As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. I speak of the Academy Awards’ embarrassing mistake of naming La La Land Best Picture, only to have to retract that in the middle of La La’s acceptance speech, naming Moonlight. This is all because Price Waterhouse Coopers gave the presenters the wrong envelope. Perhaps the Academy is shopping for a new accounting firm? In this era of “fake news” the mistake only feeds the Zeitgeist. Maybe it was Russian hacking? It's one thing to tamper with the election and it’s quite another to mess with the Academy!
I have not seen Moonlight, but it does sound like award-winning material, adapted from a play. However, I loved La La Land, particularly Emma Stone’s rendition of the song “The Audition” which I have made part of my piano repertoire. I also admired the film as a throwback to filmed musicals of the past, albeit updated for our times.
Our friends Betty and Claudia were visiting this weekend, both movie buffs, and they had not seen Fences (nor had we) and I was surprised to find the film being offered on pay-per-view so we watched it before the Academy Awards yesterday. I was stunned. August Wilson stands among the greatest American playwrights. Although the movie rights to the Pulitzer Prize winning play were bought soon after the play opened in 1987, it was only recently produced as Wilson had insisted that the film have a black director. His wishes continued to be honored after his death in 2005. It was Denzel Washington, one of our finest actors, who finally was chosen to direct and star in the play – he was in the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway with Viola Davis as well. I was surprised that Washington was not even nominated for best director, although he was up for best actor. Until I see Moonlight, which won for the “best” film, I can’t comment, but what Washington accomplished as a director and as an actor has to be greatly admired. Viola Davis was spectacular as well. I will not easily forget this film, Wilson’s writing, or the performances.
When you think about it, how does one chose between a La La Land, Fences, or Moonlight – all award deserving in their own right? It’s one of the reasons why the Academy Awards doesn’t resonate with me. I watched part of it, but did not see the controversial ending; both Moonlight and La La Land deserved better. But so did Fences and Denzel Washington.
I mentioned this before, but never went into any detail. We attended the 1980 Academy Awards as a guest of the Academy. Their Annual Motion Picture Credits Database was published by my firm at the time. In those days, such information was in reference book form. I used to visit the Academy and the American Film Institute searching for publishable material.
When I received an invitation to attend the Awards, I was able to combine the trip to LA with one of my editorial efforts, and, of course, Ann wanted to join me so I accepted. Unfortunately, this is way before cell phone cameras and I thought it a little tacky to arrive with my full-size Nikon hanging from my shoulder, so I have no photographs to record the experience.
I had a rented car (not very fancy) and wore just a plain suit. Ann was dressed nicely but no designer dress or even borrowed jewels. A valet took our car and in spite of being unknowns (and looking the part), we walked down the red carpet to some applause. No one asked for our autograph, though : - ).
This was Johnny Carson’s second year as host and the big film, winning most of the awards was Kramer vs. Kramer. Coincidentally I had met the author of the book on which the film was based, Avery Corman, a year or two before. He politely autographed a pre-production copy at the American Booksellers Association meeting after we discussed why I felt a special connection with his book: I had been divorced ten years earlier with similar custody issues.
Back to the Academy Awards, I remember standing next to Gregory Peck during one of the brief breaks, I wanted to say something, but felt it would be intrusive. So we just stood there, admiring all the screen actors I recognized and he knew well. It was a lot of fun to attend this major Hollywood event, but Ann and I were outsiders, looking in.
After watching the film Fences we took Betty and Claudia to our favorite Sunday night place, Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter to listen to the Jupiter Jazz Society’s weekly jam session. Professionals play but other musicians can sit in for a set or two. I’d like to do that myself but as most of my piano playing has been solo; I don’t have the skills for impromptu jazz accompaniment. So, we go just to enjoy and support such a worthwhile effort. Organizer Rick Moore, who plays the keyboard with the best of them, gathers a wide range of musicians, ones just starting out, but oh so talented, to retired and seasoned professionals who just like to jam. It is Rick (and his wife, Cherie, a co-founder of the Society) who drive the mission to preserve jazz for future generations. And future generations are responding. Ava Faith, a 13 year old singer, made a surprise appearance last night after singing the National Anthem at the Marlins’ spring training game. She already has the right stuff, a great young jazz voice and a personality that is impressive. Wonderful to hear that generation perform the Great American Songbook and to know it will endure. I tried to capture a brief clip with my twitter feed…