Who was the biggest winner at the 86th Academy Awards?
A previously unknown singer named Adele Dozzi who electrified the crowd and wowed viewers at home with her uncannily convincing impersonation of Broadway star Idina Menzel in performing the Oscar-winning song from the Oscar-winning animated Disney film, FROZEN.
Actually, all observers had expected Menzel herself to show up to belt out “Let It Go”, just as she had performed the tune on the soundtrack to the film. In fact, the Academy had announced her participation long in advance. It therefore came as something of a shock when presenter John Travolta, after teasing the audience with references to Menzel’s most famous Broadway role (describing the singer as “wickedly talented”) went on to announce that on this occasion the world-wide audience estimated at a billion people had to settle for the indescribably obscure “Adele Dozzi.”
For anyone confused by the situation, Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres tried to clear up matters after the performance by confirming that the singer the universe had just heard was indeed Idina Menzel, on the biggest stage of her career, in the crowning glory of her life. In other words, John Travolta, a Hollywood fixture who has made a nice living for forty years reciting the lines written for him by others, managed to mangle the only name he had to pronounce in a carefully scripted introduction lasting far less than a minute.
This is worth pondering, actually: “Adele Dozzi” isn’t even remotely close to “Idina Menzel” and a teleprompter malfunction can’t possibly take the blame. Travolta undoubtedly participated in rehearsals and run-throughs before the big night. If he had difficulty pronouncing Menzel’s name, he surely received assistance in getting it straight. He had been waiting backstage for more than an hour before coming out for the big moment and any normal human being would have run over the tricky moniker in his mind, again and again. One can imagine the megastar, in his all-black tuxedo, repeating (“Idina Menzel, Idina Menzel, Idina Menzel”) over and over. And then he strides confidently to the podium, occupies the spotlight and sonorously pronounces “Adele Dozzi,” without even attempting to correct himself?
There is a point in all this: that actors are often breathtakingly stupid, gifted with magical good looks and possessors on some occasions of a freakish ability to assume the personalities of others, but with distinctly limited ability to think or reason or learn. During my brief (and briefly lucrative) career as a screen writer several decades ago, an Oscar-winning writer-director told me: “The most important thing to remember about the people who will be reading your lines is to always remember they are dumb as rocks.” The reference is revealing in several ways, since rocks can also look impressive, beautiful, even monumental, but don’t count on them for understanding or logic –or even notable pronunciation ability.
In this context, the good news about this year’s Oscar ceremony (aside from the super-charged boost to Ms. Dozzi’s career) involved the deserving winners in all major categories and the refreshing absence of political preachments. Even the two acting winners for the AIDS-at-the Rodeo melodrama DALLAS BUYERS CLUB received their awards without the widely anticipated pleas for gay rights and more funding for HIV research. McConaughey in particular gave a well-planned and moving acceptance speech after receiving the best actor award, talking about the need for everyone to find someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase. His colleague and cast-mate, Jared Leto, who won for best supporting actor, made reference to the yearning for freedom among demonstrators in Ukraine and Venezuela – citing brave protestors against authoritarian socialism, whether he realized it or not.
Nearly all winners thanked spouses and children and parents, with no mention of progressive causes or indictments of American injustice, and without a single invocation of the messianic figure of Barack Obama, formerly embraced with such passionate fervor by the Hollywood community that one could reasonably expect that some undeserved Oscar would take its place on his mantelpiece beside the utterly undeserved Nobel Prize. The lengthy celebration of show business priorities on display at this year’s Academy jubilee certainly supports the notion that the entertainment industry in general feels less engaged and inspired by the political skirmishes of the moment, and generally disappointed in the leadership of the Obama administration. This hardly portends a sharp turn to the right, and there’s every reason to expect that the leaders of Tinseltown will rekindle their old love affair with the Clintons in plenty of time for 2016, but it did make for an awards show mostly free from politically correct outrages.
Ellen DeGeneres delivered the evening’s single most racially charged comment when she suggested that the commonly anointed Oscar front-runner presented two possibilities: “Possibility number one: 12 YEARS A SLAVE wins best picture. Possibility number two: you’re all racists.” But that crack seemed to take aim at smug political correctness rather than to amplify it.
In contrast to last year’s inexplicable best picture award to the nifty rescue thriller ARGO over the epochal and deeply affecting LINCOLN, this year’s selection of 12 YEARS A SLAVE made sense on many levels. The top Oscar honored a determined and heroic effort to rescue a fascinating, largely-forgotten story from America’s past, and recognized the film’s dazzling array of heart-felt, unforgettable performances. Neither Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley nor director/co-producer Steve McQueen made an effort in their acceptance speeches to connect their searing recreation of the ante-bellum slave economy with the contemporary racial legacy of the peculiar institution. McQueen did express solidarity for the 21 million human beings still enslaved in benighted corners of the globe but that new anti-slavery cause actually unites left and right, bringing together some progressive feminists with religious conservatives eager to reclaim the legacy of Christian abolitionists.
If the hosting chores by an exhausted-looking Ellen DeGeneres lacked energy, bite or any elements of even mild surprise they also avoided the mad, manic excesses of last year’s Seth MacFarlane. The producers rightly calculated that the prime nominees from 2013 would count as memorable enough in their own right to require no need to upstage them with a controversial, razzle-dazzle show. Indeed, historians of these ponderous annual events will mostly ignore the stately procession of handsome celebrities who tramped back and forth across this year’s stage and concentrate instead on the intriguing, varied films competing for consideration – remembering those titles, and Adele Dozzi, of course.
This column originally appeared at TruthRevolt.org on March 3, 2014.