This year's Oscars telecast was the lowest-rated ever. Coming in the midst of our troops fighting valiantly abroad, that's understandable. It's a good thing for Hollywood, too, because it's beginning to look like the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are slowly losing their minds.
The Academy's Web site boasts that the Oscar voters are "the ablest artists and craftsmen in the motion picture world," so "the Oscar represents the best achievements of the year in the opinion of those who themselves reside at the top of their craft." But some of these "artists" can't artistically judge their way out of a paper bag. Instead they're attempting to make political statements and affect pop culture. An evaluation of merit is too ... simple . What's needed in its place is The Statement.
Start with Best Original Song. Voters chose from a broad artistic sampling: Paul Simon's lovely (if derivative) theme song from "The Wild Thornberrys Movie"; world music from Caetano Veloso for "Frida"; a song from Kander and Ebb's adapted Broadway musical "Chicago"; or even for the self-consciously hip, U2's rock song for "Gangs of New York."
Instead, Academy voters chose to honor Eminem, the Great White Dope of obscene rap music, a man whose "artistry" includes vivid scenarios wherein he humiliates or kills his mother or ex-wife. Even Barbra Streisand seemed shocked to hand the Oscar over. The crowd didn't laugh uproariously when the man accepting for Eminem said the filth-rapper "hears symphonies in his mind." It's entirely possible this man has never heard a symphony. It was the only nominee for Best Song that was not performed, perhaps because it is still not suitable for even the slipping broadcast standards of television.
Eminem's so-called song "Lose Yourself," the theme rap from his movie debut "8 Mile," does have some suspense-building guitar work and almost-singing vocals. But that doesn't matter. It also contains Eminem's signature gutter lyrics and fractured poetry. First, "hoes is all on him," then "his hoes don't want him no mo," then there's taking the Lord's name in vain and a couple mentions of the incest-related vulgarity. And the Oscar goes to this: "His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/ There's vomit on his sweater already, Mom's spaghetti." Merit be damned, Hollywood has delivered its Statement: Eminem is today's King of Pop, and his ring must be kissed.
Nearly everyone reviled the academy's choice for Best Documentary Feature, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." As if on cue, Moore mounted the stage and launched a tirade against the "fictitious election" of President Bush and his "fictitious reasons" for war. Academy voters could have prevented this guaranteed spectacle long before the chorus of boos. Despite his stated reverence on the Oscar stage for "nonfiction," the facts have clearly never been Moore's specialty. This documentary was anything but nonfiction.
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund recently devastated Moore's agit-prop "Bowling" film as typical Moore-mangled propaganda. Perhaps Moore's most audacious invention was his declaration that he opened a bank account in Traverse City, Mich.: "I put $1,000 in a long-term account, they did the background check, and, within an hour, I walked out with my new Weatherby," a rifle. Fund reports the bank employee who worked with Moore says that acquiring the gun usually takes seven to 10 days. The hour gag only happened because Moore's film company had worked for a month to stage the scene.
But Academy voters don't have to actually watch the documentaries they laud. Nor is it important to know if it's truth or deceit that's presented. All that mattered was the endorsement of Moore's radical politics. Film-making ethics took a back seat to The Statement -- again.
Overlooking a filmmaker's ethics was more of an Oscar pattern. Perhaps the most shocking victory of the night was in the Best Director category, won by Roman Polanski for "The Pianist," a Holocaust movie. Many film critics found this film aglow with artistic merit, but this filmmaker deserves more recognition from Megan's Law than Oscar's nod.
In 1977, at the ripe age of 43, Polanski took sexual advantage of a 13-year-old girl, and then before he could be effectively punished, the child molester fled the United States, a cowardly fugitive from justice. Hollywood forces campaigned for Polanski as if he was an artistic Bill Clinton, pleading for people to separate his personal crimes from his professional brilliance, and Academy voters easily swallowed that lure, voting with their feet when they gave him a standing ovation in absentia.
What an embarrassing night for the Hollywood elites. They should count their lucky stars that the audience was comparatively small. Perhaps they, more than anyone else, were last week's biggest public-relations beneficiaries of our war against Saddam Hussein.