Everyone’s life should be seasoned with a few pirates and circus folk. Pirates are crafty, shrewd, and adventurous. They like to accumulate treasure, enjoy good drink, and seem to get away with everything despite the odds. They will openly shun relationships but end up with the most incredible looking lovers. They have, what a twelve year old kid in Baltimore once described as “a lot of smoothery”.
Alternatively, circus folk, are capable of performing the extraordinary. They inhabit the realm of physical and social improbabilities, constantly pushing the envelope with an enviable alacrity, even at an early age. When Franny K was nine, she shimmied up the side of on old red maple tree in Patterson Park, then hung from a branch with one hand like a monkey, while the rest of us boy rascals looked up at her from the ground in awe. Circus people are full of surprises. They’re extremely creative and they make the best entrances at parties. Of the two types, my friend, Ron, is most assuredly a pirate.
Ron is a lawyer. (Now, that does not make him a pirate. He doesn’t do divorce cases.) Ron is one of those attorney-deal-makers. He operates within that realm of “a lot of smoothery”, and judging by his lifestyle, he’s a success. What really makes Ron a pirate is that he’s good for mischief, and always gets away with it. We became friends when we discovered that we shared a common appreciation for two things – Manhattans, and Zubrowka (a Polish vodka) . What better basis for a friendship? We don’t get together very often, but when we do, it is safe to say that neither of us has ever ended the evening regrettably sober.
However, during the month of January, Ron abstains from all alcoholic. He does this not out of necessity, but out of inclination. The abstinence seems to affirm something. He considers it a restful luxury. This has been his annual ritual for nearly a quarter century. A few years ago, I decided to do the same thing. The first day of the New Year, I issued a self-proclamation that not only would all alcohol cease in my life but also all tobacco, all caffeine, all cream and all sugar for thirty-one days. Eight days into fast, the notion of tearing the couch apart with my bare hands seemed like a wonderful idea. Ron was consulted and with a wise pirate’s response of “Are you nuts?” convinced me that my track was not the pirate’s way. A pirate knows his limitations, chooses his challenges wisely, and then makes the process as easy as possible. Fifteen minutes later, an American Spirit Perique Blend cigarette happily nestled between the fingers of my right hand, while my left cuddled a cup of dark roasted coffee with a dollop cream and a sprinkling of raw sugar. The alcohol was neither an issue nor even part of the agenda, and it’s been the same every January since then. The fast ends in February.
February is an interesting month. Two thousand years ago, it was the last month of the Roman calendar. There was no December or January. However, the seasons of winter and spring never seemed to align properly, so December and January were added by the early Christians, many of whom were previously pagans, and undoubtedly they probably discovered that they had too many pine trees left over from the Solstice dance and no time left to do anything with them. Eventually, however, they probably also concluded that after 62-days of December and January, the thought of another 31-days was too overwhelming. So with the blessings of Pope Gregory, February was truncated into 28 days, 29 days every four years.
(Here’s some quick trivia to impress your friends: The name February is derived from the Latin februum (purification). The Roman’s ended their calendar year with the Februa – a ritualistic period of spiritual and physical cleansing. In the postmodern era, we do the exact opposite. Go figure.)
Much happens in February. The Super Bowl, President’s Weekend, Black History Month, Mardi Gras/Lent (If Easter is early) and the Academy Awards.
This year the 87th Academy Awards fall on February 22nd, four days after the beginning of Lent. The timing seems ironic, because Lent is, actuality a contemporary version of the Februa, and yet, the Academy Awards is an event that celebrates excess. This is not an attempt to bash the Academy Awards. Good work deserves recognition. However, after the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, not to mention the British Academy Awards, the 87th Academy Awards seem anti-climactic. Furthermore, the lists of nominations is reproduced from ceremony to ceremony. In an industry that, in the U.S. alone, releases approximately 600 motion pictures annually, do only the same eight deserve recognition? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is composed of approximately 6,000 voting members spread out among fifteen categories (There are a little over 1,000 voting members in the acting category). If there such a rich pool of over 600 films a year available, how is that number pared down to eight? It’s highly unlikely,therefore, that all 600 films are viewed by the voters.
An acquaintance of mine, who is an actual voting member of the Academy, once told me she makes her choices from among the promotional DVDs she receives gratis during the “hot” period of consideration which was occurs in the Thanksgiving – December Holidays corridor. That, of course, implies that with the right marketing a film can be considered for nomination even before it’s even released to the general public. It’s also a plausible explanation for why some really excellent films are never even considered. The DVD simply never got to the voter. If this is true, then the Oscars may perhaps not be such a valid assessment of the best as we are lead to believe.
This is not to say that the films nominated this year for best picture (American Sniper, Interstellar , Boyhood , The Grand Budapest Hotel , The Imitation Game , Selma , The Theory of Everything , Whiplash) are unworthy. However, a closer look does revel that the current themes of nominated films do resemble recurring themes from previous years: Interstellar aligns with Gravity, The Theory of Everything aligns with A Beautiful Mind, Selma aligns with 12 Years A Slave, The Imitation Game aligns with Milk, American Sniper aligns with The Hurt Locker etc., etc., and Meryl Streep is nominated again because this time she starred in a musical. It is a pattern, and patterns are a trend of behavior.
Perhaps, the Oscar event itself has outgrown its original purpose. What started out back in the 20th century as a modest evening dinner among the members of the film industry, where a few were recognized for truly unique work, now has exploded into display shelf for fashion designers, actors and production companies who are vying for the opportunity to raise the price tag for their wares. The sad thing about the whole event is that at one time the Academy Awards ceremony was populated with pirates and circus folk. Some of the earlier ceremonies broadcast were spontaneous, at times outrageous, and a great deal of fun to watch. Now, the red carpet pre-show ceremony takes almost as long as the ceremony itself, and, quite frankly, I really don’t whether that is a Vercae on Sandra Bullock or not. After a fer short minutes, they all seem the same. Personally, I got a greater kick out of the swan dress that Bjork wore to the Oscars back in the last millennium. It may have been considered a fashion disaster, but it was pure circus.
But then who am I? A trend setter? No. An influential voting member of the motion picture industry? No. I am just a plain ordinary bloke who occasionally lays down ten to thirteen bucks at the box office counter hoping that what appears on the screen is worthy of the effort. In the larger Academy Award scheme of things, my opinion doesn’t really matter. But, at least there is some gratification this February for me. January will have ended and I can look forward to a nice tall, chilled Manhattan with Pirate Ron. Maybe, we can even throw a few circus folk into the mix and celebrate the outrageous.
As always, dear readers, this is just my opinion. You decide for yourselves.