My first verifiable memory was our family gathering around the TV to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I was 4, my older brother was 17. It was a Sunday night.
Canadian television gave us The Friendly Giant, a low tech 15 minute morning show. Bob Homme, aka “Friendly” wouldn’t do public appearances because the kids would realize he wasn’t really a giant. Today passing up all that lucre would be considered crazy, not ethical or sweet.
His signature closing: “It’s late. This little chair will be waiting for one of you, and a rocking chair for another who likes to rock, and a big armchair for two more to curl up in when you come again to our castle. I’ll close the big front doors and pull up the drawbridge after you’re gone. Goodbye. Goodbye.”
When young, I was allowed to stay up on Sunday nights to watch Bonanza with the family. There was only one set per household, so the whole family watched together.
The most memorable episode of Bonanza gave the family an opportunity to address how to be culturally sensitive. Hop Sing was the beloved Chinese cook for the all-male family.
But the most important TV show of all (also on Sunday nights) was Walt Disney. It may have been called World of Disney or something like that, but we usually just called it Walt Disney.
IN 1982 I learned that the Disney company paid Inuit children to catch lemmings, which they then transported to Calgary, and herded off a cliff into the Bow River to show the alleged lemming suicides (which is a myth) in a nature “documentary”. Roy Disney admitted it, not proudly, just honestly, in a CBC documentary about nature shows and animals in entertainment. I also learned that there about 12 Perri the squirrels – if one died in a scene, they just got another squirrel for filming.
In the same documentary I learned that Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom traveled with caged animals, and staged scenes for their nature shows, sometimes putting animals together that would not actually encounter each other in the wild.
The 1960s had a lot of political content mixed in with the entertainment. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour regularly tackled subjects like Vietnam and religion, often through their invited guest performers. They were canceled for their efforts.
Star Trek was a revolutionary TV series showing co-operation between nations, races, and aliens.
The 1970s tackled issues head on.
Television was where we watched world (and other-worldly) events live.
Scripted television has the power to move us as well. Many shows incorporated emotions based on the news and events of the day. History was often used to illuminate the present day.
Through the years, you find characters that resonate with you. So well written and acted, you can identify with them.
The tradition of the Academy Awards, something I look forward to every year.
Are the Oscars relevant? I think they represent the times we live in.
And now for the Oscars presented February 26, 2017.
The Best Picture Nominees cover these themes: International cooperation and interspecies communication; Race and success (within family); Pacifism during war; Desperate measures in bad economic times; Race and feminism and success (within NASA); Finding your identity (finding family); Overcoming grief (reconnecting with family); Finding your identity as a gay man (family member with addiction); and what seemed the least relevant of all: pretty young white people sing and dance and whitesplain (mansplain?) jazz. Although there was a token black person in the jazz movie.
Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson win for Best Makeup for Suicide Squad. Bertolazzi dedicates the award to immigrants like himself. My notes say that Gregorini dedicated it to his recently deceased wife.
Colleen Atwood wins for Best Costume Design for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – the first Harry Potter film to win an Oscar.
While the OJ documentary won, the other four seem more relevant to me. Fire At Sea is about the locals on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, one of the first stops for desperate immigrants crossing the Mediterranean. Life, Animated is about Owen Suskind, an autistic man who communicates through themes in animated films (mostly Disney). I Am Not Your Negro echoes James Baldwin’s own words from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s (which surely echoes today’s movements like Black Lives Matter). 13th reveals that the 13th Amendment did not actually abolish slavery, it merely reserved it only for punishment for prisoners (thus revealing the impetus for the growth of the for-profit prison system in the USA).
Montrealer Sylvain Bellemare wins for Best Sound Editing for Arrival. “Salut Montreal” and “All we need is love”.
Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace win for Best Sound Mixing for Hacksaw Ridge. A shout out to mom “Skippy” O’Connell for getting him his first job, telling him to work hard, and win an Oscar, and thank her in front of the world. She is deceased, so he looks skyward (ceiling-ward?) to thank her.
The honorary Oscars are noted for editor Anne V. Coates, casting agent Lynn Stalmaster, documentarian Frederick WIseman, and Jackie Chan. I looked up Wiseman’s work, and “Primate” in particular looks devastating in the way the best documentaries can be.
Viola Davis wins for Best Supporting Actress for Fences. The presenter, Mark Rylance, notes that the category could also be called Best Opposing Actress and that “women are better at opposing without hatred”.
Asghar Farhadi’s words:
“Dividing the world into the us and the enemy categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for regression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries in which have themselves have been victims of aggression.
Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever.”
Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer win for Best Animated Short for Piper. Presenter Gael Garcia Bernal takes the opportunity to define himself as a migrant worker and “As a human being, I’m against any wall that wants to separate us.”
Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer win for Best Animated Feature for Zootopia. Moore says “We are so grateful to the audiences all over the world who embraced this story of tolerance being more powerful than the fear of the other,”
A husband and wife team win for Best Production Design for La La Land: Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco.
Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon win for Best Visual Effects for The Jungle Book.
John Gilbert wins for Best Film Editing for Hacksaw Ridge.
At this point Jimmy Kimmel does a cute stunt with the child actor from Lion.
Another extremely relevant category: Best Documentary Short is won by White Helmets. Other nominees are Joe’s Violin about Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold donating his violin to Brianna Perez at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls; Extremis about California palliative care specialist Dr. Jessica Zitter; Watani: My Homeland is about a Syrian refugee family fleeing ISIS and relocating to Germany; and 4.1 Miles is about Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a captain in the Greek Coast Guard, trying to save refugee lives off the coast of the island of Lesbos.
Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy win for Best Live Action Short for Sing. This is the point at which Jimmy Kimmel tweets Donald Trump “Hi, U up? Meryl says hi”.
Linus Sandgren wins for Best Cinematography for La La Land. Justin Hurwitz wins for Best Musical Score for La La Land. City Of Stars from La La Land wins for Best Song: Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Pasek thanks his mom who let him quit sports to be in a musical.
Jennifer Aniston seems really sad for the In Memoriam mentioning Bill Paxton’s death that day, and Sara Bareilles plays Both Sides Now. Among those mourned are Gene Wilder, Patty Duke, Garry Marshall, Mary Tyler Moore, Prince, John Hurt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, and finishing with Carrie Fisher.
Kenneth Lonergan wins Best Writing in an Original Screenplay for Manchester By The Sea (produced by Matt Damon, who also presents the award).
Moonlight wins for Best Writing in a Screenplay Adapted from another Work: Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
“And for all you people out there who feel there is no mirror for you, that you feel your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.”
Tarell Alvin McCraney:
“Two boys from Liberty City up here representing 305 — this goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you, you and us, so thank you, thank you, this is for you.”
Damien Chazelle becomes the youngest at the age of 32 to win Best Director for La La Land.
Casey Affleck wins Best Actor for Manchester By The Sea, and Emma Stone wins Best Actress for La La Land.
And the most confusing and memorable moment of the night is saved for last. Moonlight wins Best Picture, but only after a fake-out for La La Land.
And that’s why I love television and the Oscars. Still relevant, still able to teach, to reveal truth, to instil empathy, still a possibility of a shared experience, not just a product to be consumed.