Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A night at the Oscars

By the time you read this the Oscars would have come and gone. As with every year, there were rumblings that Oscar has lost his magic, but once again millions of viewers around the world settle down to study the stars in action, criticize their dress sense (or rather the dress sense of their stylists), and watch for the tears.

I’ve always felt a massive disjunction between the overwhelming rows of columns, giant Oscars, and endless drapery, with the intimacy of giving and receiving this major accolade. We are witnessing the peak of someone’s professional (and often personal) life but our attention is constantly diverted by one or two people striding into position. No doubt it’s impressive when you’re there, but to a screen audience scale can be a hindrance and all these set-ups slow the pace to a crawl.

Clearly I’m not the only one who feels this way. This year an architect was commissioned to design the set for the Oscars. David Rockwell grew up in the theatre and is famous for spectacular settings that frame events and experiences. He’s responsible for my beloved Nobu just down the block. Now he’s tackling the big one – and in the Kodak Theatre he himself designed.

Rockwell’s focus is fantastic. He says that Intimacy has been one of his keywords as he creates this year’s presentation. To me, he’s nailed the cause of the Oscar malaise. They’re certainly full of Mystery (icons, those envelopes, whether the host will be funny or embarrassing) and Sensuality (beauty, elegance, grace, music, the emotional voice) but have seriously underplayed Intimacy.

Rockwell decided to ramp up the experience of the event for those who attend so that we (the screen viewers) could feel part of something surprising and alive rather than a pre-packaged formula. The Oscars is a tough gig to pull off, with a global audience of millions plus a theatre full of extroverts out to have a good time when most of the time all they’ve got to watch is a stage populated by a couple of presenters – and each other. Rockwell is lifting the orchestra out of its canyon in front of the stage so that people can see who’s making the noise. He’s also reaching for more story, more screens, more sensation as sets swing in and out position and everyone draws in closer to the flame of talent, entertainment, and emotion.

I’m writing this as the stars are coming down the red carpet, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Let me know if you think Intimacy shines through in 2009.

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