For all the great build-up, for all the anticipation of Vanessa Redgravean pro-Arab rantings and Marlon Brandoesque substitute protests, for all the yammering about blacklisting politically active performers, last night's Oscar show was yet another time-bending dud, one of Hollywood's greatest anticlimaxes since Kevin Bacon's final dancing sequence in Footloose.
If the program served any purpose—including the entertainment of those of us dumb enough to watch the whole goddamned thing—it was to cement the fact that host Steve Martin's rise to prominence as a comedian on the strength of the 1977 cultural watershed album Let's Get Small owed more to widespread drug use during the Me Decade than to his actually being a laff riot. (What can you say about a funnyman who gets one-upped by über-straight man Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences President Frank Pierson? Martin introduced Pierson with the line, "Fashion experts say cleavage is in this year…" to which Pierson rejoined, "That's the last time I share a dressing room with that guy.")
The night's best moment was not even the amusing and all-too-brief grumblings surrounding documentary feature winner Michael Moore's antiwar messaging (more on that in a minute) or even the long-overdue appreciation showered upon a reluctant Peter O'Toole (whose paean to the U.S. of A. was as political in its way as Moore's comments). No, the high point was the public humiliation directed at the dwarfish Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, former special assistant to Lyndon Baines Johnson (Valenti is rumored to have been in charge of flushing during LBJ's notorious privy council meetings). In a burst of surprisingly inventive typecasting, the academy tapped the Under the Rainbow-stand-in-sized Valenti to hand out the Oscar for "Best Documentary Short Subject."
But to get back to Michael Moore, who was loudly booed during his acceptance speech: This viewer, who shares Moore's antiwar sentiments in general but has nothing else in common politically with the left's weeping clown, wants to thank him for giving me what I tuned in to see: at least one moment of drama and tension.
Against a backdrop of musical numbers so mortifying they could have been the death-causing film at the center of last year's horror flick The Ring and half-baked peacenik sentiments (presenter Gael Garcia Bernal hid behind Stalinist artist Frida Kahlo, insisting that "if Frida was alive, she'd be on our side, against war"), Moore laid his beliefs on the line and took his lumps. His arguments may be as misguided and "fictitious" as his documentaries, but he alone seemed willing to say unambivalently what he thought.
Equally important, in an industry that sends more moralistic messages than the Vatican branch of Western Union, Moore had the tactlessness to force the issue at precisely the worst moment. Like Richard Gere's '93 shoutout to Red China or the flap around Elia Kazan's 1999 lifetime achievement award, we'll remember Moore's Oscar night antics far longer than we'll remember what film won best picture this year—or any of Moore's movies, for that matter. Which should count for something.