A favourite of mine David Letterman returned to Australian screens on Netflix with season 3 of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The show has proven a mixed bag, fans of Letterman’s acerbic wit don’t know what to make of him fawning over Kim Kardashian, the gentle kinder and yes older Dave make you miss that smart alec Hoosier but what remains is someone with a fervent curiosity who wants you to see the whole individual. I also enjoy watching Dave now in his 70s find ways to relate to people younger than him simply through curiosity and common ground. Maybe some interviews go on too long but I still think this is a good show, that David Letterman is a national treasure and has a way of getting to things in an interview that others may have missed.
There were four episodes, the weakest is Kim Kardashian, she’s enjoying being at the height of her powers, the audience is packed with her crowd and she’s maybe ready to have one over Letterman but she gets him to open up and talk about the time she was robbed and show that there is always a human being at the centre of a headline and lest we forget it. His goal and her vulnerability is admirable.
The interview with Robert Downey Jr is polished with some Hollywood flair. RDJ is on and ready to have a laugh but also talk about his past. It’s the closest to what we might have expected, The Late Show but longer and on location with an entertaining star.
The one with Lizzo is great in watching how the two connect to each other and talk careers and families. A highlight is Lizzo telling Dave not to be so hard on himself with his rapping.
But the greatest episode is easily the one with Dave Chappelle. an artistic and witty figure who is arguably the greatest stand-up comedian working today. Dave probes him here but it is Chappelle who makes the show so special in light of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. I absolutely agree with everything he says about community, about how we are all victims of prejudice but some more often than others and how we have to all come together to fix our problems. The people of Yellow Springs, Ohio should be proud of themselves too. They take care of each other, such communities are special.
Five years on from my very first post and how time flies. I’m very grateful for my blogging community which has grown my confidence and given me an outlet I desperately needed in my life. As is customary I am doing a quick recap at the end of the year. In 2018 a lot of old posts proved more popular than my new posts. The new posts for the most part act as links to where I am published elsewhere occasionally offering some behind the scenes info in a more informal manner. I will only be listing posts published this year.
America is still No.1 in terms of readership, Australia has retaken No.2 from the UK and Canada remains in fourth place as always. Cracking the Top 5 this year is India with newcomer Hong Kong making a strong showing in the latter half of 2018 and reaching No. 6. Germany which had a grip on N.5 for most of the year slips to No. 7 and Japan, New Zealand and Malaysia leave the Top 10. In No. 8 France returns to the Top 10, the Philippines makes if for the first time in No. 9 and holding on to a Top 10 position is Indonesia as the country with the tenth most views. Overall there were less views from the U.K. and Canada but more views from the rest of the Top 10 countries with all 10 cracking triple digits in number of views. Which I guess makes for a more diverse readership.
Top 10 Most Views by Country
The United States of America 9,519 Views
Australia 1,898 Views
The United Kingdom 1,714 Views
Canada 685 Views
India 361 Views
Hong Kong SAR China 200 Views
Germany 188 Views
France 113 Views
Philippines 108 Views
Indonesia 106 Views
Out of the 108 posts published for the year the following 25 got the most views. In 2015 the blog started to grow with 1,609 views, 333 visitors, 23 Likes and 30 comments. In 2016 the blog received 5,673 views, 3,206 visitors, 546 Likes and 751 comments. In 2017 this grew to 16,767 views (more than a third of which were for The Founder Review), 11,891 visitors, 1,240 Likes and 1,707 comments. In 2018 much to my surprise we stayed steady at 16,706 views and 12,185 visitors with the site receiving 1,091 likes and 1,046 comments. There has been a slight downtick in liking and commenting of posts which makes sense since my focus is less intense on growing my blogging community and some fellow bloggers have given the game away. One thing about the results strongly supports an idea I have of where to put my energies next. Overall I just want to say again how much it means to me to have my core group and how much I appreciate anybody who reads and enjoys the blog.
It has been very nice to see some of the posts that were enjoyed the most were ones that were very personal including about travelling to attend my sister’s wedding overseas and recollections of the Brisbane International Film Festival. I’m also glad that everybody seems to enjoy my list for the best films of the year and look forward to doing another one for 2018 around Oscar time. Also blogging about my first cover story for Scenestr has proven the most popular post on my blog for 2018 which is very gratifying. It was a lot of fun and a real privilege to do the interview with Jascha Boyce.
Well that’s it for another year so thank you so much to everybody who reads my humble blog and I would like to take this moment to thank my fellow bloggers for their continued support Pete, Cindy, GP, Don, Vinnie, Jay, Sean, Paul, Allen, John K, Michael, Jet, Eddie, Alex, Paol, Jordon, John R, SJS, DB, Emma, Jersey Dreaming, Robin, Eric and anybody else who takes the time to read these posts. It would be helluva lot less fun without you all.
We find ourselves at a funny crossroads with the end of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Letterman seems to have enjoyed himself and there’s been enough that long term fans can insist he’s brought something good to the table. Yet the idea that Letterman has maybe added something new to his substantial legacy would be a stretch at best. The two late night talk shows he did were very different beasts to this program designed to entertain every minute they were on air (whether they did or didn’t) and paced to reflect this while still padding out with formula wherever you could since the workload was so high you had to have some reliable mainstays. It is not surprising to find myself wistfully missing the band, the sketches and the up to date nature of that program to comment on whatever was making headlines at the time. On the other hand Letterman can do great interviews and the long leisurely pace of his Netflix show showed potential for deeper conversations. The remotes also showed great promise to have Letterman out in the field but as the show went on this aspect more and more seemed an afterthought or a side dish that deserved to be the main. By the way let me just say that I really enjoyed the opening theme tune by the always great Paul Schaeffer.
I started this program happy with the Obama episode but looking forward to his conversations outside his comfort zone with Malala Yousafzai and maybe Jay-Z. Looking back the obvious candidates bore better episodes President Obama and George Clooney remain probably the best episodes. Malala Yousafzai delivered what I was hoping for, of challenging Dave and I hope to see more of this in the future but Jay-Z was not as good and Tina Fey was mostly entertaining because of her considerable talent. Going into the last episode I decided Howard Stern’s antagonistic needling would probably make for a good episode if not terribly original.
Stern is on point throughout, I enjoyed the relaxed way he asked Dave about his Netflix show at the end of it but Stern surprisingly got serious about his own childhood and about the apologies he owed Letterman and others. It was honest and vulnerable and showed growth but it didn’t necessarily make for good entertainment with Stern even suggesting at one point I can get the Fartman costume in five minutes if this is bad addressing the audience. Stern a contemporary of Dave’s is still in the game I guess and still ‘hot’. It made me reflect on how after all the fanfare during Dave’s victory lap in 2015 that he is maybe a little out of the loop calling on favours to have people show up for this show.
I don’t want to beat on the show, I’m a fan and this was a perfectly good hour of viewing for me with Stern who is such a talent. But its interesting to note that what followed in the form of a bonus episode prepared by Netflix where Jerry Seinfeld and Dave sat down at an industry event as two of their stars and just chatted was far more entertaining and showed a more traditional filming dynamic. They threw back and forth at considerable pace, telling the other about the greatness of their work and vehemently denying it themselves, obviously prepared with some jokes which they fired off but also building to off the cuff remarks however the conversation threw them. At one point Jerry told Letterman he did not want to talk about his kids but he give him one thing a minute later. At another point Letterman talked about the kindness of a baseball player saying good day to him in the VIP part of the crowd. Seinfeld said that was nice of the baseball player but as Letterman insisted the significance of the nature of the gesture the former sitcom star let slip that he’s not doing this past the VIP area concluding “You’re David Letterman, you idiot.” The crowd erupted.
Watching Letterman with Stern and Seinfeld shows he can still improvise something on the spot and riff with the best after coming across unmatched with Fey. I saw him on Seth Meyers the other day and some of it was downright odd as he presented a tick in a snaplock bag from his back, so absurd I’m sure some fans of his 80s work were pleased but he also told some good jokes. So we know Letterman is still sharp and funny and under the right circumstances prickly and dignified. We know he’s earnest and curious and wanting to do good in the world. We know he can still get things out of people and can make a fascinating chat in the long time format of these interviews.
So what’s next? Come back and do another 6 or 10 episodes next year. Interview people like Amal Clooney, Donald Glover, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Ryan Coogler, Kumail Nunjiani, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, or Elizabeth Warren. Maybe that’s a little celebrity heavy or whatever but just for starters. Do the remotes with those people, go with them somewhere or watch them interact with their family or crews. Go to India and look at Turbines, go wherever you like, interview whoever you like and try to change the world for the better. Because I love you Dave and I was happy to have you back and I hope to see you again soon but there’s a few things we could improve upon for next year.
A funny thing happened in Episode 5 of David Letterman’s new show, on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The man who’s verbally sparred with pundits, network executives, movie stars, politicians and fellow comedians just ceded territory to his guest. This is no loss or embarrassment for the 70 year old because his guest was Tina Fey and Letterman adores Fey. Not for her beauty which is striking, not for her kindness to him (Letterman distrusts gushers), but because as far as he’s concerned this is one the funniest people doing comedy today. Letterman did not deign to pass a torch to any of the many late night hosts upon his retirement the way Carson did for him but here you can’t help but notice who owns the stage in this exchange. Both come across as funny and intelligent but Fey shines and Letterman wisely doesn’t put up a fight. She won’t even let him win a point for saying one of her most recent skits was good. She deconstructs what was missing to applause. There’s nothing pathetic in this either, he states his opinions and gets quite a few laughs just by being himself but he’s delighted by how funny and intelligent she is and isn’t looking take any moment away from her.
Maybe his deference comes in this, as a liberal who has grown personally and politically in recent years and is constantly striving to create a better world with what little time he has left and worries about his young son. Maybe in Fey, Letterman thinks maybe the world will be alright and he’s not alone. Tina Fey is the gold standard of established female former SNL alumni. She’s done her own show, got some hit movies under her belt and is now doing a musical of her classic Mean Girls. She’s also a Mum and Letterman always fascinated by child rearing compares notes with his guest which is nice.
A lot of media buzz has been created by a moment where Letterman says he doesn’t know why he didn’t have more female writers on his show and offers maybe he didn’t believe they wanted to do his show. Fey who was one of the presenters when he retired, when he was awarded the Kennedy Centers Honours and the Mark Twain prize looks him in the eye and says but they did. If you’ve read The Last Giant of Late Night: Letterman by Jason Zinoman you’ll appreciate the history behind this moment. She’s not being disrespectful but she’s being direct and Letterman concedes he was ignorant. I think its important to note that this is not really a personal criticism so much as a principled statement. At this point Fey is discussing real benefits that came about as the writers rooms she’s worked in have become more diverse. Letterman seems to be in agreement and the show ends with Fey saying I can’t believe I got to meet you let alone talk to you. Yet she is maybe at the height of her powers and he is maybe past them and no kind words from either can mask that.
The remote in this episode is even odder than the one from Jay-Z previously. After talking about Fey’s days at Second City in Chicago Letterman asks for a recommendation of where to eat in the Windy City. So he meets Blues legend Buddy Guy at The Athenian where they talk a little over roast chicken slathered over some chips. Letterman wisely advices Guy not to think too hard on where the grease comes from. Then Letterman takes in a performance in a club with Guy and Paul Schaeffer on the keyboards. It’s nice to see Schaeffer again and Guy has an interesting story in himself but the whole thing feels unrelated and under explored for what it is. I don’t know now what to expect with the impending finale with Howard Stern but I hope the remote actually has something to do with Howard Stern!
For me the best thing about this episode besides Fey herself is this, I would say Fey at times seems to be intensely feeling some emotions that she keeps a handle on. Letterman gets her to talk about things in the long format, about her family, about the construction of comedy performance and I don’t know if others would’ve been successful in eliciting such a powerful hour of conversation out of her. Maybe but he did. He’s still got something to offer.
I was interested to what would happen in episode 4 of the new David Letterman show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction where he was to interview rapper Jay-Z. I don’t know Jay-Z or a lot about his genre of music. I also didn’t recall interviews between the two on The Late Show. To me it seemed like this was an opportunity for Letterman again to push outside his boundaries a little in away that interviews with Tina Fey, George Clooney, President Barack Obama and Howard Stern would not offer. Jay-Z is one of the biggest entertainers in the world and so its no surprise to find out that he was on Letterman back in the day but none of these talks seemed to have become the stuff of legend the way say ones with Stern did.
This new show disappoints and satisfies in equal measure then from what I was hoping for. For starters Jay-Z is warm, funny and thoughtful as an interview subject and he’s got a story or two to tell. Learning about Jay-Z’s life is the highlight of the program as he looks back on a father who wasn’t around, a mother who couldn’t be true to her own sexuality and a teenage boy selling crack after growing up in poverty. Music saved Jay-Z but its also interesting to note lots of people who helped him along the way. Now he is using his weight to look out for people not given enough opportunities or are treated unfairly from the justice system. If you’re inclined to argue that a justice system will target communities where crime is prolific not race I don’t think Jay-Z particularly cares. He’s offering scholarships for young people poor but smart. He’s asking does the punishment fit the crime and then fighting for those where he sees it isn’t. I’m happy to see that too.
But if you were looking to get an insight into the world of rap you will be sorely disappointed. Letterman discusses how complex the music is and Jay-Z discusses how putting something together is just like writing jokes for a stand-up. A few songs are discussed but they’re not played, something that would upset the flow of the show I admit. Also when Obama’s speeches or Clooney’s film clips weren’t shown in previous minds I didn’t mind because I knew what they were talking about but whereas here my own ignorance meant I was disappointed not to be showed more.
Also in those episodes the remotes fitted nicely into articulating an aspect of the main guest. Here we go to Shangri-La studios and talk to producer Rick Rubin on a day where they doing some recording with singer Madison Ward. Two things stood out immediately, Rubin gives Dave’s beard a run for its money and two you can be an older gentleman in shorts striking a yoga pose. I’m just sayin’. Rubin is a legend in his own right and could easily be the subject of his own show and Ward has a first rate voice. While Jay-Z discusses the artistic process of producer and singer, its obvious this is intended to give us a demonstration of it. It also perhaps hint that whatever the genre of music or the background of the artist the point of music is always the same. That’s a lovely sentiment and some of the remote is nicely edited together and the lyrics of the closing song (beautifully dueted by Ward and Lukas Nelson) echoes some of what has been discussed by Letterman and Jay-Z.
Yet you might not even be aware after watching it of Rubin having been co-founder of Def Jam records which Jay-Z would go on to become President of. You will however be painfully aware of Letterman’s high school romance with an English girl as being one of the coolest things that ever happened to him in the same hour of television where he discusses marital infidelity. Regina you’re a saint. As interesting as some of this was I can’t help think of how much more effective it would have been if we’d been in the recording studio with an actual hip-hop artist. To me the discussion of the music is where this episode misses the mark.
The show closes strongly when Letterman discusses his own transgressions and then asks Jay-Z if any of this sounds familiar. Jay-Z gives a good but perfunctory answer and they move on to another topic and then Jay-Z further articulates how you’ve got to be better than the worst you’ve done. Unprompted he owns up more to his regrets and the lessons he took from them. Some of the lessons Jay-Z is trying to learn are ones we could all learn from about how to put away ego and fear and be good to others. Letterman (who never gives easy praise) says he loves him and they shake hands. Missed opportunity or not, the show does have it’s moments.
I was looking forward to Malala Yousafzai appearing on David Letterman’s new Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction and as far as the reasons why I was not disappointed. Letterman is talking to a woman of a different age about important issue and for the first time. That means there is no established rapport and there may even be disagreements and that was one of the strengths of this episode.
Malala for example points out to Letterman things happen in other cities than New York and that she doesn’t like pizza amongst other things. With his target a polite and dignified person to interview, Dave plays the long game and brings out a little of her humour and makes her feel awkward in a good way like the way she challenges some of his presumptions. One of the most telling moments is when Dave pushes past her modesty to insist everything happens for a reason and she is doing good important work that will change many lives. We also find out that she is playing cricket at Oxford and that one of the world’s most famous students can sometimes start late on getting to work on assessment.
This is the girl who was shot by the Taliban, she’s more than that of course and this episode is a great way to learn about her as a person but Letterman as he did with wounded veterans has a way of getting to the guts of a moment in someone’s life that changes everything. As someone who was fascinated by his own quintuple bypass he has a way of breaking down the remarkable work that goes into recovering from such an injury as having a bullet go through your face and shoulder. This is Dave at his most powerful and in his search for answers and freewheeling musing he draws out what Malala really things about her own experience and where she wants to go next.
Perhaps still needing a moment where he chats to a man closer to his age, Letterman has fish and chips with Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, an advocate in his own right. This was a nice moment where her Dad has a different recollection of things showing more concern for his daughter’s safety and more pride in her courage than she can but I couldn’t help but wonder again (following on from George Clooney’s Mum and sister not saying much last episode), where is Mum? The other remote in this episode has Letterman following around a group of visiting high school students checking out the campus of Oxford led by Malala as a student representative. Letterman acts the clown quite a bit eventually winning over the kids with his unapologetic dagginess and Yousafzai playing a good straight woman to his routine. Letterman always cool by being uncool. The ironic detachment of the 1980s gone though replaced by an earnestness for the next generation to be left a better world. He jokes in the opening monologue that you can’t get much older than me. This is one of the best remotes of the series and what a shocker actually features the guest herself.
This was a strong episode and again I would encourage them to return for a second season with more guests like this. In the episode Malala talks about her home in Swat Valley and that one day she would like to return but there would be issues. Since the airing of this episode Malala went back to Pakistan for the first time.
David Letterman returns with his second episode of a 6 part series of interviews My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with celebrities he admires. Most he’s interviewed before but now he’s doing it in long form like Charlie Rose freed from the format of the ironically named “talk show” where interviewees were geared towards 8 minute bits that had no room to breath and had to constantly be full of rip-artee. Of course the well known truth is that quiet can be pretty damn engaging and Letterman seems to be enjoying himself in this new format. The people he is interviewing are well versed in engaging people too, George Clooney his latest interviewee by those standards must be the amateur of the group. Letterman always a performer who wants to be within in his comfort zone has assembled a roster of familiar faces. I would have for example loved him to interview instead Clooney’s wife, human right lawyer Amal Alamuddin which would have been a first but the two old guys looking back format still works a treat.
A fascinating subtext not to underlined too heavily is that George’s father Nick Clooney had the kind of career Letterman might have if not for the courage and support of his first wife Michelle Cook and perhaps the untimely death of his father Harry. That’s not fair to Nick Clooney actually whom first and foremost was a journalist and made a pretty damn good career out of it too, Letterman who went farther with comedy would not have had the career Nick Clooney had if he’d stayed in Indiana as a broadcaster. Similarities with George himself are in abundance as well, George Clooney is a father at the same age as Letterman became one, they’re both liberals, they’re both from the mid-west and they’re both wise-asses. As conversation pieces for fans there are some fascinating revelations, George Clooney would put pebbles in his shoes as a young Catholic boy when he didn’t tell his priest about all of his sins. David mentioned his father went to AA later in life and it helped because it allowed him to perform as well as deal with his disease. These are touching moments that speak to the nature of these men. David has a good nose for this stuff, seeing an old poster of Nick Clooney in his Kentucky home he points out that the visage is a dead ringer for George.
Speaking of the Clooney home, Letterman visits George’s parents and sister who have taken in a refugee from Iraq, Hazim Avdal. Hazim seems to have been coached with his answers but there is no denying the weight of what he experienced. He’s asked at one point would he ever back to his home town to which he informs there is no town left only mass graves. Later we see him in a nice house next to a river, the kind of house we would all like to live in. This young man has been given tremendous help but after all that he went through my heart swells to see him living in such a peaceful part of the world. He is working hard at university and when asked would he like to become an American citizen almost out of deference for people’s prejudices he simply says that he loves America and that that would be wonderful but something he does not take for granted. Through Hazim, Letterman is showing what can be gained from opening up to help others, not closing off to help ourselves. It is of course a lot more complicated than that and we have borders for reasons but by presenting a human face to such tragedies we can be reminded of much.
I would have preferred a little bit more of a chat with Nina and Ada Clooney but I am tickled pink by the immaculate way former beauty pageant champ Nina holds up a tablet for the camera as George and Amal skype everybody in Kentucky. Not having Amal and George actually there in Kentucky feels like a massive missed opportunity, to see George a son interact with his family but it allows the focus to remain on Hazim and to reveal the nature of the people who raised George Clooney into the kind of man that would try to help genocide in Africa at the same time that he gets together with a friend to invest in a house tequila.
Families are fascinating, Letterman consistently turns to child rearing for conversation in interviews and with new Dad Clooney this seems more than appropriate. Letterman who has a checkered past with good women whom he owes a great deal to tellingly describes that you can say you love your mother or you love your wife but when my kid was born I felt it well up inside of him effortlessly. These moments of candour remain why you tune in to such a show.
I still would have liked to see George with his whole family, I think Letterman understands this missed opportunity too because they do a remote at LAX with just George and Dave. It’s funny, its cute, it bookends the episode nicely. It’s another strong episode but I keep on coming back to the idea that Dave should be talking to new people and maybe people that will challenge him. Perhaps this is why I am most interested to see what happens next month with the guest for that episode being Malala Yousafzai.
I’m struggling to find a succinct way to speak about David Letterman and The Late Show. How can you sum up 15 years of watching someone. I’ve started several drafts of this piece rambling on about the other late night shows, Dave’s career, the qualities I admire in him and those I do not. Words upon words before even remotely coming close to mentioning the new show on Netflix. I will try to keep this short and about the new show.
It’s a little late to the game for newcomers to discover Dave but I hope some do. Letterman is doing six episodes on the streaming service interviewing what appears to be all people he admires and most that he has already interviewed before. I will be interested to see how that plays out. His first guest is former President Barack Obama who Letterman is clearly in awe of. Their body language speaking volumes as Letterman appears relaxed and in charge while still deferring to Obama. The format has changed, Letterman takes to the stage in a university theatre and speaks to a crowd before introducing his guest. They sit and talk in two comfortable leather chairs miked up and with clips playing throughout including Letterman walking with Congressman John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Montgomery. Almost identical to the kind of seminars or talks a retired talk show host would do and ones that Letterman has done in recent years. You miss Paul and the band (Schaeffer did contribute the snazzy new theme tune) but not really the sketches. Letterman in his later years did one thing better than any of his late night competition. Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Stewart, Colbert, Ferguson, O’Brien and Handler. He did interviews better than all of them and to see him spread his wings away from network television with no ad breaks is very enjoyable.
The two retirees (Obama significantly younger and busier is still looking back) are reflective most likely by design. As a legacy project Letterman does not so much attempt to reinvent his glory days as lean into his age and focus. These are two old guys talking about the old days and worrying about the future. Not just worrying though but on some level asking what they can do in the time they have left. Obviously for Letterman it is to ask questions, inform others and yes push agendas. In this sense by going back to basics the rebel in him is alive and well.
A few themes are nicely conveyed in this episode, for example an Obama presidency is only made possible by events like the one at Selma with a young John Lewis. Another example is in one breath the former President speaks of being a child home schooled by his mother while living in Indonesia. In the next he is talking about that woman’s granddaughter going off to college. Two polished speakers nicely delivering anecdotes and even hints of regret. Obama wonders if social media so integral to his 2008 campaign has not now been misused, while he is proud of his stewardship through the global financial crisis he candidly expresses that far too many people are left behind in the current economy (a clear expression of failure and regret if you’re paying attention).
Trump is not directly criticised by President Obama but John Lewis makes mention of him. I might have liked Letterman to point out that in 2012 the President spent more money on his campaign than Mitt Romney and whether he thinks that led to a slippery slope. To press him more on what he regrets more. There is a moment where Letterman is needled and he fires back a salvo and you wonder if we could get a little bit more of that banter.
If you’re a fan of either man and their work you’ll find lots to enjoy here. I do hope the show continues for a long time past these six episodes but I do hope it involves more remotes and guests that will challenge him. Imagine Leno or Dubya being interviewed. Maybe that does not fit with the legacy though, Letterman is moving forward and asking questions about how we can better to each other. Not picking fights. A classic moment for me is a closing question from Letterman to Barack. “Why was I not on that bridge?”. Who got The Tonight Show hardly seems important anymore. Dave long since earned the legacy and he’s putting it to good use.
I’ve been blogging away in my corner of the internet for a couple of years now, inspired by my sister, About Time (you never forget your first) and going back to university. There are a couple of reasons why I do it. Originally it was to practise my craft (that didn’t really work out) but mostly because I just wanted to. I wanted to write a review of About Time, I wanted to write about Craig Ferguson and David Letterman leaving late night television and it was fun when I did. Then I started getting followers and I started following them and I enjoyed their writing and at some point blogging gave me a community that I enjoyed being a part of.
I get to read the work of better writers, travel to Beetley England, Toronto, Adelaide, California, New Zealand, Chicago and of course Arizona. I found out about films I’ve never heard of, stories I never knew and get challenged to see things from a new perspective as much as delight in my own opinions being shared. It is a tremendous joy you’ve given me and one part of it is – you’ve given me an audience. One undaunted by the requirements of family obligations or friendship. You read my work because it interested you and so I apologise for this minor inconvenience. With the confidence you gave me I’ve had a few attempts at trying to get published elsewhere and now I found myself in the awkward situation of not being able to publish a review I wrote on my blog because it did get published elsewhere on the internet. Many of you may find my excitement at this, quaint and adorable. You’re published authors, magazine writers, television producers and reviewers on Amazon but this is a thrill for me.
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is the online national magazine with local offices around Australia. With over twenty years of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They also publish Scene magazine in print every month focussed mostly on music gigs, festivals, stand-up comics, fashion and interviews with local and international bands. If you’re into music they’re a great read but they do cover all of the arts and fortunately for me they also feature the occasional film review online too. I’m very grateful they thought my review was “very good” and published it. I’m also very grateful for my blogging community. Well with all this gratitude I should probably stop writing before I make a fool of myself. This post is now as long as the review itself.
It was February 2005 when I watched the 77th Academy Awards hosted by Chris Rock. That’s the last great Oscars telecast I remember. It was a gradual thing Jon Stewart took over the following year and it wasn’t as good but that was alright because Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t been as good as Billy Crystal right? As time dragged on though, and more ceremonies occurred I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Oscars just didn’t measure up the same away anymore. If I look back over the past few years there’s always bits and pieces I love from all of them but always something lacking. The host sucks, the host was the only good thing, not enough skits, the skits sucked, the speeches were boring, the people accepting were played off by the orchestra before they could start. I would not be surprised either if I popped in a tape of a show that I remember as praiseworthy from the 1990s to find its no worse or better than the ones we see today. The thing I can’t shake though is that at some point the Oscars got scared, it rushed itself not allowing time for individual moments to breathe and organically occur and it worried about getting viewers in rather than celebrating its own community. It would be too easy to pick apart the high pressure work performed by dozens of professionals on a grand stage in front of a worldwide audience. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to put forward some ideas of my own and inevitably celebrate that which has worked in the past.
Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are the Kings of Oscar hosting. This year the television networks have allocated their respective late night hosts to the Awards Show they’re broadcasting, CBS gave James Corden the Grammys, NBC slotted in Jimmy Fallon for the Golden Globes and so ABC have given Jimmy Kimmel the Oscars. Kimmel is edgy, very LA and approaching gravitas that comes with long term tenure. There’s a hope he will shake up things but there was a similar hope when Seth McFarlane was named to host and we know how that turned out. Choosing a late night talk show host makes sense given Carson’s reign at the gig but Carson was lightning in a bottle, a superb comic performer, movie star good looking with average folks appeal in his Nebraskan sensibility. Jon Stewart did this twice with only middling success, my favourite David Letterman bombed big time with his snark going over like a lead balloon with the celebrities on their night of nights, Fallon the current king of late night looked intimidated at the Globes earlier this year leaving basically day time host Ellen DeGeneres as the best since Carson – and her Emmy Hosting gigs were far superior to her Oscar ones. I’d love to see Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver tear the place down and I think James Corden actually could do a real good job but I would be looking at a stand-up comic more than a talk show personality to be named host.
A few big hitters include Jerry Seinfeld (he’s so big and established he wouldn’t be afraid to push people around but maybe is too much of an outsider), Louis C.K. (same thing but again outsider) Aziz Ansari (too TV maybe go with Emmys or Golden Globes for him first) and Amy Schumer. Schumer is hip and cool, not an old white guy, has a hit movie and would take aim and fire at some of the absurdities of Hollywood. Would be more than happy to see her have a go but I can’t help but think that a funny Hollywood comic superstar would be a good choice. Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg have all had their go. You know who never did? Who has the gravitas, the comic chops and was king of the box office for a bit. Eddie Murphy. Now I know Eddie hasn’t been a big deal in a while but a few years ago he was announced to host with Brett Ratner producing, then Brett said dumb shit and had to pull out and Eddie stood by his friend and withdrew too. But Eddie can deliver if he has a good writing team behind him because I believe this sincerely, people would like to see a comeback from that kid who did Delirious. The monologue should be solid, few have been bad in the past few years (Franco and Hathaway I’m looking at you) and as a former stand- up he should be able to spot opportunities when they come up. My favourite hosts of the past decade are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the Golden Globes three years in a row but they don’t seem interested and others like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig only seem interested in doing presentation skits in awards shows rather than the whole thing. By the way look for Key and Peele to host Oscars soon, they’re good comedians and solid actors in their own right and I find it hard to believe the Academy hasn’t already asked them at least once.
In 1996 a landmark occurred when Billy Crystal returned after Letterman bombed. It had been a couple of years since he hosted and he was missed. He was inserted into old movies as himself and that year’s nominees. Letterman even showed he was a good sport and showed up in it to mock his failure from the previous year. It feels more played out these days but when done well it never really gets old. Hell even Anne Hathaway and James Franco had some good bits in one such skit. Last year there was an amazing opening montage, easily the best from the past decade that Oscar has done. It displayed moments from the nominees, blockbusters and everything in between; themed around personal perseverance in a day it brought tears to my eyes with its empathy and hopefulness. It does mean however that if the AMPAS want to they can go big this year, one year they had Cirque du Soleil perform up in the rafters. Maybe it’s time to go big again Academy. Imagine Eddie or Amy inserted in Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences or Arrival.
If you look back over the years there are always at least a couple of good presentations. Some from really good actors being given funny lines and some from some of the funniest people we have working in Hollywood.
Ben Stiller, the aforementioned Wigg, Ferrel, Fey, Poehler, Steve Martin, and it would be great to see them all back doing their thing. It probably doesn’t get more moving than Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair after the riding accident. Sometimes there can be real quirkiness in the choices, one year a sound effects choir introduced those categories. R2D2, C3PO and BB-8 came out last year. However not everybody has to have a bit, some can wax lyrical about cinematography “The camera allows us to see ourselves like we’ve seen ourselves before – looking like Ryan Gosling.” or something like that and then get off the stage. It would be nice if before presenting the nominees for technical awards like sound editing, sound effects editing to remind the nominees that there’s five of you and nobody gives a shit about your arse cause you ain’t famous so you know you got five seconds each. Thank your wife and then let your buddies thank their wives. Because if you want to get laid tonight you better thank your wife if you win. If there are any female nominees in the technical categories don’t worry, your husband will not hold out having sex with you if you don’t thank him. You get back to the hotel room and he’d be like I can’t believe it, I gave you twenty two years of my life, supported you in your career, helped raise the kids and you couldn’t remember my name in front of a billion people. I am so upset, I’m not having sex with you tonight…..oh you’re wearing those stockings. Never mind. And this is why you really are running the world. But seriously male or female nominees either nominate one person or let everybody thank everybody real quick. If one person in your group is shy or boring, they’re out. There can be no room for weak links. You have got 30 seconds. Actually that’s not true, Harvey Weinstein has 30 seconds, and a special effects supervisor has 12 seconds. If you’re ugly you got 10! So that’s two seconds for each of you!
Nothing wrong with that, it’s the growing trendy of daggy celebrities done so well by Fallon. I believe the host should remain present throughout the rest of the evening but more of less reacting to what’s going on. I got a long night planned anyway.
Hollywood used to do the best montages and then a few years ago the kids on YouTube started doing it better. The day after a tribute to James Bond was done at the Oscars, better online contributions went viral. Jon Stewart even joked one year that the whole show was montages. Yet done well they elevate the whole thing, one year they brought performers on stage to perform a raft of best songs from previous decades and it linked you to previous generations. This year I would suggest two major montages. One saluting women of cinema, given the range of strong female performances this year it would be neat and also relevant given current cultural dialogue about gender politics. Hidden Figures for example taps into this in a big way. Imagine iconic moments from Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Liv Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Lilly Tomlin, Noomi Rapace, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Hattie McDaniel, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Cher, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Amy Adams, Felicity Jones, Cate Blanchett, etc.
The second would be long overdue, the work of stunt performers. There’s been a push for at least the past decade for them to get their own Oscar category and maybe this would be a step in the right direction of proper recognition. Sure practical stunts are being replaced by CGI since the heyday of the 70s and 80s but there is still plenty of stunt work being performed and a montage could show the classic stunts we all know and love with behind the scenes footage giving these men and women their day in the sun. There are plenty of stories too. Rick Sylvester’s Union Jack Parachute Ski Jump from The Spy Who Loved Me, Jophery Brown’s bus jump from Speed “ If I’d been directly in the driver’s suit it probably would have broken my back”, Bud Elkins driving that motorcycle over the border fence in The Great Escape, Zoe Bell on the hood of that Dodge Challenger in Death Proof, Vic Armstrong’s work as Indiana Jones, Heidi Moneymaker’s work as Black Widow, Bill Hickman stunt driving in The French Connection, stuntwoman Lila Finn who doubled for Vivien Leigh and Donna Reed right through to doing work on Robocop 2, Yakima Canutt who pulled off that famous stunt in Stagecoach. Anyway the list goes on. The montage could include personal anecdotes about their injuries, close calls, relationship with stars they double for or love of the job. Perhaps mention of some stuntmen and stuntwomen who died doing what they loved. To introduce this montage get an actor who is noted for doing some of their own stunts, Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise if you believe the hype, and Johansson who trains phenomenally hard in her role as Black Widow often doing more interesting stunt work than her male co-stars in The Avengers movies. Maybe the most perfect choice would be Jackie Chan.
Most song performances have been strong over the years, something as intimate as Dolly Parton singing Travelin’ Thru, to Beyoncé and Idina Menzel giving sterling performances right through to moving pieces as Lady Gaga was joined on stage by real sexual assault survivors performing Til It Happens To You. The energy of Everything is Awesome to the power of Glory. As a template, you could see the potential from this year’s best song nominees. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is idiotic but kind of catchy. Hopefully they’ll avoid trying to get the crowd involved with a bunch of middle aged actors looking uncomfortable although it would be worth it if Harrison Ford ended up punching Timberlake in the face – hey we can dream. Still it is an up-tempo number and if you put a bunch of kids there on stage enjoying it my cold heart will melt.
Superstar Sting showing up to sing Empty Chair with the lights dimmed and a montage of reporters lost in the field would be particularly moving. Don’t even say the clip was of all reporters lost doing their job until after the clip too. Not everybody is going to know it’s from the critically lauded documentary Jim about the sadly deceased correspondent James Foley. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) needs a big performance from a big star, Beyoncé, Gaga, somebody of that calibre. Maybe a Broadway star the film community doesn’t know. Think Idina or Kristen Chenoweth before everybody knew who they were. The big production number should go to How I’ll Go from Moana and come early in the piece in case any kids are still up. Lots of lights, moving props and dancers with Auli’i Cravalho singing her heart out.
Which leaves us with City of Stars; this should be sung by Emma Stone and Gosling at piano with their innate chemistry while dancers recreate scenes from the film in the background. The power of the ending should be recreated in this on stage performance. Think Eugene Levy’s wonderful touching of Catherine O’Hara’s cheek at the end of performing A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow in character or the heartfelt singing of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Falling Slowly.
Look there’s no denying we want to hear Emma Stone more than who won Best Film Editing speak and so she’ll be given more time. That is fair enough, but give the editor 30 seconds and if it looks like they’re wrapping up soon let it go. They might be about to tell you that their parent recently fought cancer. This can’t be stated enough, some of the most heartfelt and best moments of Oscars past are the speeches that were allowed to just happen in the moment. Don’t terrify people; let them tell their story at a moment of personal triumph. If after 30 seconds they’re bombing jokes or boring us nobody is going to have a problem if the music starts to kick in a little. Hell the recipient will probably thank you even. But stop apologising for the length of the telecast, this is your community you’re celebrating and the people tuning in aren’t just interested in the next blockbuster to pack their kids away in air conditioning for two hours, they’re cinephiles and they’re digging this as much as footy fans dig the halftime commentary.
I know this is never going to happen, The Governors ball allows AMPAS to honour at least 3 recipients a year, focuses an evening more on just a few awardees and takes away the pressure of a live television audience but we’ve lost something with not handing out these Oscars on Oscar night.
Michael standing with his brothers in the stands just a proud son. Deborah Kerr years after retiring flown over from the other side of the Atlantic who simply said “I’m amongst friends.” Anybody know who Michelangelo Antonioni is? He’s an Italian film director who I doubt I have seen the films of but I also doubt I have not seen the films influenced by his work. Oscars always echoed the ghosts of the past, gave a sense of community amongst this sea of celebrity that these rich pricks really just wanted to tell good stories and that the past was never forgotten. As a film buff my first awareness of so many classics came from Oscar ceremonies that remembered and championed work from the past as well as the present. A good choice for a foreign director of lauded classics now would be Wim Wenders who has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. After ruining the perfect symmetry of Sly Stallone winning the Oscar for Creed last year it’s probably time to give him an Honourary Oscar but maybe some kids out there know who he is. They won’t know who Gene Hackman is; imagine a montage of his work on Oscar night followed by him making his first public appearance in close to a decade. The crowd would go ballistic!Al Pacino, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Frances McDormand are all potential presenters. Traditionally Honourary Oscars go to those who haven’t won in competition but to see Gene I’d just about do anything and if some young film buff out there notices his work and is inspired to watch The Conversation or Missippi Burning the way I was to watch Bronco Billy or Serpico then that’s a goal scored.
Well they’re just some thoughts, any pet peeves or treasured moments you have from previous Oscars or any things you would suggest for the broadcast. Whatever happens next Monday, I’ll be tuning in, judging the fashion with my wife and mother, texting my best friend during the ad breaks in another part of the country long into the evening about who won and who missed out. Maybe the ceremonies since 2004 haven’t been that bad, maybe the ones before weren’t that great. It doesn’t matter; it’s Hollywood’s night of nights and mine too.