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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 08:40 GMT
Stewart's Oscars show lacks edge
By Ben Sutherland
BBC News website

Jon Stewart
Cult US comic Jon Stewart promised a controversial ceremony
Host Jon Stewart had promised the most controversial Oscars ever - but while there certainly was a message, it was nothing to do with homosexuality or US foreign policy.

It was much simpler than that. Expressed bluntly by the Academy president, it amounted to this: please keep going to the pictures.

Every award seemed to bring another random set of clips from classic films, used to illustrate the sentiment that a cinema is "the only place to watch a movie".

Just to make sure no-one missed the message, the stage was even set up like the entrance to a movie theatre, complete with ticket office. Clearly, Hollywood was taking the chance of grabbing its worldwide TV audience to preach its anti-piracy message to as many people as possible.

A worthy cause, perhaps, but hardly the key element of a great show.

Frosty silence

The early part of the 2006 Oscars was dominated by a huge amount of "it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time".

Perhaps fearing the Oscars would be dominated by heavy politics, a large number of light-hearted skits were forced in. Most of them fell flat.

Whether it was Ben Stiller flouncing in an all-green suit or Tom Hanks being shot by the Academy orchestra, few of the pre-prepared routines received more than a smattering of polite chuckles.

And, despite a few killer one-liners, Stewart began little better.

A joke about Dick Cheney shooting Bjork's dress - a reference to her swan creation from a few years back - brought the house down.

Oscars ceremony
The Oscars set was designed to evoke the golden era of cinema
But digs at the Democratic Party tend not to go down very well in mainly left-leaning Hollywood, and Stewart made two in quick succession, both greeted with frosty near-silence.

Even more unforgivably for the audience, he repeated the mistake made by Chris Rock last year of attacking the Academy's own, in this case, the Baldwin acting clan. The sharp intake of breath was audible, and Stewart was in danger of seriously flopping.

But he brought them back on side by, rather than separating the politics and humour, bringing them together.

Turning to a giant Oscar statue behind him, he asked: "Do you imagine if we pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?" - a reference, of course, to the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003.

Barrage

And when this was followed up by a satire of the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth campaign in the 2004 Presidential election - the role of John Kerry being taken by Dame Judi Dench - the audience visibly warmed.

But still, this was hardly biting stuff, and everything - Stewart, the presenters, the awards themselves - soon began to be submerged beneath the seemingly endless blizzard of "isn't-cinema-great?" montages.

Ben Stiller at the Oscars ceremony
Ben Stiller presented an award wearing a spoof special effects suit
There seemed to be no let-up. At one point, a medley of nominated film scores went on so long, the producers cut to an ad break. When they came back, the violinist was still playing.

Stewart himself eventually got fed up. "I can't wait till later, when we see Oscar's salute to montages," he said.

Things got better after Three 6 Mafia won Best Song, giving both Stewart and most of the other presenters something to riff on - primarily the title of their song, It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp.

Ultimately, though, that was about as controversial as it got. Certainly, this was nothing compared to the show in 2003, when the immediacy of the Iraq war - coupled with the Oscar win of Michael Moore - leant a real edge to the proceedings.

Even George Clooney, nominated for two different "message" films, actually spent most of his acceptance speech for Syriana making self-deprecating Batman jokes.

In the end, the host hit and missed, the dresses were divine and we were told how great cinema was. It was a perfectly average year. Perhaps this year, the Academy had decided to simply let the films speak for themselves.


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