I think the answer to the title question is “yes, but not intentionally.” I’ve seen a lot of coverage depicting Courtney as a cynical grandstander — all of it written by out-of-staters with no sense of the man. He’s about as self-effacing as congresspersons get. This was a history nerd talking, not a guy trying to become an Oscar player. Was he right? I’ll weigh in at the end of this post. (By an odd coincidence, I gave blood with Courtney and dined with Tony Kushner, prior to interviewing him onstage, in the space of a few days in January. Do I have a life or what?)
But first, other matters.
Before the telecast started, I spent a couple of hours at Oscar Night in Hartford. I am pleased to report that it was packed and that it glittered. Watch for photos.
I was back on our couch for the show. A few thoughts.
The Seth MacFarlane experiment will be a one-off. He missed more often than he hit, especially with the endless and pointlessly meta opening in which he tried to have it both ways: being both above and coated-with tastelessness. “We Saw Your Boobs” is about what we’d expect from the creator of “Family Guy” (a boorish devolution of “The Simpsons” without the latter’s discursive wit.) Among the boobs cited and seen that song were Jodie Foster’s in “The Accused.” That was in a gang rape scene. Tastelessness wrapped in tastelessness. A pig in a porklet. But it all seemed like something done in lieu of actually writing some strong material that worked. The Clooney joke. Bomb. The Lincoln joke…well, that was a little more complicated, because it was meant to be a joke about the trope “too soon.” But nobody saw it that way because — this is the important part — there’s something fundamentally unlikable about this guy. He comes across as a smart alec with no creamy center. So if it’s any kind of jump ball, you tend to believe the worst about him.
Why did nobody stop some of this? Well…the producers were the producers of “Chicago,” and they seem to have fixated mainly upon presenting that musical as some kind of defining moment in cinema history. Which it is not. They are also the producers of “Smash,” which utilizes a huge budget to make a TV show that I (and countable others) watch every week just to get mad at it for how good it could have been, with some guts and vision. (The Times today points out that NBC is in such terrible condition right now that nothing in its prime time line-up — including the hyped “Smash” — gets as good a rating as “The Talking Dead,” a talk show about another show on basic cable.)
Did Michelle Obama jump the shark by co-presenting best picture? I think yes. It’s time for her to dial back all the cameos. On the other hand, it was a (perhaps unintentionally) perfect summing up of this moment, in which Hollywood and Washington have each other in mutual Heimlichs. “House of Cards,” the Congressional commentaries on both “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark 30,” Chris Dodd, “Argo,” Ashley Judd. I could go on.
The local version of that type of conflation was summed up by the repeated “teaser” bulletins throughout the telecast, informing us that later on the local news we would find out …which one of their anchors is pregnant. Somebody needs to sit those WTNH folks down and have a talk with them. That was an embarrassment.
In the NFL they call this parity: Look at the four acting awards, plus best director and best picture. Six different movies. I’d be surprised if that has ever happened before. (UPDATE: I was wrong. See comments.) It also means that nothing really became a steamroller. And if anything was going to do that, it was “Lincoln.” Which is why I say…
On our Friday show, Hank Paper, owner of Hamden’s Best Video (possibly the only legit video store left in the state and, with 50,000 titles, five times the size of Netflix’s menu) made an interesting point in the other direction. With the passing years, he said, movies are making their way into the classroom and being asked to do the job of books. And they’re not meant to bear that weight. They’re movies.
I would take Hank’s point, if it were the case that Spielberg and “Lincoln” were being dragged there kicking and screaming. As we know, the opposite is true. Spielberg had the idea of donating DVD copies of his movie to middle and high school history classes across the U.S. When you do that, you can’t hide behind “it’s just a movie” anymore. If you want it to be a teaching aid, you have to start taking responsibility for things like the Connecticut vote. And it would have been so easy to get that right. You had to go out of your way to get it wrong.
It pains me to talk about how badly Kushner handled this — telling MoDo he was “outraged” — because my one fabulous night with him in January left me impressed (forever, I thought) with both his staggering intellect and his mensch-hood. I didn’t have to wait long, did I?