Well, it’s Oscar night tonight. And with the annual Oscars comes the annual Oscar criticism. That the ceremony is boring and goes on far too long every year. That it’s a monument to vanity, where the uber-spoiled uber-rich strut and preen for the cameras and each other. That the voting is more about marketing and the Hollywood elite making statements rather than actually awarding excellence in cinema. That often the best in film never win. That it’s all politics anyway.
And all that is probably true. But that’s not why I watch the Oscars every year. I watch the Oscars for one reason and one reason only. The Oscars are the only time you may ever get to see these people be genuine.
Usually when you see an actor (or even a director or writer) they have been primped and polished to perfection. Every hair in place (even when it doesn’t look like it), makeup and clothing and lighting and background all orchestrated to make that person look and sound as good as they possibly can. Even during interviews, everything they say is scripted and rehearsed. Often these are people that you see more than some of the members of your own family, people you feel you know and often even feel that you like. You know about their marriages and divorces, their children, their hobbies, their problems. Our celebrity culture makes sure that even if you have no interest in movies or television, you probably know more about the intricacies or their lives than you do about your neighbors. But in reality you don’t know anything about them. What you know it what you’ve been told and what you’ve been shown.
And that’s why I love the Oscars. It’s the one night a year when you see these people in a real life situation. A situation that is not dissimilar to one you or I might find ourselves in- being at a party to honor excellence in our own profession. And it really means something to them. To be a lasting part of the history of what they love so much. Often the stress of wining an Oscar gives you real insight into the personality of the person on the podium. Whether it’s Sally Field’s insecurity in shouting “you like me, you really like me”; or David Niven’s genuine class and wit when, confronted with a streaker he simply made a joke about the man’s “shortcomings”, or even James Cameron’s hubris at saying he was “the king of the world”. (The last was unfortunately misunderstood as people forgot he was quoting the movie he won for.) Oscar night is a chance to see people who make their living pretending to be someone else be themselves for a change.
It’s also a chance to see just how many people stand behind the folks we all recognize. The ones who do the primping and polishing. The costumers, set designers, writers, artists, composers, and many others who work behind the scenes and make the stars look and sound so good. It’s a night for all the people who work to entertain us to put aside some of the artifice and be who they really are.
And who can resist seeing that?