(Sorry for absence, I got that amusing flu that wasn't blocked by the flu shot. Three weeks and an expensive course of antibiotics for the following bronchitis later, I'm about 90% functional, and can again operate a keyboard. I have photos to illustrate the parties described below, but scanning the non digital pics is currently beyond me. Give me a week.)
I'm kinda known as The Oscar Kid by people who have been around for a while. On Sunday, I received several long-distance calls to note the occasion. I only wish that this year, so different from years previous, had a shred of its former excitement.
In my former life, I gave an annual Oscar party. This went on for about a dozen years and grew in complexity and lavishness. The first was a simple potluck and phone invite to about a dozen friends, because I was amazed that San Francisco did not recognize what I, as a Hollywood native, knew: the Academy Awards Presentation was the most important day of the year. It was a felony not to see the nominated films and hold strong opinions within the greater LA area on the nominations. To my surprise, the Hollywood-phobic San Franciscans loved it and the party was a great success.
It soon became my signature, the Hollywood exile's tribute. It was always an ironic event, I had enough distance from my upbringing to realize that all that glitz and self-congratulation and bad musical tributes were more fun to laugh at than take seriously. True to the manic side of my bipolar nature, the party escalated over the next few years and residences and I reached ever higher levels of obsession and size, with about 40-60 guests a year. There were certain constants to the party: a television in every room (including bathrooms) which required a lot of borrowing. In the middle years in the loft, which was basically one huge room and a bathroom, I created smaller viewing areas, each with its own television. One year, for the sake of togetherness, I reconfigured all furniture so the loft became one enormous theater and spent a fortune on the rental of The Largest TV Screen Ever Built (but the bathroom still had its own. There was No Escape.) Also constant were handmade invitations, a contest with Fabulous Prizes for guessing the winners (and eventually a series of prizes including the You'll Never Make It In Show Biz prize for least correct guesses), a comic voting ballot for the contest (sometimes I spent more time writing jokes for the ballot than the entire Writers' Guild, combined, did for the broadcast) a huge poster for guests to nominate the winners of the evening in categories of their own devising (e.g.: Worst Toupee, Most Obviously Intoxicated, Worst Dressed, Worst Acceptance Speech), and lots and lots and lots of food served on a groaning buffet with multiple courses, with a drinks outpost and scattered nibble stations.
One area was always for the Oscar Die-Hards, those who really gave a damn about who won and wore what and thanked whom and so on. Silence was observed in this zone. The rest of the party was giggly mayhem, especially during the musical numbers when we all shouted rude things. As hostess, I had far too much fun to pay attention, so I always taped the show (remember video?) and found out what happened the next day. It was never as exciting as the party, though the year Jack Palance did one-armed push-ups was probably a tie. That was the Best Oscar Broadcast ever. A good broadcast helps, but is not required, for the Best Oscar Party.
Food is about 75% of the reason to give a party, for me. A good party should have about twice as much food as the number of guests can comfortably accommodate. Occasionally, I'd invite people to bring either the hors' d'oeuvre or the desserts. One year I got lazy and had it catered (the year of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the best dim sum place in town supplied everything but the sweets). Usually, though, it was a solo affair in the kitchen. I cooked for days ahead, usually did not sleep the night before and scheduled days off from work before and after. (Fortunately, my boss was an Oscar nut, loved the party, and totally supported my truancy.) I had tasting parties for select friends ahead of time while I tested recipes.
It didn't end there, every possible party-giving aspect was manic. The custom invitations (at least 50 or so) were designed to a point of complexity that sometimes each cost several dollars in postage to send. I dangled ornamentation from the ceiling (an advantage of loft living) to rival the balloons of the Macy's parade. I bought out the Saturday wholesale flower mart for massive floral arrangements. I ordered miniature chocolate, golden Oscars from the SF chocolatier who made them for the Academy's official post-Oscar party itself (he wasn't supposed to sell them retail, but I worked on it). Costumes appeared frequently worn -- I appeared as Titanic one year complete with model steamship capsizing on my head (if you've ever seen Beach Blanket Babylon, it was on that scale, and my neck ached for days) and an ocean-print dress made from a shower curtain, covered with sewn-on plastic 3-D fish and icebergs. The year Braveheart was nominated (the year of the Big Theater in the loft), Houston wore a full kilt get-up as tribute, and wore it well. Houston never misses an opportunity to wear a skirt in public. The only problem was that he sat at the edge of the "balcony" (my loft railing, which has no "modesty shield") facing downstairs, and, well, he sat like a guy. Now we know what the Scotsman wears under the kilt!
At first, my theme was simply Hollywood Excess (my party motto: take a theme and beat it to death) until one year where the excess and my obsession for control exceeded Martha Stewart's and my long suffering husband of that particular time frame threatened divorce (about 1996, I think). So I focused my themes from then on, cut back in some areas, enlisted hubby's creative strain and the best ever was the Casablanca Oscars of 2002. Casablanca is my Favorite Movie Of All Time and has its own blog post, and so that year was extra special. The Oscar Parties staggered on for a year or two after, but the Casablanca party totally had the pops.
We went Moroccan with a vengeance for the food and decor. It was both delicious and beautiful. Moroccan food is not difficult to cook, is perfect for large quantities, and its unique, vibrant and abundant flavor rivals any other nation's, including, dare I say, perennial favorites French and Italian. I slavishly followed the bible of Moroccan cooking (over 30 years old and still in print, highly recommended) for multiple courses and multiple dishes for each course. I bought every brass item available in thrift stores for weeks in advance so that all serving pieces and knick-knacks appeared North African.
By this time, we lived in a real house with rooms, and most of the rooms were tented in apricot silk (waiting for a drapery project that never happened) and other Moroccan-style prints and beads for a casbah feel. My father, whose history as a Bogie look-alike has been noted in previous posts, collected Bogart memorabilia, so I raided his stash and erected Casablanca posters and stills everywhere. Elsewhere, I printed out poster sized renditions of great lines from the movie, (and there are a million, "Here's looking at you, kid," "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," "I'm shocked, shocked!" etc.) All the rooms had large placards naming them as memorable locations from the film. The drinks area was christened "The Blue Parrot" (Sidney Greenstreet's bar in the movie) and we created a turquoise-hued punch of the same name involving vodka, blue curacao, and champagne that tasted so innocuous and packed such a wallop that many taxis were called late in the evening.
The centerpiece of the decor, taking pride of place on the niche over the mantle, was an authentic Warner's production shooting script of Casablanca, courtesy of my dad, old and dog-eared and I wish I knew who it originally belonged to. Next to my photo albums and cats, it's what I'd most regret losing in a house fire. For that desert ambiance in floral arrangement, I went with acres of dried and decorative grasses instead of flowers. My future ex-husband became dreamy-eyed on a trip to the floral supply store and made several car-loads of purchases of big pots, palm branches, rocks, dried moss and enormous bamboo stalks with which he retreated into his workshop. Mysterious power-tool noises were heard for hours, and he emerged with 7-foot tall and 4-foot wide potted palm trees. They were scattered through the house along with 10 televisions, perhaps a record.
The invitation of course had Bogie and Bergman on the cover and invited Casablanca-themed costumes. As a result, our guests represented nearly the entire cast, with two Inspector Renaults and men and women from 60 to 16 years old sporting Rick's white dinner jacket. One friend, a highly skilled juggler, arrived as the juggler that appears for three seconds in the opening scene in the marketplace, and he juggled on demand for the entertainment of other guests (I'm not making this up. Check "juggling in movies" list here. Said guest is creator of the juggling site.) I wore an absolutely spectacular caftan embroidered in gold. My future ex, of course, wore his immaculate tux. He was born to wear a tux.
The capper to the evening for the hardy 20 or so who stayed after the broadcast ended was a screening of the film Casablanca itself, complete with hookah and ample floor pillows. We all shouted out dialog. Everyone cried at the end, even if we'd all seen it dozens of times before.
All of this is by way of saying, the Academy Awards used to be a big deal for me. It's funny, the things that come and go. I used to also be a shoe nut, Sex In The City had nothing on me, I owned at least 150 pair, from Come Fuck Me Pumps to thigh-high dominatrix boots to vintage 40's boudoir slippers. And not a single pair of athletic shoes, a point of pride. I'm totally over it. I own maybe 10 pair of shoes now, heavy in flip-flops, clogs and Converse hi-tops, and one single emergency pair of pumps. And, I'm sad to say, I'm over the Oscars. I live several hundred miles closer to the Kodak Theater than I used to, but the vibe doesn't reach me. The phone calls were sweet and well-intentioned but a reminder of things past.
I didn't even remember it was Oscar Sunday (formerly more holy than Easter Sunday) until the phone calls started. OK, I was still half bronchial and groggy, but that's no excuse. I ended up watching, drooling over red carpet fashions (very good this year) and then The Most Uneventful Oscars In History unfolded. Not the most awful or awkward. Sometimes that is a good thing, as horrible overlong thank you speeches given by people who speak Latvian are always amusing, or when the producers unroll dancing salutes to ___________ (fill in the blank for something really dumb), you can laugh at the dreadfulness of it. In fact, there was a brief bit where they did joke montages of bad dreams, but it wasn't as funny because they were on to the joke. That's no good, if they start playing irony. That's my job. I want to laugh at stuffy, self-important, self-referential Hollywood at its worst and most over the top. No, this was simply bland cubed, this was an Oscars with all the liveliness of CSPAN. I might as well have been watching the public access coverage of the Bakersfield Zoning Board. Obviously, I care more about the medium than the message. I am pretty sure that this year, for the most part, the Academy voters got this right. That has nothing to do with the entertainment factor in bestowing those honors.
I am hoping that this year's blandness is due to the writer's strike ending so close to the awards date. The producers and participants didn't have time to be overwrought and unintentionally hilarious, they just had enough time to Broadcast The Fucker. Feh. Glad I wasn't hosting a party this year, I would have had to spike the punch with LSD and No-Doz to have had any fun at all.