28 Feb 2017

Oscars fiasco - there have been a few

7:54 am on 28 February 2017

By Dan Slevin - dan.slevin@radionz.co.nz

La La Land' producer Jordan Horowitz (left) announces actual Best Picture winner as 'Moonlight' after a presentation error with host Jimmy Kimmel and actor Warren Beatty onstage.

Oscar host Warren Beatty (right) and Jimmy Kimmel watch as La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz (left) announces the actual best picture winner. Photo: AFP

Opinion - Hollywood likes to think that it is always on trend - preferably ahead - and so it proved at last night's 89th Academy Award ceremony, broadcast live to an audience of millions from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Because since 20 January and the inauguration of President Trump, the US government has been in almost complete shambles. The envelope swap that led to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing La La Land as Best Picture winner turns out to be a perfect metaphor for what's going on in Washington (and Mar-a-Lago).

It's also kind of perfect that it was Warren Beatty who delivered it. An old-school Hollywood lefty whose own films have either satirised conventional politics or lauded communists like John Reed, the American who joined the Russian Revolution only to become disillusioned by how it was being practiced.

Reds won Beatty an Academy Award for best director in 1982. If you watch the online video of what the Academy on their official site is calling a "mishap", you can see more amusement than horror from the veteran actor/director/producer. Even at his age - he's 79 - you can never say you've seen everything.

He and Dunaway appear to have been accidentally stitched up when they were handed the wrong envelope. Beatty spent so long faffing about that viewers thought he was just milking the spotlight when, in fact, he was justifiably confused that there was a card with actress Emma Stone's name and La La Land written it. The fact that the design of the card makes it impossible to read the tiny print that says "Best Actress" or "Best Picture" should not be lost on the Academy next year.

Beatty has been getting a lot of free advice on social media, as you might expect, mostly along the lines of, "if you're not sure, check it" but until yesterday questioning the authority of the academy in these things was unthinkable. We assume that the basics, like running an awards ceremony for the 89th time, is a given. Just as we assume certain basic standards of competence in our governments. Now, everything unthinkable is thinkable.

While we are supposed to trust the academy's voting processes and obsessive secrecy around the results - it's clear that nobody involved in the broadcast had prepared Moonlight graphics for the best picture win - the events themselves have had a few off-script moments.

Last night, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, winner of Best Foreign Language film The Salesman, sent Anousheh Ansari (Iran's first astronaut), to accept on his behalf but Marlon Brando pulled a similar - and similarly pointed - stunt when he won Best Actor for The Godfather in 1973. He asked Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to take his place on stage but she was actually refusing the award on his behalf in protest. In contrast, no doubt somebody will deliver Farhadi his second Oscar eventually.

A year later, a streaker ran across the stage behind David Niven, just as he was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor.

In 2010, another unwelcome guest was the producer of the winning Best Short Documentary, Music by Prudence. Elinor Burkett had fallen out with the director Roger Ross Williams and rushed the stage to make a speech that wasn't wanted or expected.

But the most infamous Oscar gaffe remains unconfirmed by anyone and utterly unsupported by the video evidence. In 1992, veteran cowboy actor Jack Palance won Best Supporting Male for the comedy City Slickers and he also won the night by performing three one-handed press-ups on the stage (to prove his continued masculinity or something).

The following year, he was scheduled, as is the custom, to present the Best Supporting Female award but, the myth goes, his ego would not allow him to be seen wearing glasses. The result was that he simply read out the last name on the teleprompter and thus the Oscar was surprisingly awarded to Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny.

It sounds implausible, I know, but then so does a stage manager on the biggest televised event of the year handing someone the wrong envelope.