If I ran the Oscars: Ann Magnuson
In this interview series, we ask a host of famous free thinkers to recast the Oscars in their own image. First to the dais: actress, singer, writer and performance artist Ann Magnuson.
Ann, who's going to win this year's Oscar race?
Probably whoever spent the most money on their Oscar campaign. Isn't that the way it usually works? I do want to see Jeff Bridges win, because I've been a swooning fan ever since "Cutter's Way" and "Winter Kills." And Kathryn Bigelow, because it's high time a woman finally wins best director, and she deserves it.
OK, but if you had the final say in how the academy votes this year, which films and performers would win?
I liked when it wasn't cool to even go to the Oscars. When George C. Scott refused his, saying, "The whole thing is a ... meat parade. I don't want any part of it."
While I don't believe in awards, I do believe in meat parades. In spectacles. When I was growing up, the Academy Awards telecast was always the most highly anticipated spectacle.... But to answer your question: I have seen "The White Ribbon" (twice) and would absolutely make sure it won something — best foreign film or not. And I'd have Kenny Ortega win for the Michael Jackson doc "This Is It," because it is an incredibly heartbreaking valentine, not only to MJ, but to any performer who loves "putting on a show."
There's more Magnuson after the break.
That brings me to my next question: which films and performers from the past deserved the Oscar? And which didn't? Here's your chance to rewrite history.
Good Lord, just about a bazillion! I know Billy Crystal once sang a song on the telecast called "Never Been Nominated," but I think a whole new musical number needs to be added: "They Was Robbed!" (perhaps to the tune of "Make 'Em Laugh"?) I'd commission Mel Brooks to write it and the wonderful Marc Shaiman to arrange it. (Marc, coincidentally, used to be part of the Club 57 group I was involved with in downtown New York during the 1980s, and we used to put together those same kind of medleys and re-lyricized songs back then. So it's a real hoot to see him doing the same thing on the Oscars!)
I'd make sure that every year, one person in each main category finally gets their "should've won" Oscar. Ditto for best picture. Maybe Spike Lee can inaugurate it and present the first to the films he thinks are most deserving. Among the winners would be the usual suspects, like "Citizen Kane," "2001: A Space Odyssey," the original (1933) "King Kong," "Night of the Hunter," Judy Garland in "A Star Is Born," Bette Davis — always thought she should've won for "All About Eve" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," and I tend to agree — Cassevetes/Rowlands for just about everything they've done, Harriet Andersson for "Through a Glass Darkly" and/or the Bee Gees for the song "Stayin' Alive." And perhaps the most important film of the last decade: "Idiocracy." Mike Judge deserves a special award for that film alone. Once again, the list is endless...
I don't know about taking away anyone's Oscar, but I think they could create an Oscar Exchange Plan. For example, Martin Scorsese exchanges his best director award for "The Departed" for two (count 'em!) for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull." And as radical as it sounds, Barbra Streisand should hand over her "Funny Girl" Oscar to Carol Channing for stealing "Hello, Dolly!" from her. OK, maybe that's too radical, but Streisand has to at least be the one to give Channing her long-deserved Oscar!
Which categories would you add? Which need deleting?
As much as I always love the crew, the technical awards need to be scaled back. Personally, I'd like to see them replaced with the really important stuff — best craft service or best (i.e. most embarrassing) thing overheard by a sound person on an actor's radio mike. I also think there should be a best seat filler category, for which the TV audience can vote at the end of the telecast a la "American Idol." Instead of cutting away whenever a star leaves their seat and a professional seat filler takes it, the camera immediately zooms in, everything stops and we have a split screen where one camera follows the star to the bar or bathroom and the host interviews the seat filler. What are their hopes and dreams? What do they hope to achieve by filling this seat? I think America could relate. I know I could.
Definitely put hidden cameras in the bar area.
What part of the telecast would you change?
First of all, the whole operation has to move back downtown to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That Kodak joint just ain't got no class! It's in a mall, for criminy sakes! The Dorothy Chandler is an exquisite building with a gorgeous interior. Plus, it's part of L.A.'s fabulous Music Center that hearkens back to a more sophisticated time when the Oscars appeared to mean something.
There should be dress code "themes" for each year, a la Truman Capote's famous 1966 Black and White Ball. The first theme, to honor the new "old" location, would be the year 1962. Think JFK's inaugural ball meets "Mad Men" and Tom Ford's "A Single Man," with everyone dressed in black and white with accents of green and gold, as seen in the glittering decor inside the pavilion.
The next year, we could progress to Fellini. All will be sent screeners of "Toby Dammit" and expected to dress like those in the Ferrari/award ceremony sequence. Later, the academy could turn to ancient Rome. All are sent screeners of the 1953 film "Quo Vadis." Women are asked to pay close attention to Deborah Kerr's dazzling Technicolor costumes, while men can go in Tom Ford or full-on Praetorian Guard. Togas, of course, would be "too much." Finally, we reach the ultimate goal — Pasolini's "Salo" — and members are asked to dress and act accordingly.
Also, a huge, Monty Python-style prop anvil needs to drop down on whoever delivers an overlong or boring acceptance speech. And more clip montages! Tom Ford could present the Glamour Montage, Tarantino puts together A Bit of the Old Ultra-Violent Montage, Meryl Streep hosts the Accent Montage, Kristen Stewart and Christopher Lee present the Sexy Vampire Montage, and Jon Voight presents How Hollywood Liberals are Destroying the Country Montage.
This year's grand finale could have the L.A. district attorney's office wheel out Roman Polanski on a Hannibal Lecter gurney, which sparks a violent uprising led by Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Think "Grumpy Old Men" meets "Mission: Impossible." We then found out it was just Sacha Baron Cohen all along. What a Twitter bonanza that would be!
Which part of the telecast would you never change?
The In Memoriam montage. And they need to give the recently deceased much more airtime. These folks are never gonna get another chance to be "up there."
Also, a few years ago, they had all the best actress nominees sitting on bleachers when the curtain opened, and the camera panned across their forced smiles. It was like a Celebrity Zoo. They need to do this every year. No one gets to speak. They just sit there while we gawk. Celebrity Zoo. So nice I had to say it twice.
Who would be your dream host or presenters? Musical performers?
I say multiple hosts to appeal to multiple demographics. Chris Rock needs to return. His reference to "rats" before Elia Kazan's award a few years ago was deliriously audacious. Courtney Love is always watchable. I love Patton Oswalt and Blaine Capatch as well.... I guess for demographic balance, we'd better bring in a few acts from Branson. How about Jeff Dunham? Or Sarah Palin? The ratings would go through the roof!
Who would receive your honorary Oscars for lifetime achievement?
I'd divide it into two categories: posthumous and still living. First up: Erich von Stroheim and David Lynch. Future candidates: Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Fassbinder, Herzog, Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, John Cazale, Doris Day, Louise Brooks, Klaus Kinski, Karen Black, Liv Ullman, Angela Basset, Nicholas Roeg, Ken Russell, Penelope Spheeris, John Waters, Gary Oldman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Bernard Herrmann, Bob Fosse, Terrence Malick, Don Cheadle, John Heard, Shelley Duvall, Jeffrey Wright ... the list is endless.
What are your favorite Oscar moments (good or bad) from the past?
I've always liked a sloshed Bette Davis extolling the virtues of Robert Wise and dragging the telecast way overtime while complaining about how they don't make 'em like they used to and slurring "The Sound of Mee-UUU-sick!" They need to bring out more "classic" stars and ensure there is a fully stocked bar backstage. I also love all the uncomfortable political moments that get people booing. Michael Moore can be counted on that. I'll never forget Vanessa Redgrave's "Zionist hoodlums" comment (why hasn't there been a punk band with that name yet?). The streaker behind David Niven, of course. Alan Carr's fabulous opening number, with Rob Lowe and Snow White accosting horrified A-list stars in the front row. And best of all: Brando sending in Sacheen Littlefeather as his proxy.
And lastly, let's give you an Oscar for all your hard work this year. Let's hear your acceptance speech.
One is tempted to reenact Pia Zadora's expletive-laden speech from "The Lonely Lady," but I've always been enamored of Ruth Gordon's speech after winning for "Rosemary's Baby" ("I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is for a young actress such as myself"). I'd love to send Sacheen Littlefeather back in. But I suppose the only real option is to go myself, dressed in an exquisite copy of Jackie Kennedy's 1960 inaugural gown, deliver a simple thank you, and then wake up, because surely, I would be dreaming.
— Paul Gaita
Photo: Ann Magnuson. Credit: Austin Young.
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