I hope I’m wrong and anxiously await the opportunity to be proved so, but I think we’re heading towards a dreadful Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday. I’ve adamantly disliked the selection of Seth Macfarlane as this year’s host for a variety of reasons (not just because I don’t find him or his creations funny in the slightest, but also because he’s by far the least prominent celebrity to host the program in my memory, diminishing the prestige of the whole endeavor), but it goes beyond that. Nearly every special segment of the show that’s been teased by the producers sounds drab, trite, uninspired. What’s worse, the machinations have never been more clear. These segments weren’t conceived for their own value, but in a desperate attempt to make something splashy happen or to grab the attention, however fleeting, of one particular demographic. Not enough guys watching? Let’s do a James Bond tribute! The old-timers probably aren’t going to connect with Macfarlane? Let’s coerce Barbra Streisand into taking the stage.
Similarly, the announced tribute to modern musicals seems less a genuine attempt to explore a current trend in cinema and more of a means to get a bunch of stars onstage belting out songs, presumably in part as something of a make-good considering the most memorable songs from the film adaptations being celebrated typically aren’t eligible for Oscar nominations since they were written for the original productions. There have been some decent musicals over the course of the past ten years or so, but acting as though the genre is having some sort of modern renaissance makes little sense. It’s like they cooked up a phony celebration of the revival of westerns because they wanted to get Brad Pitt and Jeff Bridges onstage together to perform lasso tricks.
What’s more, the relatively narrow focus of the segment, as evidenced by the announced performers, indicates that the producers aren’t actually all that adventurous in the modern musicals they’re celebrating (although I’ll concede that it will likely be preceded by a clip package that is more wide-ranging). Want to note the ways that the musical has evolved? Really go for it. Include Vincet D’Onofrio’s crazy indie rock horror musical. Give John Cameron Mitchell a chance to sing “Wig in a Box” before a gigantic global audience. And, perhaps least likely of all, introduce the world to The American Astronaut.
I know that last notion is essentially impossible, and I’m probably one of the very, very few people who will be disappointed when it’s not included on Sunday night. Honestly, I’m not even entirely sure it got a proper theatrical release, but it played the film festival circuit back in 2001. That’s when I saw it, playing in Orlando’s very fine Florida Film Festival during my first summer in my (then) new home state. Directed by Cory McAbee, it’s a black and white musical about an outer space cowboy that reaches one of its late emotional peaks with a song entitled “The Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass.” McAbee’s band, the Billy Nayer Trio, provided the music, an oddball melding of indie rock and classic sensibilities, with little nods to country and honkytonk here and there. And I giddily enjoyed every bit of it, especially the song “Hey Boy,” delivered by a couple intimidating rural thugs while the hero cowered in a public restroom toilet stall. Forget about the big, gushy Les Miz showstopper that’ll fill the Dolby Theater on Sunday night. I doesn’t compare with the American Astronaut number. For my money, that’s entertainment.
Play or download –> The Billy Nayer Show, “Hey Boy”
(Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, the soundtrack for The American Astronaut is entirely out of print, both as a physical object and as some sort of downloadable entity. It’s so far out of print, in fact, that it fetches a handsome nickel on Amazon. I don’t think you can go to your favorite local, independently-owned record store and purchase it in a way that supports both the shop proprietor and the original artists. I’d love to direct all who are interested to DVD copies of the film, but that seems just as elusive. It’s with that belief and understanding that I share the song here. I definitely don’t intend to take money from any who deserve it and will gladly remove the song from the interweb if contacted by someone with due authority to make such a request making such a request.)