—Comedienne Joan Rivers, 81, in her reported final words before expiring yesterday.
Joan Rivers would rate Ethics Hero status if I did not have a philosophical objection to calling someone a hero because everyone else is a weenie. Yes, Rivers spouted off whatever outrageous, impolitic, offensive thing that materialized in her nimble brain regardless of who it might offend, as long as she felt someone, or a critical mass of someones, would find it funny. That is the proper mindset for any professional comic, but it has become both a rare and dangerous one, as we regularly see comedians grovelling in remorse as soon as sufficient numbers of well-placed critics designate a joke as “insensitive.”
Rivers, whom I can never recall making me laugh for a second, served an important cultural purpose while she was alive, as do Jackie Mason, Mel Brooks and Don Rickles, perhaps the last remaining in-your-face comedians from the days when funny was all that mattered, and careers weren’t ended by stepping just a little too far over the line, or even a lot too far. Her successors, like Sarah Silverman and Lewis Black, don’t count: they are vicious toward whatever group or groups their audience deems deserving of abuse, and only them. In the end, it is likely that the only clowns with the license that Rivers enjoyed will be animated cartoons, like Peter Griffin(“The Family Guy”) and Homer Simpson. Continue reading
The great Jonathan Winters in the not-so-great “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”
In past years I have taken the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to task for the ethical breach of ingratitude and disrespect, as the honor roll of the year’s deceased film notables have omitted important figures who deserved their final bows. Omissions are inevitable, I suppose, but some of the past examples were unforgivable—last year alone, for example, the Academy snubbed Ann Rutherford, Andy Griffith, R.G. Armstrong, Russell Means, Harry Carey, Jr., and Susan Tyrell. 2012 was worse.
2013, however, shows that the Academy is being more careful, and Oscar deserves credit for cleaning up its act. I have ethical and historical objections to bestowing the prestigious final slot on actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, dead prematurely of self-inflicted drug abuse, when a genuine, bona fide Hollywood legend, Shirley Temple, was on the list. I understand the thinking: Hoffman had friends and colleagues in the room, and Temple is of another generation; his premature death was a tragedy, and she lived a long and productive life. Still, the priorities and relative values such a choice exemplifies is disturbing. Great actor that he was, Hoffman was a criminal, an addict, and left his children fatherless. Shirley was the greatest child star who ever will be, a ray of sunshine in the dark days of the Depression, a one-of-a kind talent and icon, and later a lifetime public servant who raised a family. She represented the best of Hollywood and the profession; Hoffman represents its dark side. Naturally, he’s the one who received the greatest recognition. I will suppress my dark suspicions that Shirley was docked because she was a Republican. A Facebook friend actually wrote that Shirley deserved to be penalized because some of her movies were racist. My response to this slur was not friendly. Continue reading
Once, the excuse that routinely issued from the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences when a significant film actor was omitted from the annual “In Memoriam” segment at the Oscars—“There just wasn’t enough time!”-–seemed almost plausible. It was still a lousy and dishonest excuse, don’t get me wrong: in a broadcast that routinely approaches four hours and wastes time like it is money in Washington, we are supposed to believe that there aren’t three seconds to give a proper send-off to the likes of Harry Morgan (last year) or Farrah Fawcett (the previous one)? That excuse won’t fly at all now, however, as some diabolical deal with the behind the camera members, the warped priorities of the Oscar show’s Broadway musical nerd producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and the final decisions regarding who would be featured in the movie industry’s public goodbye being made by, apparently, throwing darts at a dartboard combined to produce the most extensive and egregious snubs within memory.
This is a television broadcast and tailored for the public audience, after all. The Academy gives its technical awards in a separate private ceremony: wouldn’t that be the place to bid a respectful farewell to the seemingly endless list of deceased publicity agents, make-up artists,movie executives and key grips whose completely unrecognizable faces and names were paraded before us last night, often with out of context quotes that made no sense at all? Then, guaranteeing that the “we ran out of time!” alibi would be risible, the segment’s editors chose a non-actor for the prestigious final place on the death list, composer Marvin Hamlisch, as an excuse to drag Barbra Streisand into the proceedings. I appreciate Hamlisch’s achievements, but his movie credits were not so extensive as to justify the honor (we are basically talking about one Academy Award-winning song, “The Way We Were,” and his arrangements of Scott Joplin’s music in “The Sting”), and the award show’s misbegotten “theme” of movie music was not sufficient justification to place a non-actor in the position of highest honor.
Meanwhile, the following actors, all who made significant contributions to American film in their careers, were cheated out of their final bow, and we, the film-going audience, were cheated of our chance to remember them, and say goodbye. It was a disgrace.
Ethics Alarms isn’t the Academy, but here, like last year, is its salute to the faces and careers Oscar forgot: Continue reading