Talent celebrated on own terms this time


For once an awards ceremony without the tyranny of television to take out all the fun. 

Saturday night's Governors Awards was all about old Hollywood -- not just in the sense that the recipients of trophies were, as the French deftly put it, "d'un certain age," but because it conjured the way things used to be when the town was more of a community of talents and less a global business in thrall to the small screen.

I'm sure some of that is just my imagination, but having for one reason or another poured over those old black & white photos of early Oscar ceremonies, it seemed to be about people in this singularly intense business letting their hair down -- not preening for the cameras, discussing their designer dresses, or, worse, being cut short at the podium to go to break.

OK, I get that Lauren and Gordy and Roger and John (as in Bacall, Willis, Corman and Calley) would leave a lot of the younger demo non-plussed or disinterested, and I did hear some gripes at the cocktail that the Academy "caved" by carving out this separate affair, but nonetheless ...

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Once it got going it was rewarding to see these talents -- OK, essentially overlooked by the Academy until now (who can believe Willis was nommed for neither the two "Godfathers" nor for "Manhattan"?) and so on for each of the recipients.

But most enjoyable was hearing those who had worked for or with these talents recreate what it was like being "on set" with them.

Ron Howard perfectly capturing the half-commiserative, half-conspiratorial tone of members of the coterie who went through the Corman industrial complex when they find out about one another. Or a more than usually antic Quentin Tarantino taking us through his recollections of devouring Corman pics like popcorn, convincing his mother even to take him to the R-rated "Bloody Mama." All while great trailers played before us, and we were reminded of what "indie" used to mean (Corman allowed just 46 extras for "Grand Theft Auto," no matter how much Howard complained). That's when Bob Rehme, five-time Academy president, who also worked for Corman, whispered at my table that his own kids were brought in to swell the crowd on that one.

Or Angelica Huston, in extolling Bacall, who touchingly conjured the moment her father got the telegram while on location with Bogie and Co. on "The African Queen." The director slipped it quietly into his pocket to go to the next take. "So read it to us, John," Bacall commanded. "You have a baby girl," he reported. The beginning, as it were, of the two women's beautiful friendship.

Bacall herself has lost nothing of her knack for saucy innuendo, shooing away help to mount the podium, clasping her Oscar and confiding: "The thought when I get home that I'm going to have a two-legged man in my room is so exciting!"

The quote may be slightly off because the last thing it occurred to me to do Saturday night was take notes, or blog or twitter. It was simply all about being there, a sensation not dissimilar to one young people (or us business folks) have when we decide to put down (or we misplace) our PDAs for any length of time.

Seven recipients of the Irving J. Thalberg, including not only Spielberg and Lucas but also Dino De Laurentiis and Walter Mirisch, were on hand to honor Calley, who was too ill to make the trip. Norman Jewison recalled Calley's unfailing ability as a producer to side with the talent, and keep the suits -- think Marty Ransohoff on "Cincinnati Kid" -- at bay.

I know Hollywood likes to celebrate itself, but this event was one in which the talent, not the suits, got to do it on their own terms. Globes et al: Eat your heart out.