'Oscar's Greatest Moments' better as a short subject 64TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS

March 29, 1992|By Jay Boyar | Jay Boyar,Orlando Sentinel

Even though the Academy Awards broadcast has improved in recent years, it's still not something I look forward to.

It's always much too long. Johnny Carson, a former host of the proceedings, once called it "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show."

To psych myself up for tomorrow night's Oscar broadcast (ABC at 9 p.m.), I recently took a look at "Oscar's Greatest Moments" ($19.95, Columbia TriStar1 Home Video), a newly released videotape from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The box containing the 1-hour, 50-minute tape says that "Oscar's Greatest Moments" includes "unforgettable" moments from the last 21 Academy Awards. But we're not talking Nat King Cole here.

It's 47 minutes of sparkling entertainment spread out over 110. Or maybe just 37 sparkling minutes.

Among the worst parts are the excerpts from what current-Oscar-host Billy Crystal once called the "big, terrible" production numbers. Like Mr. Carson's earlier dig, Mr. Crystal's put-down of these song-and-dance spots is included on "Oscar's Greatest Moments" . . . right there, along with the big, terrible numbers.

How terrible? Remember when Liza Minnelli serenaded Oscar with the lyric, "Your glamour goes on/ Though you haven't any clothes on."

Ironically, the real greatest moments on "Oscar's Greatest Moments" are incidents that the academy honchos didn't plan and, in most cases, would have prevented if they could have. I'm talking about moments like the one during the 1973 ceremony when a streaker suddenly ran onstage.

Jeff Margolis, producer-director of "Oscar's Greatest Moments," has included the streaker incident, but you can't really "see anything," as my mother's bridge club would say. David Niven's witty response to the streaker is on the video, too.

"Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in this life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" quipped the unflappable Niven. Still, the academy has immortalized the streaker's great moment on the tape: His glamour goes on though he hasn't any clothes on, you might say.

Also on the video is the moment during the 1972 awards when American Indian activist Sacheen Littlefeather showed up in place of Marlon Brando (at his request) to refuse his Oscar for his performance in "The Godfather." She was booed.

Vanessa Redgrave wasn't just booed when she picked up her 1977 trophy for her work in "Julia." Karl Malden, the academy's 27th president, notes in his narration of the video that she was hanged in effigy outside the theater. In her acceptance speech, she congratulated the academy for giving her the Oscar and for standing up to "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums."

On the same broadcast, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky responded, "I'm sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own #F personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Vanessa Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple 'thank you' would have sufficed."

The academy audience cheered Mr. Chayefsky, and yet Ms. Redgrave's speech, like Mr. Chayefsky's rebuke, is now an official "greatest moment."

All of which brings us to this year's broadcast, which gay activists are rumored to be planning to disrupt in protest of what they feel are unfair portrayals of homosexuals in Hollywood films.

But if you're not among the billion people in 90 countries who will watch the program, don't despair. The incident is almost certain to be featured on "Oscar's Greatest Moments II."

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