A Muted Celebration

Program not quite the same spectacle

March 24, 2003|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

As if the juxtaposition of wall-to-wall coverage of the war in Iraq with the NCAA basketball tournament didn't make for a weird enough television landscape this weekend, along came the 75th annual Academy Awards telecast last night on ABC.

As the rest of the world saw televised images of captives and corpses identified as American soldiers, we watched host Steve Martin and a theater full of celebrities celebrating their self importance. Try as they might last night in the capital of Fantasy Land to create a program that would transport us beyond current events, they never came close.

If there were ever any hope, Michael Moore put an end to it about half way through the ceremony when he won the Oscar for Best Documentary and used the podium to denounce President Bush and the war.

Surrounded not just by his colleagues on Bowling for Columbine, but all the other nominees in the category, he said: "They are here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. And we live in fictitious times when fictitious election results elect a fictitious president. ... We are against this war, President Bush. Shame on you."

His words were met with boos and some cheers. But the telecast had struggled with tone from the very beginning.

"Well, I'm glad they cut back on all the glitz. I guess you noticed no red carpet. That will send them a message," Martin said in opening his monologue. He was referring to producer Gilbert Cates' announcement earlier in the week that the telecast would cut back on glitz in deference to the war.

Martin quickly dropped that more sophisticated, ironic tone and went for stupid laughs by making a gay joke as cameras zeroed in on Jack Nicholson as he sat in the audience. The suggestion of the camera shot: Nicholson is gay.

Later in the evening, Adrien Brody, who won Best Actor for The Pianist, found some resonance in the hall when he said, "I also have sadness in accepting this award at this sad time. Making this film made me aware of the sadness and dehumanization of war."

He closed by wishing safe return to a friend who is fighting in Iraq. But even at this moment, the audience seemed unsure how to respond.

Not even a staging of "I Move On" with Best Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones and fellow nominee Queen Latifah from Chicago could bring last night's telecast to life. I don't know how you do Chicago without glitz, but this sure wasn't it.

Just in case "I Move On" might have made anyone forget the world outside the theater or their living rooms, it was followed by an ABC News update in which anchorman Peter Jennings talked about the pictures of the dead and captured Americans "being broadcast widely throughout the rest of the world."

Maybe it was just me, but there didn't seem to be much magic in Hollywood last night -- at least not coming through the small screen I was watching.

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