Glitz, inside jokes shove genuine sentiment aside


March 26, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The prime-time portion of last night's Oscar telecast was lots of musical glitz and inside jokes, but almost no great emotion or memorable moments.

If there is anything to be learned from the telecast it is that the new Hollywood royalty -- Billy Crystal and Madonna -- can be as artificial and show-biz Teflon-slick as Johnny Carson or Bob Hope ever were. The baby boomers' stars are no more authentic than those of their parents.

The tone of the 63rd Academy Awards was set with the opening number. Last year, the show abandoned the moribund format. This year, it was back, with Jasmine Guy starring in a dancing salute to "life captured on film -- 100 years of emotion on film." That's what the chorus was singing about, anyway. Like much of the rest of the show, the dance number was overproduced to the point where emotion was out of the question.

Madonna sang "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)," from "Dick Tracy," one of five songs nominated for an Oscar. Her singing was fine. But she also flashed her "Vogue" poses and stances of cartoon sexuality. All are perfectly appropriate for stage or concert hall performance where much of the audience is at a considerable distance from the stage.

On television, though, with the camera right on top of her, what viewers mainly saw were Madonna's hands shaking when she struck a pose, rather than the attitudes she was trying to suggest. Madonna may know concerts and video, but she doesn't know television.

Crystal, who was refreshingly funny last year as host, was surprisingly flat last night.

Part of it was the material -- non-stop jokes that anyone who doesn't read the Hollywood trade papers on a daily basis would have a hard time appreciating. To get one punch line you had to know why "Orion is a studio in a coma."

Crystal also seemed to have lost his appetite for irony or taking apart cliches of Hollywood past. He even requested applause for the opening number. Last year, he mocked the very idea of such opening numbers.

The best moment during the first two hours came early when Whoopi Goldberg won as best supporting actress for her work in "Ghost."

'I'm so proud to be here. I'm so proud to be an actor," Goldberg said. "And I'm going to keep on acting."

It was not especially eloquent. But it seemed heartfelt -- something that was sorely lacking in most of what followed.

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