Main      Site Guide    

Site Journal

By Samuel Stoddard

March 1999

This page works best when you participate. Send email.


Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Yet more on the Academy Awards:

Sadly, I fear you are correct. As was pointed out to me at work yesterday, which do you think the television network prefers more? Two hours of top rated programming or four?

As for handing out Best Actor early, that's actually a trend that started last year, only then it was Best Actress -- Helen Hunt won her award right in the middle of the show, which was somewhat surprising to me. I guess they figured they needed something to keep people from tuning out for the middle hour or two.

Tuesday, March 30, 1999

David J. Parker inserts his own two cents about the Academy Awards:

Well Dave, for starters cinematography is where they point the camera: how the action is filmed, where things end up in the frame. To my mind, it's the most interesting of the technical awards; this year's winner, Saving Private Ryan, had brilliant cinematography, particularly in the battle scenes, where the camera took realistically confused soldier's-eye-view perspective of things. Best Art Direction is a fancy term for set design. This year's winner, Shakespeare In Love, had some astonishingly lavish, colorful, and accurately recreated Elizabethan-era sets.

Push these kinds of awards out of the telecast? Not on your life. True, not everyone cares about these awards, but more people probably care than you think. But no matter -- I have a better solution to the problematic running time of the telecast. Cut out everything else.

This year's awards ceremonies lasted three hours and fifty one minutes, without the commercials. For each of the 24 awards, the recipients get 30 seconds for an acceptance speech. It takes approximately 30 seconds per category for the presenter to introduce the nominees. That means that out of the 231 minutes, a scant 24 minutes were used actually presenting awards. Add another five minutes or so to feature each of the Best Picture nominees throughout the evening, add five more for the host to do a little introductory thingie (I'd give Billy Crystal 15 in a heartbeat), and you're still only up to 34 minutes. Even throwing in performances of all the Oscar nominated songs, which I guess isn't too bad of a thing, only adds about 25 minutes (at five per song), and then you're up to a grand total of 59 minutes. Throw in the honorary awards, which total (or should total) maybe five minutes; throw in a montage to honor those who passed away in the past year (4 minutes). That brings it up to 68 minutes. Throw in commercials, and it still fits in a 90 minute time slot on television. Allow for a huge margin of error, and it'll fit in a 120 minute time slot on television, which is still less than half what the ceremonies ran this year.

But no. Instead, almost every presenter (bless you, Harrison Ford, for your brevity) uses a minute or two prior to announcing the award as a sort of opportunity to do a little stand-up. This year, only Jim Carrey was the least bit amusing. The host is the worst offender, doing this for up to 5 or 6 minutes between every adjacent pair of events. (Even Billy Crystal's inbetweeners aren't so hot.) Then we get dance sequences and "great moments in film" montages (they make a new one every year, it seems) and other assorted doddering.

My recommendation is cut all the deadwood. Give the presenters 15 seconds, give the recipients a full minute (I think it's scandalous how little time they get -- this is one of the high points in their lives, they're the reason we're watching, and the telecast allows 24 winners a collected 12 minutes), possibly cut the songs, and cut absolutely everything else. Hey, at the first Academy Awards ceremony back in 1928, all the awards were passed out in five minutes. If they could do it then, we can do it now.

Thursday, March 25, 1999

There's another aspect of the Academy Awards I wish to discuss, and that is the controversy over Elia Kazan's honorary award. For those who don't know why Nick Nolte and Ed Harris weren't clapping when he was given the award, Elia Kazan chose to buy himself out of being blacklisted and exiled by naming names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the early 1950s, otherwise known as the Salem Witch Hunt Part II. The idea was, if you were a member of Hollywood with Communist leanings, you were blacklisted unless you confessed and ratted out on your friends. Nobody with power figured out this was unconstitutional until a great many professions had been crushed. It was one of Hollywood's darkest days. Kazan's choice bought himself a little time, but it was purely temporary. Kazan made On the Waterfront shortly after his trial which explained and defended his actions. Now, over 45 years later, there are still bitter feelings toward him, particularly from the families of those who were blacklisted because of his testimony.

I will now take my editorial stance. When you first hear this, it's probably enraging, right? It should be. What he did was clearly wrong, and I will never defend his choice. But the honorary award he was given at the Oscars last Sunday was for his work. Regardless of his choices in life, he was undisputably a great director whose body of work is brilliant. He won two Best Director awards, one for Gentlemen's Agreement and one for On the Waterfront, but his body of work was so socially progressive and influential that it deserves recognition as a whole. No one seems to argue with this much.

But the fury against him, 45 years later, is staggering to me. 45 years. By now, even the families of those he testified against should have moved on with their lives. There are two other very important points I think it only right to consider before jumping to judge the man.

I recognize that what Kazan did was wrong. But I also recognize that, for the reasons listed above, he doesn't deserve the fire in the out and out hatred people have for him. Again, this was over 45 years ago, and it's time to move on with our lives. And none of this has anything to do with his directorial accomplishments, so let him have his award peacefully.

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Yesterday I received three very literate but divergent letters about Saving Private Ryan. Here they all are, in the order received:

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Brian C. writes:

Regarding the movie being "only" a faithful portrayal of war: It was about so much more, though. It was a movie filled with ideas that it treated with respect and understanding. Is there a good answer to the central question -- is it worth the potential cost to find and return one man to his home? Clearly this is a mission triggered by purely political motives -- it's a P.R. move and undoubtedly not justified for the reasons the people in charge have. However, it's entirely possible that it's justified for different reasons. Or maybe it's not. There's no easy answer. I, rarely one without a strong position on a moral issue, don't know how I would answer this question. And here's why the movie isn't on a soapbox: it doesn't attempt to answer this question either. Yet it explores the issue in great depth and compassion through its characters. It is admirable for a film to understand the issues of a moral question, explore them with such eloquence, and yet not have (or, worse, pretend to have) a definitive answer.

What other reason would the movie have for showing graphic violence other than mounting a soapbox? Brutal honesty. If this violence was in any way exaggerated from real life war, then you'd have a case -- then the movie would clearly be taking artistic license for what could only be construed as an attempt at manipulation. But in actuality, according to Spielberg, he actually held back from the horrors related to him by his father and other veterans. Since it was not an exaggeration, you can not automatically make the cynical assumption that it was intended to be manipulative without further evidence. The movie was frank and honest, but there is no evidence to support the theory that it was on a soapbox, especially when the central core of the film -- the ideas, not the violence -- are not dished out in ready-to-eat packets from a pulpit.

Regarding the character cliches you mention, if none of the characters fit any character cliches, it wouldn't be the least bit realistic. Cliches become cliches because they are accurate representations of life. (Do you have any idea how many soldiers in World War II -- or any war -- just wanted to get home to their wives or girlfriends or whatever?) The problem comes not when a character fits the mold on the surface but when there is nothing more than that. But the characters in Saving Private Ryan went well beyond the cliches. These were characters with real human emotions, ideas, and passions.

There is one sequence in Saving Private Ryan that stands out as being particularly ingenius. Upham (Jeremy Davies) collapses on the stairs because he is too terrified to make it up the stairs and save his fellow soldiers. Is there a more tensely painful scene to watch? And yet, if you were in that situation, can you really say you wouldn't crumple up in the same way? I would hope not, but without ever being in that situation, how can you answer the question definitively? It's a remarkable film that can inspire thought about moral issues at all, but even more remarkable when a film can start you asking questions about yourself. Meanwhile, the American soldier at the top of the stairs is fighting a losing battle with the German that hurts to watch and yet tells much about what boat many of the German soldiers were in. In one of the cruelest moments yet, the German walks down the stairs and, not seeing Upham as even a threat, walks past. This sequence is masterful in every way; I think film school students are going to end up studying it, along with the Omaha Beach landing, as an example of excellence in filmmaking. They won't be studying Shakespeare In Love.

Stephen K. points out that Shakespeare In Love is such a different kind of film, they're essentially impossible to compare, and that, therefore, the better one can only be a matter of opinion. I see his point and agree with it in many cases -- I don't think I could ever say, definitively, that The Truman Show was better than The Prince of Egypt, or vice versa -- but I think the case is pretty clear here. Shakespeare In Love was a greatly entertaining movie, but it did not revolutionize a genre that's been explored in volume since the movies began, did not contain the wealth of ideas, did not have so much to be genuinely moved about. Don't get me wrong. I think Shakespeare In Love is the second or third best movie I've seen all year. There's no question about its accomplishments with its script, its humor, and it's lavish sets and costumes. But I think, for some of the reasons outlined above and more I could expound on if I wanted to write a book in this journal, Saving Private Ryan is the best film not only of the year but of the last several. In ten years, make no mistake about which film will be remembered and treasured more.

Monday, March 22, 1999

I was more or less happy with the outcome of the Academy Awards last night, right up until the award for Best Picture. Shakespeare In Love is not the best picture of the year. Maybe second, probably third or fourth. I do not argue that it is a remarkable and beautiful film, but Saving Private Ryan is in a class of its own. It's arguably the most honest film in portraying the horrors of war, yet it does not mount a soapbox and aim to become "one of the greatest anti-war films of our time." It portrays real people in dire situations, never once resorts to characterization cliches, and, particularly during the first half hour but throughout, displays a technical excellence so ingenius, confident, and effective, it's art. Saving Private Ryan deserved the win, and it's a telling reminder of the Academy's short memory that if Saving Private Ryan had been released in December, it would have won.

But at least Steven Spielberg won for Best Director for his work in the film. It would have been arguably a greater injustice if Shakespeare In Love's John Madden had won -- Shakespeare In Love owes less to its director than to its writers (it won for Best Original Screenplay, an award I enthusiastically applaud). Saving Private Ryan couldn't have happened with anyone less talented than one of the greatest directors ever behind the camera.

I was wrong about the Best Actor category, but it was probably the most difficult to predict. I guessed Tom Hanks largely because I was hoping he'd win it, but the award went to Roberto Benigni, whose acceptance speeches for this and Best Foreign Language Film were crammed full of ear to ear smiles and enthusiastic gratitude. Gwyneth Paltrow was my guess for Best Actress; she won it and, moved to tears, gave a showstopper of an acceptance speech. My choice for the award probably would have been Cate Blanchett by a nose, but Paltrow's was certainly worthy and, to the Academy's credit, a subtler performance than what the Academy generally recognizes.

Best Supporting Actor, I'm happy to say, went to James Coburn. He's 70 years old, and it was his first nomination. Best Supporting Actress went to Judi Dench. My guess was Kathy Bates until I switched it to Dench at the last minute. My opinion of this award will have to wait until I see Primary Colors -- but there's no question that Dench is an Oscar-worthy actress and even with just eight minutes of screen time in Shakespeare In Love, made an indelible impression. She, like Coburn, gave admirably dignified acceptance speeches.

Best Adapted Screenplay went to Gods and Monsters. I'd have preferred it honor Out of Sight and predicted it would honor The Thin Red Line. Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Comedy Score all went to Shakespeare In Love and were all well deserved, particularly the first two. The movie had the most impressive, elaborate, and visually appealing sets and costumes that I ever remember seeing in a movie. I predicted each of these, but also predicted a win for Best Makeup; instead, that honor went to Elizabeth, which, frankly, deserved it more, so I'm not complaining.

Saving Private Ryan won for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing. I predicted each of these; had it not won any one of them, it'd have been as grave an injustice as not winning for Best Picture, albeit not one that would be long remembered.

Best Song went to "When You Believe," from The Prince of Egypt, as was my hope and prediction. Best Dramatic Score went to Life Is Beautiful. My guess was Saving Private Ryan, but Life Is Beautiful was probably more deserving.

For the categories I did not guess in, Election Night won Best Short, Live Action. Bunny won Best Short, Animated. The Personals won Best Documentary, Short. The Last Days won Best Documentary, Feature.

My grand total was 15 correct guesses out of 20 attempted categories -- much better than I thought I would do in such a difficult year to predict. Last year I did better with 17 out of 19 correct guesses, including all the major awards; I don't think I'll ever beat that record.

And there you have it.

Saturday, March 20, 1999

Something scary is happening to me. I used to be a night person. Not just a night person but a proud night person. I was awful in the mornings, and in the evening, I shined.

I got up before 6am this morning. Naturally -- no alarm clock. Lately the most productive hours of the day outside of work have been the first two hours of the day. I'm working on getting The Game of the Ages done for Adventure Games Live right now -- I'm about a third done with the implementation, although the final third doesn't even have the plot laid out yet -- bad me -- and lately I've gotten more done in the morning than in the evening. What's happening to me? This isn't natural.

Tuesday, March 16, 1999

Last Friday, I added a section to It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie that allows readers to submit their own reviews of their favorite (or least favorite, as the case may be) bad movies. We figured we were getting enough entertaining email from readers suggesting bad movies as it was that we'd put up a public forum for it. So far, it has proven a success; as of right now, there are thirteen posted reviews of the worst sludge cinema has to offer.

Saturday, March 13, 1999

I would like to take this opportunity to boast that I may have altered the course of future James Bond films, beginning with "The World Is Not Enough," which will open this December.

Years ago, before Tomorrow Never Dies, possibly just before Goldeneye (I can't remember for sure), I was an active member of the newsgroup. Among the discussions I had with them, and also real life discussions I had with Dave, who's also a Bond fan, were ones about Desmond Llewelyn, who plays 'Q' in the series. Q is easily the coolest Bond character of them all. He's been in all but two of the Bond films, more Bond films that any other actor, and Llewelyn brought a certain charm, humor, and class to the series that no one else possibly could. He's irreplaceable. And for those wondering, yes, he will return in "The World Is Not Enough."

At any rate, discussions on prompted me to think who else could possibly follow in Llewelyn's footsteps. The talk on the newsgroup was at times thought-provoking and at other times scary (one person suggested a "nerdly, arrogant computer geek"-type character to take over, and I nearly imploded at the thought -- just what the series DOESN'T need). But even the better suggestions were unsatisfactory. I can't remember if I got the idea myself or from someone on the newsgroup, but as soon as it occurred to me that John Cleese would be perhaps the single living human being who could take over the reins acceptably, I became enamored at the prospect. He couldn't hope to replace Llewelyn, but he could certainly live up to what Llewelyn adds to the series in his own way.

When Dave and I started talking about the idea, we were rolling at the possibilities. ("Oh, it's MY fault you broke ANOTHER gadget, then, hmm? Well, I shall have to PUNISH myself, then! You - are - a - NAUGHTY - Q! Bad Q!")

So enraptured was I with the idea that I promoted it relentlessly on, campaigning for him. I made it clear that I wanted Llewelyn to stay in the role as long as he wanted to -- I'd be the last person to want to rush him out the door -- but after that, "Cleese for Q!"

I have heard of cases where popular movie ideas on Usenet sometimes make their way into reality when people with control notice them. The Internet is a great proving grounds for ideas and a resource for new ones. Start a rumor about an future movie, see how people like it.

Last month, John Cleese was officially cast in the upcoming James Bond movie, playing a character described as "Q's bumbling, accident-prone assistant R." What they did was an improvement over my idea, because it sounds like when Llewelyn's ready to leave, they'll retire the role of Q in his honor. So much the better.

I can't take credit for the original idea, because I'm not entirely sure I thought of it on my own. But I know that I was responsible for a large portion of the attention the idea received on years ago. Did "someone" see that discussion, or some later discussion it triggered, and then made it a reality? I don't know. I'd rather not.

Desmond Llewelyn.
John Cleese.
Oh, and Pierce Brosnan.
The World Is Not Enough.
Opens Christmas at theaters everywhere.

Friday, March 12, 1999

Book-A-Minute Classics was updated today. To calm your fears -- because there are only two new scripts instead of three -- note that this will not be usual from now on. For the past two weeks, I have been taking an in-house training course for my job. As it requires a lot of study, it had upset my web site routine somewhat. For the next update, the trend of three per update will continue, and in the case of Book-A-Minute Bedtime, I will be accelerating the volume of its updates somewhat.

Also I'd like to take the time to say that we've gotten a lot of favorable feedback about It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie -- I didn't realize there were so many people out there who enjoy the unintentional laughs in bad movies. A lot of the mail we have received has been suggestions for other good bad movies; the funny part is that Dave has looked for several and hasn't found them. Ah well, such is the nature of bad movies -- they are scarce. Just try to find Ironmaster or The Invincible Barbarian anywhere.

Thursday, March 11, 1999

It occurred to me that there are a lot of movie titles that don't make sense. Some of my complaints:

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

First, a straggling answer to the reader question, "Paper airplane or brick?"

Now, the answers to yesterday's reader question, "What do you like most about me -- is it my unequaled wisdom, my charming personality, my cunning wit, my relentless compassion, or my profound humility?" My readers, it turned out, weren't as accommodating as I had hoped.

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Today's reader question is: "What do you like most about me -- is it my unequaled wisdom, my charming personality, my cunning wit, my relentless compassion, or my profound humility?"

Thursday, March 4, 1999

Answers to the reader question, "Would you rather be a paper airplane or a brick, and why?" follow:

From the Very Strange Coincidence Department:

And from the Very Strange Department:

Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Today's reader question: "Would you rather be a paper airplane or a brick, and why?" Answer through email.

Back to the current Site Journal page.
Back to the RinkWorks home page.