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Oscars: Hype or fruitless enterprise?

March 5, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbs
news@thereminder.com
When I was a kid living in Granby, I became strongly interested in movies. I'm still not sure why, but the bug bit me pretty hard while I was in junior high school.
I was attracted to horror and fantasy films and bought magazines such as "Famous Monsters of Filmland" as often as I could. I watched many of the movies that were broadcast locally and learned about classic comedy through the films hosted by the late Hal Stanton, someone with whom I later became friends.
I started a movie scrapbook, cutting out ads and stories from the local newspapers.
When I had the money, I bought "Variety," the bible of show business. That weekly newspaper really opened my eyes with stories about the making of films. The movie reviews in "Variety" were the best, as they taught me that one of the most important considerations wasn't just the artistic merit of a movie, but whether or not it could draw in an audience.
The trade ads were also intriguing and made me wonder if I would ever get to see some of these films. The answer was many of them were movies I eventually saw on VHS and DVD. It only took me at least 40 years in some cases.
By the way, "The Green Slime," which looked great to me in 1968, was pretty lousy when I finally caught up with it last year!
My parents were a little mystified, but being the loving folks that they were they encouraged my interests. My dad bought a movie camera with which I made short animated movies and my mom helped me on the production of a "fanzine" — an amateur magazine on film. My first celebrity interview was with Buster Crabbe — you kids go and Google him — Flash Gordon himself.
And watching the Oscars became something important to me, but not for the reasons that one might think.
Early on, the Oscars would befuddle me. I couldn't figure out why some films were deemed the favorites over others. Why did they have these bloated production numbers? Did the presenters actually think their scripted remarks were funny?
In 1972, when Charles Chaplin was presented an honorary Oscar, I remember someone trying to put his famed hat on that he wore as "The Little Tramp." It was a truly cringe-worthy moment.
Every year since then there has been at least one incident in the show that made me wonder if anyone knew what they were doing.
So why watch it? For me the Oscars are far less about whether or not the "right" film won the golden statue, but the connection the broadcast makes between film fans.
In the pre-Internet days — when dinosaurs ruled the earth — being a movie-struck teen living in a small town was a fairly singular path to walk.
I wasn't really interested in sports, although my seven-years working at the Basketball Hall of Fame gave me an appreciation of that sport. I didn't talk about cars, either, supposedly the other great subject for teen boys in the 1960s and '70s. I quickly learned that a conversation about the movie I saw the previous night on television died a quick death among my peers.
The Oscars became a kind of affirmation that other people were interested in the same kind of things that fascinated me. Even if the idea that judging one film over the other was nonsensical at best, I enjoyed the ballyhoo, the manufactured drama and the opportunity to learn something new about movies.
This year, like every year, there are people outraged by the winners. While I personally rooted for "The Artist," I realize it is no better and no worse than the other nominees for best picture. It's a matter of taste. It's a matter of politics. The fact that the Academy voters are largely older white men shouldn't be lost on anyone.
Trying to impose a winner and loser on something like cinema is a fruitless enterprise, but what the Oscars still give me is a sense of classic Hollywood hype — show business with a wink and nod. In this increasing virtual and sterile world, I still appreciate this blatantly old fashioned approach.
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.
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