Oscar Nods, Corwin Winks, and Red Carpet Wrinkles

Unless they missed the 28 February 2006 deadline, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have cast their votes for this year’s nominees in the various categories. The long list of winners and losers will be read aloud in one of those excruciatingly drawn-out and rather tiresome displays of self-aggrandizing common among the tinseltownies.

Apparently, most of those celebrating celebrities are still unaware of the increasing likelihood that their nip/tucked tuchuses and streamlined features, boxoted-out-of-all expressiveness, will soon be replaced by the real thing in perennial flawlessness: tantrum-free CGI stand-ins who have that airbrushed and anorexic look to which so many of these cartoonish red-carpet crawlers aspire. Once again, it is left to the British to put a few creases back into Logan’s runway; but Dame Judy Dench stands as much of a chance to take home a trophy as quasi-live audiences have staying awake long enough to find out.

At least, one of the documentaries nominated this year pays tribute to the world of radio—that refuge of the bald and wrinkled, that last frontier and Lost Horizon for those among us who leap at the opportunity of supplying in our minds all that is wanting on the screen, warts ‘n all. The subject of that documentary, of course, is poet, playwright, and journalist Norman Corwin, age 95.

This Friday, BBC 4 radio will feature an hourlong “Audience with Norman Corwin,” which listeners worldwide can pick up here. An Oscar nominee himself (in the category of best adapted screenplay for Lust for Life in 1957), Corwin enjoyed lambasting the pomp and frippery of Hollywood’s long-gone studio era. Some of what he had to say, however, still rings true.

“Let nothing interfere with your enjoyment, / We’ll waltz away through war and unemployment.” This is how Corwin’s 1944 “Movie Primer” sends up the “Ostrich studio” approach to filmmaking, as expressed in the studio theme song, the “Graustark national anthem”:

Have you got those ‘need-a-vacation-from-a-world situation’ blues?
Oh, those blues.
Then cheer up, neighbor, fear no capital or labor.
Keep smiling, sweety, why fret about a treaty?
Chin up, fella, we give you Cinderella,
And you’ll never have, you’ll never have those headline blues . . . 

Let nothing interfere with entertainment,
The screen was not for sadness or for painment.
We’ll cuddle you and kiss you, and guard your free issue.
We manufacture syrup to cheer up your blues. 

Have you got those ‘need-a-vacation-from-a-serious-consideration’ blues?
Oh, those blues.
Keep grinning, oh you kiddoes, buck up, you widows.
You must never sink as low as to have to think.
So, chin up, fella, we give you Cinderella,
And you’ll never have, you’ll never have those headline blues.

Granted, many of the old production codes have long been cracked, and, from what I’ve read, this year’s nominated pictures are a little less frivolous than of old. Epics, fantasies, and new-fangled musical are taking a backseat and the tired boy-meets-girl formula has received some gender adjustments. That said, playing it safe in order to generate potential blockbusters is still common practice, and Hollywood producers either continue to drag storylines out of the same moldy vault or abandon intelligible storytelling altogether in favor of special effects and noisy action.

All right, the stories have some new wrinkles; it’s the faces that seem to be getting more insipid each year.

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