"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Monday, March 3, 2014

Beauty and the Hollywood Beast - The 2014 Oscars

Kim Novak 

Liza Minnelli

After last year's Oscar ceremony, a shameful debacle of the lowest common denominator headed by Seth Macfarlane, I thought this year would be at best tasteful, at worst boring.  Ellen DeGeneres as host turned out to be light and funny for the most part, a few zings here and there for fun, and I've always liked her.  That is why I was really shocked when she was so mean to Liza Minnelli.  Ellen thought it was funny to tell Liza in front of millions of people that she looked like a male impersonator.  Such remarks are funny only when they aren't true.  Unfortunately, at this point, Liza does look like an impersonation of herself, so it isn't funny at all.  Liza suffers from mental and physical disabilities, as did her dear mother, Judy Garland, and it takes a pretty hard heart to ignore that for the sake of a 20 second laugh.  It was plain that Liza was flustered, and I'm sure she was very hurt and embarrassed, the kind of hurt that takes a while to sink in and then stays with you forever.  Shame on Ellen for throwing a cruel spotlight on a troubled and unguarded person.

That opening salvo of uncharitable behavior was topped later by the treatment that Kim Novak received, from her ignominious arrival on the stage to the behavior of the audience of supposed peers.  Kim Novak was a big star of a bygone era.  What on earth possessed the director to just send her out with no announcement, as if she were just another presenter?  She deserved at least a special word from the host, but received none.  Worse yet, the audience of actors and movie-makers practically sat on their hands.  Oh there was applause, but nothing special at all.  It was the worst case of Hollywood with its virtual head up its virtual rear end.  I'm pretty sure it was all because Kim took the unfortunate step of plastic surgery which turned out badly.  She does not look recognizable anymore, she was plainly nervous and overwhelmed, and probably embarrassed that she did not evoke any special recognition from the audience.

All of that could have been avoided by a director who was professional enough to see a potential problem with just bringing her out cold, or a host with enough sense to prepare the audience who may not recognize her fast enough.  All it would have taken was "Ladies and gentleman, we are privileged to have with us tonight a Hollywood legend -- Kim Novak."  I'm sure the reaction would have been different, some real applause and recognition.  What a simple thing to have done, which was apparently beyond the ability of the show's planners.  It would also have been nice if somebody had said how great it was to see Kim Novak.  It's hard to believe that nobody thought to render that little kindness.  Only one person helped Kim, her fellow presenter, Matthew McConaughey.  He put his arm around her, and it was clear that he saw her tentative behavior, her obvious nervousness.  His behavior was that of a gentleman and a caring human being.

Now she is no longer young and beautiful, and has bravely revealed the severe problems that being manic-depressive have meant to her life.  Hell, I could say the exact same thing about myself. And despite a bad surgery job, she doesn't look anywhere near 80 as a whole!  When you get older you lose the pretty face of youth, and lifelong mental disabilities can make you more frail in dealing with the cold, cruel world, not necessarily stronger.  Kim has spoken about herself and revealed a woman with great strengths, but also difficulty with public appearance. It takes a society of compassion to deal with sick people, shy people, nervous people -- it takes individuals with some sense of empathy to see and divert such people from hurt.  There was only one person in that crowd of people, and thank goodness for him.

I always loved Kim Novak.  She could hold her own on screen, and it was her incredible beauty and air of wistful vulnerability that made her a star.  I am reminded of a wonderful line from My Favorite Year, a movie about an aging matinee idol who said of himself, "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"  In the movies, it is no shame to be popular because of looks.  Even one of the oldest songs about Hollywood says "...any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic with just a good looking pan."  She always lit up the screen with her presence and I always felt the star quality that made her a pleasure to watch.  The problem is that youth and beauty are transitory, time is relentless, and human beings don't always make the best judgments under pressure.

Hollywood is hard on people without a tough skin.  Modern Hollywood is especially obsessed with looks and youth.  It is the utmost hypocrisy to insist that actresses have those qualities, and then laugh at someone who is insecure and desperate enough to undergo plastic surgery to reach for what is past.  The young women working in movies are going to lose their looks eventually too.  It appears that they won't have a clue about the feelings of disconnect and disrespect which that obsession can mean to one of their own profession until it happens to them.  ( I don't include the men, who are allowed to be old, wrinkled and sagging and still be accepted as desirable.)  Hollywood isn't the only source of meanness -- the multitude of nasty twitter posts about Kim's altered face, as well as Liza's appearance, made me feel a little sick.  They are being quoted all over the internet, and I feel awful that the women will certainly see them and be hurt all over again.

Kim, I wish you could know tonight that many fans love you, remember your beauty, admire the woman that you are now, and don't give a damn about your outward appearance.  Liza, you were once a striking girl with youthful exuberance, and you now are a woman contending with age and illness, and the same feelings apply to you.  Countering the smirking laughter, there is also a lot of outrage that you were both treated badly.  Kindness is the best of human virtues -- you should have received at least that from your own people.