My Oscar (Madisons) go to…

Most of my cinematic heroes have been ignored by the Academy over the years, and after hearing James Cameron’s “King of the World” speech in 1997 for Titanic I stopped tuning in. Now comes Avatar and I’d rather walk around the block to stick my snout by the fire hydrant to sniff out the more interesting details of what goes on behind the scenes of this momentous occasion. In honor of the fact that this year the field has been extended to ten films, I’m here to offer my top-5 Oscars – that’s right; I’m going to be sloppy about this because my Oscars are named after Jack Klugman’s Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple. Which is to say that these are dedicated to the colorful people I’ve personally come across who went on to walk, or happily stumble (as the case may have been), down the red carpet for the Oscars ceremony in their own unique way.

Peter O’Toole:

When I read on the TCM website the book review for Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, I knew I had to add it to my list for further reading. Have I gotten to it? No, not yet. But I did buy it, and the last picture in this book by Robert Sellers is of that of Peter O’Toole accepting an Oscar with a byline that reads: “At the 2002 Oscars, O’Toole was to receive a lifetime achievement award. However, on discovering the bar served no alcohol, he threatened to walk out. Panicked producers had some vodka smuggled in.” On the back cover? O’Toole is quoted as saying: “Booze is the most outrageous of drugs, which is why I chose it.”

Personal postscript: Eight years ago I saw Peter O’Toole walk past me on the street at the Telluride Film Festival in 2002. I was too star-struck to disturb him, but have since wondered; what the heck would it have been like to have a beer with Lawrence of Arabia? Speaking of the Oscars: O’Toole has been nominated seven times, including for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, but it wasn’t until that year that he received an honorary statuette.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone:

South Park pranksters Trey Parker and Matt Stone were allowed onto the red carpet in 2000 thanks to Trey being nominated for his Best Song with Blame Canada in South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. They decided to take to the red carpet by dressing in drag and were inspired by dresses previously worn by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. Oh, and they also decided to drop acid to complete the package. At the time, the Defamer then reported that “the typically tedious proceedings were undoubtedly rendered that much more lively with the added chemical enhancements, particularly when the two collaborators fearfully clutched at each other during a shared hallucination in which Angelina Jolie appeared to be eating her brother’s face.”

Personal Postscript: I still have bragging rights for giving Trey his only “cinematographer” credit on IMDB for a short we shot when we were both still students on campus in Colorado, so I’m biased. But, as far as I’m concerned, their red carpet ride is part-and-parcel of that which makes them big players on the stage: they are absolutely fearless about burning bridges and pissing people off. And in a town that was built on a whole lot of butt-kissing, that’s akin to being the reincarnation of The Sex Pistols. God bless these Queens.

John Corigliano:

Didn’t see this one coming, did you? But back in 1999 John Corigliano won an Oscar for “Original Music Score” to The Red Violin. At that time I had the privilege of hosting him at my house in conjunction with a screening for that film. Which led to the following anecdote:

I was driving John in my car on our way to a Q&A for The Red Violin and he was telling me about his experience at that years Academy Awards. I’ll paraphrase from memory what I remember him telling me about the event. He turned to me and basically said: “What I will always remember about holding Oscar is this: everybody else wanted to hold and touch him. Backstage, I was surrounded by celebrities, and they all wanted to touch him! Even Farrah Fawcett wanted to touch my Oscar. That’s where I got the idea that could make somebody a million dollars: Oscar Condoms. They would be totally irresistible. Everybody would want to hold one in their hand.”

Don Hertzfeldt:

The following year I brought out Don Hertzfeldt, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Rejected (2000 – and, yes, he was rejected).  Our paths had crossed many years earlier when I saw, and became a fan, of his short film Genre at the 1996 Telluride Film Festival. At that time I worked for Starz/Encore and I thought Hertzfeldt’s work would be perfect interstitial material.  So I called him on the phone and also tried to talk my supervisors into hiring him, but corporate politics prevented anything from happening and I was too low on the food chain to seal the deal. Indeed, my hierarchy within the acquisitions department was so low that within one year my cubicle shifted from one side of the building to the opposite side, then a different floor, after which it was then moved into what was once a janitorial closet, and then awkwardly crammed into the legal department, all before finally landing back to its original location by a copy machine. These, by the way, are only some of the reasons why I quit that corporate job to program my own film series.

Personal postscript: Hertzfeldt knew the score . When I called him from the cable company, I could almost hear his eyes rolling in the back of his head and he was probably in the middle of working on Rejected – which was, no doubt, inspired in part by all the other fruitless corporate inquiries into his work. After I quit the cable job to program the film series I still curate now, Don came by as part of The Animation Show which he had put together. We shared beer and pizza before the event. He did not throw any tv’s out the window or eat bats. It was, all in all, pretty mellow. But, to this date, I still have friends who come up to me and quote lines from Rejected, such as: “My spoon is too big!” Or, less pleasantly, “My anus is bleeding!” Thanks, Don.

Werner Herzog:

Now I’ll flop back to 1999, when we were visited by Werner Herzog for a double-bill screening of Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) and Lessons of Darkness (1992). I think it speaks volumes about the Oscars that this great director who is one of the most interesting and prolific of directors alive only just got nominated last year for Encounters at the End of the World (in the Best Documentary category). Shortly before attending the Oscars, Herzog was asked if he would attend the ceremonies and his answer was: “Yes, I will show up, because it will do good for the film – the film has played theatrically already, but the DVD is coming out and the sales of DVDs are assisted by events like that. I do not ignore it; I see a certain value in it.” When asked if he thought he stood a chance of winning the trophy, his answer was (correctly so:) “no.”

Since my encounter with Herzog was ten years before his walk down the red carpet, I don’t have any behind-the-scenes dirt to impart on that score, but it does give me an excuse to share with you one brief excerpt from his marvelous and recently released book: Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo:

In Belén I drank sugarcane brandy with some of the porters, barefoot wild fellows, whom I took along later to the costume depot. One of them was wearing a decorative circlet around his neck plaited from a length of liana and was constantly scratching his balls. Big black ants were darting back and forth on mysterious errands along a beam on which my arm had been resting. When they began carrying their milky white eggs, I knew this was serious business for them. The men, drunk by now, were mindlessly intent on finding a woman for the night, as if there were no tomorrow, while the mosquitos, impelled by a similarly mindless principle, paid no heed to whether a person was drunk, horny, or dying.

Wow. Can you imagine what Herzog’s Oscar speech might sound like? I can tell you this with certainty: it would totally blow Cameron’s King of the World chest-beating clear out of the water. For that, I’d tune back in – even if for only a short while.

8 Responses My Oscar (Madisons) go to…
Posted By wilbur twinhorse : February 21, 2010 4:47 pm

Thanks keelsetter for a different perspective on things oscar. I’ll lift a pint to your “Madison” nominees with pleasure! Les Blank made a wonderful film of Herzog filming in the “jungly”, THE BURDEN OF DREAMS. Cheers

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : February 21, 2010 4:47 pm

Thanks keelsetter for a different perspective on things oscar. I’ll lift a pint to your “Madison” nominees with pleasure! Les Blank made a wonderful film of Herzog filming in the “jungly”, THE BURDEN OF DREAMS. Cheers

Posted By morlockjeff : February 21, 2010 4:52 pm

Herzog’s speech would probably be cut off quickly by the cue music from the damn orchestra if he won. Then again, he could surprise us with no speech but some strange action – like showing us how to eat sugercane or the proper way to gut a deer that would match Jack Palance’s pushup moment.

Posted By morlockjeff : February 21, 2010 4:52 pm

Herzog’s speech would probably be cut off quickly by the cue music from the damn orchestra if he won. Then again, he could surprise us with no speech but some strange action – like showing us how to eat sugercane or the proper way to gut a deer that would match Jack Palance’s pushup moment.

Posted By saraeg : February 22, 2010 11:56 am

I too, am totally turned off by James Cameron and his holier than thou attitude. I don’t know if I am the only one not to see Avatar, but I will surely think twice before I waste any time on the movie when it comes to cable.

Posted By saraeg : February 22, 2010 11:56 am

I too, am totally turned off by James Cameron and his holier than thou attitude. I don’t know if I am the only one not to see Avatar, but I will surely think twice before I waste any time on the movie when it comes to cable.

Posted By jbryant : February 27, 2010 5:06 pm

I love Klugman, but shouldn’t your Oscar Madisons be named after the movie Madison, Walter Matthau (who should’ve been nominated for his performance)? :)

Posted By jbryant : February 27, 2010 5:06 pm

I love Klugman, but shouldn’t your Oscar Madisons be named after the movie Madison, Walter Matthau (who should’ve been nominated for his performance)? :)

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