Critics Corner: Do You Hear the Oscars Sing?

For the past two days, the press has done nothing but bitch about Seth MacFarlane. The comedian and irreverent creator of “Family Guy” hosted the 85th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night and his jokes—called “tasteless” and “offensive”—have spurned an onslaught of stuffy, over-sensitive criticism.

To MacFarlane’s critics, all I can say is lighten up.

There are bigger Oscar controversies at hand.

In the flurry of frustration surrounding MacFarlane’s gig, people seem to have overlooked the telecast’s real blunder: the ceremony was a shameless plug for producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.

It is no coincidence that “Chicago” was honored more than once during the 2013 Oscar telecast and more than any of the actual nominees—Zadan and Meron produced the 2003 Best Picture winner (surprise). They also produced the made-for-television remakes of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” “Annie” and 2007’s “Hairspray,” which was also notably plugged during the ceremony via announcer John Travolta. Most recently, the duo produced “Smash,” a new musical television series in the vein of “Glee.”

So yeah, these guys are a little biased when it comes to musicals.

The result? A big ol’ masturbatory ode to Zadan and Meron’s musical fetish disguised as an Oscar ceremony.

“It felt like the Tonys had a baby with a Vegas revue,” said Brian Lowry in a Variety review of the telecast.
And yet…I loved it.

I loved “We Saw Your Boobs” and I loved the musical medley featuring Jennifer Hudson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I loved the soft shoeing and I loved “Les Miserables.”

Like Zadan and Meron, I guess I have a thing for musicals.

And I’m glad they’ve made a comeback.

There was a time when musicals dominated awards season.

In 1930, at the 2nd Annual Academy Awards, “The Broadway Melody” became the first talking movie to win Best Picture—it is also the first example of what we now understand to be “the Hollywood musical.” The genre would become a go-to, fluffy staple within the film industry.

Despite the number of musicals produced in Hollywood during the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, the quality of such films drew little attention from the Academy.
But in the late ‘50s, the musical made a triumphant and loud return.

The glorious revival began with “Gigi” in 1959 and ended with “Cabaret” in 1972. During the 13-year time span, five musicals would win Best Picture, including “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver!”

In 1965, Julie Andrews won Best Actress for her role as “Mary Poppins,” which was also nominated for Best Picture, and Andrews would be nominated again the following year for her role in “The Sound of Music.” Two years later, Barbara Streisand snagged a Best Actress win for her performance in Best Picture nominee “Funny Girl.”

Yes, it was the golden age of the musical, but following “Cabaret’s” eight-Oscar turn in 1972, the fervor died down. The genre lay dormant for
three decades.

Then came “Chicago.”

In 2002, after Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” garnered six Oscar nods, “Chicago” reminded moviegoers that classic musicals could actually be done well on-screen—the film became the first musical to win Best Picture in 33 years. Four of the film’s stars were nominated for acting awards and Zeta-Jones walked away with Best Supporting Actress.

“Chicago” proved that the musical wasn’t dead. It just needed some fine-tuning.

In the years that followed, the genre would see a second, smaller revival. The 2000s introduced on-screen adaptations of “Rent,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” The success of “Chicago” also inspired original works like “Across the Universe,” “Once” and “Nine.”

On television, the musical became a viable genre for the first time in decades, producing the “High School Musical” franchise and “Glee” that introduced younger generations to a genre far too often mocked and stigmatized.

The rise of the musical didn’t waver this season either.

To the chagrin of musical haters everywhere, 2012 brought the mother of all musicals to the screen: “Les Miserables.” The emotionally-bloated-yet-satisfying adaptation merited eight Academy Award nominations and won three of them on Sunday.

Although Anne Hathaway’s win seems to be the film’s most publicized achievement, its sound mixing Oscar is what really hits the high note.

Prior to the release of “Les Mis,” the cast and crew bragged at length about how the film’s vocals and instrumentals were recorded live, which is reportedly a cinematic first. Although it is impossible to know how much of these on-set recordings were actually used in the final cut, the sound-mixing win proves that the innovative effort was successful.

Say what you will about “Les Mis”—Anthony Lane of the New Yorker said that, as he watched the film, he “screamed a scream as time went by”— but the film could, in fact, change the way musicals are made from here on out. That is certainly something to sing about.

Despite the significance of the sound-mixing win, “Les Mis’” triumphs were meager in comparison to some of its competitors. Frankly, the film did not deserve the amount of attention it received during the telecast.

While the musical theme propped “Les Mis” and the decade-old “Chicago” up on pedestals, the ode to the genre overshadowed what was actually a very impressive year in non-musical filmmaking. I fear that the only thing people will remember about the season is “We Saw Your Boobs.”

At first, Zadan and Meron’s music-in-film theme didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Had it been handled with subtlety, it would have been inclusive and classy. Music is always an integral part of the Oscars. Musicals, specifically, are often honored because they make for dynamic entertainment on stage. Since “Chicago” won Best Picture, Oscar producers have wiggled musical performances into the show almost every year.

But they didn’t need to bludgeon us over the head with it. As the night grew on, the ceremony became less and less an ode to film and more and more an ode to music and farce.

Seth MacFarlane sang “Be Our Guest” and the world’s most annoying woman Kristin Chenoweth sang about the Oscar losers. In commemoration of 007’s 50th anniversary, Adele and Shirley Bassey sang “Skyfall” and “Goldfinger,” but oddly enough there were no Bond actors, writers or directors to be found. Babs sang “The Way We Were” for the recently deceased Marvin Hamlisch. Zeta-Jones performed “All That Jazz” in a leotard and garters and Hudson belted “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in a dramatic spotlight.

And, let’s not forget the night’s most awkward musical moment: the intimidating theme from “Jaws” impolitely ushered “Life of Pi’s” visual effects team off the stage when their acceptance speech ran too long. The boot was particularly insensitive given that visual effects houses nationwide, including the Oscar-winning studio behind “Life of Pi,” are experiencing financial hardships so severe it has led to layoffs and bankruptcy.

Did the Academy care? Of course not. They were too busy exalting “Chicago” 10 years in retrospect. While I agree that every day is a good day to honor “Chicago,” Zadan and Meron’s three and a half hour music-fest might have taken it a tad too far.

Although the telecast kept me thoroughly entertained (and I definitely sang along), it’s hard to argue that the Oscar’s music-in-film theme wasn’t a little inappropriate. Out of the entire list of nominated films and shorts this year, “Les Mis” was the only musical in competition.

Regardless of the shameless plugging and out-of-place theme, the ceremony was a stiff slap in the face for the anti-musical crowd.

According to the New York Times, the telecast drew an audience of 40.3 million viewers, which is 3 percent larger than last year’s audience. At the end of the day, people love a show and musicals are the flashiest shows around, especially when hosted by Seth MacFarlane.

If this year’s Oscars told us anything about the future of film, it’s that film musicals are on a roll.

For better and for worse.

Kellie may be reached at entertainment@su-spectator.com

Kellie Cox

Kellie Cox is a senior journalism major and film studies minor. Formerly the Arts and Entertainment editor, Kellie joined the Spectator as a writer her sophomore year. When she's not in the office, Kellie sings in three Seattle University choirs, collects tacky mugs from Value Village, and studies impractical things like handwriting analysis and criminal psychology.


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