Music to shut Oscar chatters
Oscar acceptance speeches can be as boring as recitations from a phone book, so this year the organisers have decided to cut short the winners who overstep the thank-you bit, with loud musicUpdated: Mar 23, 2003 10:31 IST
Oscar acceptance speeches can be as boring as recitations from a phone book _ a droning list of lawyers, agents, managers, stylists and publicists unknown and unimportant to the world outside Hollywood.
Those thank-yous likely send millions of viewers from the television to the refrigerator or bathroom, according to Gil Cates, producer of Sunday's live Academy Awards telecast (8:30 p.m. EST) on the ABC broadcast netwrok.
"It's terrible. Your whole heart deflates," Cates said. "This excessive name pandering really began relatively recently, in the past 15 years. ... I think someone heard somebody thanking a lot of people and felt, 'Now I should thank a lot of people.' It's like a rampant disease."
Once they reach the stage, winners have 45 seconds to speak to tens of millions of people in nearly 150 countries. Few choose to spend the time on anything more poetic than a laundry list. "This is a chance to say something grand, something funny or something deeply moving," Cates told this year's nominees at a recent luncheon. "What could you say that would have meaning to an auto mechanic living in Buenos Aires, a secretary in El Salvador or an 8-year-old in Detroit?"
Among the more meaningful speeches, Cates said, was Steven Soderbergh's remarks after winning the directing Oscar for 2000's Traffic. "I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating," Soderbergh said. "I don't care if it's a book, a film, a painting, a dance, or a piece of theater, a piece of music – anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think this world would be unlivable without art."
Among the worst name-prattlers was producer Jon Landau, who breathlessly read at least 45 names after winning the best-picture prize for Titanic in 1998. He started by thanking "all the nominees this evening and all the people, again, that they've already thanked."
"I wanted to blow my brains out," said Cates, who also produced that show.
Last year, lead-actress winner Halle Berry began with an impassioned speech about the history of black women in cinema, then spent most of her time onstage naming 17 supporters, including her lawyer – twice.
After winning the lead-actor awardin 1975One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Jack Nicholson didn't even bother with last names when he – slowly – thanked his collaborators "Saul and Michael and Louise and Brad and Lawrence and Bo."
The name game may be a symptom of poor planning. Some current nominees say they have given little thought to what they'll say if they claim an award. "You try to think a little bit on the day in case you get lucky," said Nicolas Cage, a lead-actor contender this year for Adaptation. "But even that's against my original philosophy. I don't want to think about the future–maybe on the day in the present moment at that time."
Daniel Day-Lewis, nominated in the same category for Gangs of New York, also said he prefers to speak in the passion of the moment. "You're aware of the people you owe an important debt of gratitude," he said. "Beyond that, I open my mouth and hope that something more or less coherent comes out of it, but I never know quite what it's going to be."
In 2001, the academy offered a high-definition television to reward the shortest speech. (It went to Michael Dudok de Wit for his 18-second remarks after winning best animated short for Father and Daughter.) This year, Cates hopes to enforce two rules:
No. 1: "If you pull out a piece of paper and start to read a list of names, you're done." Additional names, he added, can be posted on an Oscar Web site.
No. 2: "Even if you don't pull out piece of paper, you get to name five names. ... You start on a sixth name, you're done again." By "done," he means conductor Bill Conti and the orchestra will be cued to play the winner offstage.
The conductor's efforts don't always work, though: a baton-wielding Conti was famously derided as "Stick Man" by Julia Roberts when she refused to let his orchestra interrupt her best-actress speech for Erin Brockovich in 2001. Most of the time, thanking the right people at the Oscars is business, not personal, according to Robert J. Dowling, editor and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter.
"There is pressure put on (nominees) to, 'Make sure you mention my name,"' he said. "You might see somebody later and say, 'You did really well! You got three mentions.' And they'll say, 'Actually, it was four. But who's counting?"'
"It connects that individual with that Oscar," Dowling added. "Those are names that hit the industry. This is a town of projects and every project starts as a brand new product looking to get successful people." It may be a thankless effort, but Oscar organizers say those are the kind of thank-yous they hope to limit.
"It's one thing when you thank someone genuinely," Cates said. "It's another when you thank them because you want to work for them again."
First Published: Mar 21, 2003 17:16 IST