Kage Baker vastly enjoyed the Academy Awards. It was a ritual in our house: unplug the phone, turn off the computer, make chocolate chip cookies and brownies, settle down in front of the telly. Enjoy three hours of shallow, sentimental, over-hyped, hysterical in-joke indulgence. Watch for the gleam of real gold: there’s always something noble amid the glitz and carrying-on.
Growing up on the edges of the Industry, we didn’t find this annual celebration glamorous; we’d heard too many stories about the participants. But we had favourites to cheer most years – when we were younger, family friends and even relatives. Even in a poor year, there were people we could root against. Feuds last a long time in a factory town, and on one very specific level, that’s what Hollywood is: a factory town. And our family worked in the Dream Mines.
Kage and I never missed the Awards. As kids we watched them in our jammies, with our parents hooting and giggling and passing insider gossip over our heads; applauding dutifully for whatever studio was signing the paychecks that spring. As grownups we walked out on parties, conventions, rehearsals – drove 8 hours and 400 miles a couple of years, just to make it home in time to watch.
This year, it’s Kimberly and I. (Her husband and son generously tolerate us.) We’ve already made the ritual trip to Trader Joe’s, for supplies – it’s mini-tacos, sushi and chocolate tonight, because we have no intention of being in the kitchen cooking. Our Trader Joe’s is on the edge of Silverlake and Echo Park, too, and it was a truly heroic effort making it there and back: everyone in the Hills is throwing an Oscar party, and it was worth your life to linger too long over the humus or bagel chips.
So many questions to answer … Will the musical numbers suck??(Almost surely Yes.) Will a film 5 people actually saw win an award? (Yes; and likely never be heard of again.) Will everyone in the beautifully dressed audience scurry to the bathroom during the technical awards? (Of course; isn’t it what they’re for?) The glamour is a sham, but it’s still lovely to see: the clothes! The jewels! The chance to see who makes an ass of themselves! Or who shows an unexpected grace …
It’s the home movies for The Industry. It’s a night show, a wrap show, a roast; half the jokes will outrage or confuse the lay audience, but those same jokes will reduce the most dignified professionals to helpless giggles. The most arrogant and short-sighted business on the globe will honour its beloved dead and celebrate its best – or at least whatever, for the duration of that busy afternoon each member of the Academy took to fill out their ballot, seemed the best at the time.
Coal and diamonds are the perfect analogy. The Academy Awards are the end of the pressure and the heat for last year’s swamps. The vast majority will stay mud. Some will be coal – useful, but not magic. A very, very few will be diamonds.
Coal and diamonds are the same substance. Everyone knows that. You can’t really squeeze a piece of coal into a diamond, though – that’s a piece of movie magic reserved for Superman and Greek gods. But if you start with the basic sludge of carbon, the same bottom floor of a swamp, and amp up the power applied – run it through the caldera of a volcano, say, through the blue clay and sugar-white quartzite: some of it will be diamonds by the time it reaches the sun again. The rest will be coal, and it will light your home and warm your house and blossom as electricity to light cities one can see from space. Pretty cool, for both of them.
And in the meantime, something memorable may happen. Someone may waltz down the red carpet dressed as a giant swan. Someone may read the wrong name. Someone may say something appalling or incredibly fine and moving. Some of the best acting of the year will be on display in the seats, from the folks whose names are not called to rise and take the trophy.
I’ll eat brownies and finger food from Trader Joe’s and thoroughly enjoy myself with my family. And I’ll cry during the In Memoriam reel. And I will miss Kage.