Sunday, February 22, 2009

How to Watch the Oscars

I had the pleasure tonight of a long-distance friend on the phone to watch the Oscars with us. He was simultaneously engaged with another friend in yet another city, so we did not have his full attention, but having R., however intermittently with us, made it a party. There was someone to agree when we found the production lovely, Whoopi Goldberg's animal-print mu mu unfortunate, the nominated songs/dance number charmingly, multiculturally colorful. Loved Kate Winslett's frock. Having R. with us -- just during commercials -- allowed for someone else to say just where he wished to seat the adorable Dev Patel, the boy lead of Slum Dog Millionaire, (otherwise no one's favorite film this year in our house.)

In our small way then, we met the queer criteria for watching the Oscars, handed down to us from a queenly past: admire what is lavish, mock what is bad, note the pretty dresses, objectify the pretty boys. Did we miss anything? (Oh, yes. We ought, of course, to have shed a tear during the montage of the lost, but was anyone else distracted by the swooping camera and the unfortunate stitching across Queen Latifah's bust?)

I learned how to watch the Oscars from older friends, just as I learned how and when to tip, (extravagantly but within one's means,) how not to refuse a drink, (one needn't actually drink it,) never to dance alone in public, and to always be prepared to defend yourself and to abandon your opinions. I learned to survive, how to listen and how to view the world critically even from the gutter.

I worry those lessons might be lost with the generation that taught me.

But we are lucky to have the written wisdom of some that came before. I know How to Go to the Movies because masters went, or watched them on TV, and made notes. As my beloved Quentin Crisp said, going to the movies requires not only the capacity to lose oneself, but also a critical eye to be experienced fully. And movies are so much likelier to be enjoyed than almost any other experience because they provide "... an extra pleasure that can never be derived from real life, which has no plot and is so badly acted."

Mr. Crisp was hired by the editor of a long ago magazine called "Christopher Street" to go to the movies. It didn't much matter to me then, as it doesn't at all to me now what he went to see, because in Quentin Crisp the show was always on the aisle, in the cheap seats, wherever he happened to be. On Miss Crawford: "Age could not wither her nor custom stale her infinite monotony." On an art-house theater: "The lobby is as barren as an abortionist's waiting room of old..." On movie scores: "Music is like a dog; the nicest thing that can be said about it is that you wouldn't know it was there." On the superiority of movies to theater: "By comparison with the movies, the stage is as intimate as a football field."

My other guru for watching movies is the late Reverend Boyd McDonald, creator and editor of the groundbreaking "Straight to Hell: The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts," and author of Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to "Oldies" on TV. MacDonald was the greatest writer to ever lament our forgetfulness of Johnny Sheffield as "Bomba the Jungle Boy," to recognize the the delicate beauty of Bobby Jordan, the Dead End Kid, and point out the flabbiness of Ronnie Reagan's thighs as a convincing explanation for his later criminality as President of the United States. McDonald was perhaps the greatest radical queer America ever produced, just as Quentin Crisp was the true Twentieth Century Queen of England.

It is important to remember our great teachers, to return to and study their example. It is important to understand how best something might be said, if we're ever to say anything amusing at all. And why else watch the Oscars?

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