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March 26, 1999

I don't know. Maybe you've already heard too much about Hollywood's Oscars, the movies that won and the people who earned the accolades. But a few thoughts keep rattling around in my cranium, so let's spend a minute or so in recapitulation of last Sunday night's snoozer. That, of course, was the overdone breast-beating (please excuse the word association) from La-La Land on national TV in celebration of their presumed achievements. Only one thing qualifies me to criticize it: I watched it.

I yield to no man in my lifelong fascination with the movies. They play with our emotions in various ways and they can be powerful, beautiful tools for both good and bad. We have to sort out and classify their offerings according to our own values, but our ability to perceive them is diminished by continuing tolerance of whatever they pitch at us. Our failure to distinguish good from bad allows a great deal of pure garbage to be thrust at us by ruthless people who are more interested in extracting outrageous ticket prices than in educating or uplifting audiences. We are, in short, being used. They give us trash because we are willing to pay for it. I buy tickets to the movies, which makes me part of the conspiracy.

A powerful sidelight at the Oscar show was the treatment of veteran director Elia Kazan, a man who has presented magnificent dramas on both stage and screen and has been previously honored for his body of work. He was the recipient of a special award by the Motion Picture Academy, yet some of his peers in the audience at the presentation ceremony chose to sit on their hands and scowl. The cameras showed us actors Nick Nolte and Ed Harris, among others, representing the impassively cool minority. Most of the audience applauded the veteran craftsman as he was introduced. I was aware of the controversy because of the pre-award publicity, but I was shocked to see Mr. Nolte and Mr. Harris in the company of the protestors. They happen to be two actors whose work I enjoy. Then I realized the truth. Nick Nolte and Ed Harris are not the people they portray on the screen. They are actors, and this revelation Sunday night made me understand that the real persons are not to be confused with the roles they play. I still admire their art, but I dislike some of their choices in private life.

As you know, Mr. Kazan's "crime" was cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s when the government was attempting to expose the Communist infiltration of the American film industry. It truly did exist. Mr. Kazan did what he undoubtedly thought was the correct, patriotic thing to do. Some of his friends at that time, and, like Nick Nolte and Ed Harris, filmland personalities who were not even around back then, took offense at such actions.

I guess it's OK for movie actors to spew filth, obscenities and profanities from the silver screen, to defy accepted social standards in their own lives, and to provide graphic illustrations of the private sides of men and women on film. However, it's out of line for one of them to cooperate with legal authorities. Some may not agree with that assessment, but it's apparently true. We get and tolerate garbage because we are willing to pay for it. The purveyors could care less about the content or impact of their material as long as the rest of us blithely pay for the privilege of witnessing it.

As for the Oscar show hostess, Whoopi Goldberg, her performance merely underscored the philosophy stated above. With her foul language, the amply exposed portions of her anatomy and her endless gutter humor, she took away what little class may have been associated with this show. What a waste of time the whole thing was. I'm embarrassed to admit I watched it, or even a portion, but I'll still be a film fan as long as occasional wholesome shows, like "October Sky" and a few others, emanate from the West Coast factory. I reserve the right to criticize the rest of the movie business.