[AWARD SHOWS] Need to Eliminate Sour Notes on Stage
- Sour notes on stage
Why can't Oscar hold a tune? C'mon, music's got to be a way to
breathe life into forgettable telecasts.
By Patrick Goldstein, Times Staff Writer
If you've ever watched an Oscar telecast, you know that nothing is
quite so cringe-inducing as the musical numbers that punctuate the
show, numbers that end up trying too hard to be either flamboyant or
hip, often falling short on both counts.
I can easily call up any number of Most Embarrassing Moments, be it
the culturally clueless Antonio Banderas version of "Al Otro Lado del
Rio" at the 2005 Academy Awards or the infamous opening number of the
1989 show, which featured Merv Griffin crooning with dancers with
coconuts on their heads along with a Rob Lowe duet with a woman
dressed as Snow White. (You can watch the whole train wreck on
YouTube by entering "Infamous Rob Lowe.")
And then there was last year's rendition of "In the Deep"
from "Crash," which my wife refers to as "the song where they set the
stage on fire."
The problem, of course, starts with the best song nominees
themselves. I won't rant about the poor selections other than to say
that Paul Jabara won an Oscar (for "Last Dance" from 1978's "Thank
God It's Friday") while Cole Porter and George Gershwin do not. But
at a time when Oscar ratings are in a steep decline, isn't there a
way to use music to breathe some life and creativity into what
increasingly feels like a hollow night of self-congratulation?
The answer is yes. In fact, a textbook demonstration on how to
radically improve the show was on display in the form of Rob
Marshall's dazzling "Tony Bennett: An American Classic" NBC special
that aired Nov. 21. Passionate and polished from start to finish, the
show featured Bennett in duets with performers as varied as Diana
Krall and Christine Aguilera, with each segment introduced by the
kind of celebrity you'd want to see on the Oscars, whether it was
Robert De Niro offering praise or Bruce Willis recounting Bennett's
lengthy tenure in Las Vegas.
The musical numbers were staged with fresh ideas and innovative
style, two things sorely missing from the Oscars. Bennett and k.d.
lang did "Because of You" as if at an early '50s Columbia Records
recording session, while Elton John popped out from a showgirl's fan
for a supercharged Vegas-style performance of "Rags to Riches." For a
duet with Krall on "The Best Is Yet to Come," Marshall conjured up an
homage to a 1966-era NBC variety show, complete with pop art
billboards and bare-midriff dancers in white capri pants.
If Marshall can assemble all this talent for a TV special, imagine
what the Oscars could do. I'm hoping this year's producer, Laura
Ziskin, who has the energy of a dozen mere mortals, has some tricks
up her sleeve. It's long overdue for the Academy to reach out to
Hollywood's creative talent to overhaul the musical section of the
If Marshall isn't available to work his magic, there's plenty of
other talent with canny musical instincts and the clout to attract
A-list talent, be it Bill Condon, Baz Luhrmann, Taylor Hackford,
Jonathan Demme, Spike Jonze or Martin Scorsese.
As a way for the Academy to get some new blood in its veins, why not
recruit some USC or AFI students to shoot documentary footage of the
If compelling enough, the footage could be incorporated into the
broadcast or packaged with the final numbers as a separate TV special
on a cable movie channel.
In the meantime, find the Bennett special when it pops up on DVD.
It's a great reminder of how seductive music can be on TV, especially
when in the hands of a modern-day master.