Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar (Dis)honors Jer

Winslet? Oui! ... Penn? Oui, oui! ... Lewis? Non!!
The decision-makers behind The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Scientists were so transparently embarrassed about giving an award to Jerry Lewis (even a token, arbitrary one) that they couldn't even bother to document his not unimpressive accomplishments in film - both in front of and behind the camera. So why did they bother honoring him at all?

Last night's brief, anti-climatic treatment of the veteran star at the Academy's annual giveaway-and-barbeque hoedown - The Oscars - was embarrassing and awkward, actually topping the decision to have Jennifer Aniston on stage for several agonizingly endless minutes while Brad Pitt and Anjelina Jolie gawked from front row center. The best word to describe this insincere tribute is "rushed." A better word: Disgusting.

Yes, I realize that Lewis, one of film's more misunderstood commodities, was honored last night with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award - and that his Muscular Dystrophy activism was the real driving force behind this award - but here was a rare, fleeting opportunity when Hollywood could have stepped up and re-evaluated and redefined his career for those obtuse critics who just never "got" him. It could have echoed what The New York Times' Mahohla Dargis expressed in her Times' piece, "Hey, Laaaaady! It’s the King of Comedy" (2/22/09). But, surprisingly, even Dargis gives Lewis' directing accomplishments short shrift.

Besides, past Hersholt winners have been lavished with career praise.

So, why not Jer?

As for the rest of the show, the less said, the better - the self-loathing of Hollywood much in evidence.

You have a serious problem when the set (designed by New York architect David Rockwell) is the chief attraction of the night and when the producing team of Laurence Mark and Bill Condon makes the dubious decision to allot more time to a pointless production number celebrating the "return of the movie musical" (a naked fabrication here - the genre is still struggling, mightily, to rebound), while offering severely truncated versions of the year's three Oscar-nominated songs. Yeesh.

Adding insult to injury, the movie-musical extravaganza was the brianchild of the dreadful Baz Luhrmann, who operates as if he's a department-store window decorator who somehow stumbled into filmmaking. Forget about the movie musical making a comeback.

When is the Oscarcast going to bounce back?

Or is it just plain hopeless?


Carrie said...

Totally agree about the awful Luhrmann-directed number. And agree that there was awkwardness around the humanitarian award given to Lewis, who had never been recognized by Oscar (except for three times as the host in the 1950s). That weirdness was due to picketers outside the Kodak Theater who protested what they say is Lewis' "condescension" to the Muscular Dystropy "kids," whom he once characterized as being only "half human." Also agree that the exceptionally talent Lewis deserves Oscars for his technical genius (he patented the essential "video assist" that enables directors to see an instant playback of the scene just shot) and his artistry in films such as Cinderfella, The Nutty Professor and The Disorderly Orderly.

joe baltake said...

I wasn't aware of the protesters who, I'm sure, dampened things for Jerry. Still, the producers could have offered some comments and praise about his work on and in film. He deserved better.

JKaiser said...

Lewis himself said it best in Entertainment Weekly, "I'm gonna walk up there, say It's about f---ng time, and walk off."

Let's see Sean Penn get any press after a moment like that.

jbryant said...

No offense to the protesters, but I think that the abundance of effort that Lewis has devoted to their cause over the past several decades should allow them to forgive the guy an occasional foot-in-mouth moment.

Jerry should've gotten this award years ago, and he should've already been separately honored with a lifetime achievement award as well. Now the latter will surely never come, and it's a shame.

I'm also curious about the clip package that was shown. A friend of mine was hired to co-create the montage, but his work was scuttled late in the game and replaced by what we saw -- a disjointed clutch of quick film clips followed by some moments culled from Jerry's long history with the MDA. I haven't seen my friend's version yet, but knowing him, I'll be surprised if it's not much more thoughtfully and respectfully put together.

Eddie Murphy did a decent job, but overall the segment was a rather skimpy tribute to a legendary (if divisive) filmmaker and entertainer. In light of this, Jerry's humble and heartfelt acceptance speech (though disappointing to those of us who wanted him get a little wild and crazy) showed him capable of more class than the organization honoring him. I'll bet that surprised a few folks!