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A Bad TV Show About Good Movies

David Niven and friendToday we focus on movies by way of a glitzy, Vegas-style revue show that has almost nothing to do with brilliant film-making. It’s Hoillywood celebrating Hollywood with schmaltz, and it’s evolved from a rather subdued black tie dinner at Sid Grauman’s theater to a megcast shown around the world and widely reviled for its length, its lack of pacing, and its tacky showbiz numbers. Through the years, there have been a number of “Oscar moments” by way of the television product – the streaker behind David Niven and Marlon Brando’s non-acceptance leap to mind. We’re celebrating the Academy Awards here on newcritics in words and commentary, but I thought we could use some video – at least as a preview of tonight’s madness. So I did some YouTube research and – after the jump – found some Oscar gold through the years. Enoy the preview!
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The Sorkin Spectacle

Lance Mannion, who graces newcritics with his presence, runs one of those wonderfully just-because online events that attracts the right crowd: I refer to his weekly live-blogging fest of Aaron Sorkin’s much-maligned Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Lance’s commentpalooza has been on hiatus with the show, but it returns to tonight and we urge visitors here to repair over there around 9:30 EDT, 8:30 Central and log on in. The banter is mostly better than the show, whose main topic is, basically, banter.

From this couch, the problem with Studio 60 isn’t so much the over-stylized walk-and-talk tic that Sorkin has developed (and patented, apparently); it’s that the show is supposed to be about a show that’s funny, about people who are funny. But they’re not. (Except for erstwhile network “suit” Amanda Peet, who is occasionally hilarious in the classic wacky-beauty way that Sarah Paulsen is supposed to be, but isn’t). Ken Levine noted this and other factors in an LA Times piece, eliciting a thin-skinned attack from Sorkin (who took Levine’s considerable writing credits in vain),which in turn prompted this blog post from Levine. Ah, Hollywood. Thy charms are many. Ironywatch: the whole Levine-Sorking-Mannion episode is far more interesting than your typical week of Studio 60! Then again, I only watch it for the blogging.

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Executioner’s Songs

Televised executions are all the rage these days, but the long drops in Iraq brought to mind two made-for-television movies that I saw decades ago, but remain fairly vivid for their imagery and their unshaking lens. They were seen as anti-death penalty arguments on the small screen, but as I remember, both The Execution of Private Slovik and The Executioner’s Song were delivered straight up. And because we don’t televise our executions in America, they became stand-ins for what was then a raging discussion about the morality of capital punishment, as the death chamber came back into active use across the United States.
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Portraying Dr. King

KingMuch critical ink has been spilled, and deservedly so, on the merits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a writer. King was a master of the language, and indeed his use of the written and spoken word created the center of his power as a leader, and preserved his image as an icon. [I wrote about this last year on this day]. And of course, King’s image is manifest throughout the documentary arts – in spoken word recreation of his speeches, on television. But what of Dr. King as a character, as a figure worthy of potrayal?

Not much, at least that I know of. The main vehicle was Paul Winfield’s 1978 miniseries portrayal in King, which I saw in reruns on TBS a few years back. Cicely Tyson played Coretta Scott King, Ossie Davis was the senior Rev. King, veteran TV actor Cliff DeYoung was Bobby Kennedy, Heat of the Night‘s Howard Rollins portrayed Andrew Young, and Tony Bennett played himself. But I wonder, where are the other King docudramas and feature films? Has he grown too iconic to portray? Or too sainted of memory to be interesting to filmmakers? Nearly three decades after his death, is it time for a major project?

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Zoinks Scoob…

Shakespeare’s Sister writes a brief and heartfelt homage to Iwao Takamoto, who created Scooby Doo, and died at age 81:

I can’t begin to explain how much I adored Scooby-Doo as a kid. For my birthday one year, all I wanted was a Scooby-Doo record player. Never mind that they didn’t make Scooby-Doo record players. Mama Shakes bought a little blue record player and decorated it with Scooby-Doo stickers. When I opened it, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. Many an evening was spent in my room dancing to my single of Eddie Rabbit’s I Love a Rainy Night spinning away on that Scooby-Doo record player.

Shakes also notes that he also created the wonderful Muttley from the Penelope Pitstop oeuvre. And she puts some great faux final words in Takamoto’s mouth: “…would have made it to 82 if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”