a battle of winners and losers.

By trying to finesse the difference and maximise audiences, ABC inadvertently drew attention to the bitter divide of success and failure.

In award ceremonies, the energy peaks early — before the balance of hopeful nominees and disappointed losers in the room tips toward the thwarted. Many winners leave their seats to celebrate and give backstage interviews. Even presenters as lively as Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry and Billy Crystal, who hosted the Oscars eight times and came back on Sunday night in a cameo, couldn’t disguise the gathering gloom.

Especially because ABC, hoping to hook younger, two-screen viewers, offered a companion website with behind-the-scenes video streams, so award winners could be seen on television accepting an award, then celebrating backstage on the “thank you” cam and the “winners’ walk cam.”

It gave Web viewers an all-too-vivid look at how the air leaves the theater and the night starts to drag. While on the website the likes of Aaron Sorkin and Christian Bale sprinted out of the theater to talk to reporters and chat with presenters and other winners at a backstage bar, the television screen was filled with losers stuck in their seats, smiling tightly through their rancour and disappointment. The camera rather unsparingly put a close up on Annette Bening’s stricken face as soon as the best actress award went to Natalie Portman.

And advertisers shouldn’t be too happy about a network that invites viewers to spend the commercial breaks watching backstage camera shots of movie stars advertising themselves. The secret of being a good emcee

ABC made a big deal that this was the first time a male and female duo shared the same stage as hosts . But it wasn’t the best precedent. Separately, Franco and Hathaway are charming and charismatic, but together they had an odd absence of chemistry. Franco looked a little distracted and even blasé — not surprisingly for a multi-platform performer-writer who is working on an English doctorate at Yale. In a green room interview with a Vanity Fair editor, Franco confessed he had only rehearsed on weekends. “I’ve actually been in school on the weekdays so I’ve had many great moments in class,” he said wryly. But the devil didn't wear prada

Hathaway was better alone than at Franco’s side. A little like the attempt to graft Generation Y technology to old-fangled Hollywood panache, their stage personas clashed: Mr. Cooler-Than-Thou and Miss Eager-to-Please never really synched. It was a strategic attempt at demographic synergy, but it was like pairing James Dean with Debbie Reynolds.

New York Times