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Analysis: War is 75th Oscars' backdrop

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   March 24, 2003 at 3:40 AM
LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) -- The Academy Awards celebrated its 75th anniversary in Los Angeles Sunday, but the ceremony was largely preoccupied with controversy over a U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Although filmmaker-provocateur Michael Moore's acceptance speech for Best Documentary will endure as the evening's most enduring emblem of Hollywood liberalism, the event offered several moments of reflection on America's invasion and bombing of Iraq -- most of them amounting to wishes for the safety of American troops and an early end to the war.

When Moore won for his gun culture documentary "Bowling for Columbine," he invited the other documentary nominees to join him on the stage.

"They're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times," said Moore. "We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We have a man who is leading us to war for fictitious reasons."

Up to the point, Moore had enjoyed a standing ovation and energetic applause. But some in the audience began to boo as he went on.

"We're against this war Mr. Bush," he said. "Shame on you Mr. Bush. Shame on you."

Speaking with reporters backstage, Moore was asked whether he was afraid of being blacklisted in Hollywood for his politics. He said he was not.

"I don't work in Hollywood," he said. "I'm funded by Canadians and others who don't live here. But it was Hollywood that voted for this award. It was Hollywood that stood and cheered when it was announced."

The audience at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and the worldwide TV viewing audience might have heard even more political speeches from the podium, but academy officials insisted that only Oscar winners -- not presenters -- would have the freedom to speak their minds on the show.

Interestingly, telecast producer Gil Cates offered the evening's first denunciation of war -- in remarks on the first page of the commemorative program intended to articulate the rationale for holding the awards ceremony while people were dying in a war halfway around then world.

"In times of grim political history it may seem frivolous to some to focus, even for an evening, on an element of our cultural history," said Cates. "Art is no small thing to celebrate though, and this extraordinarily powerful art form of ours, wielded by men and women of intelligence and human sensibilities, can eventually be a greater force for understanding and tolerance and, yes, peace, than all the bombs and missiles that haunt or globe."

The telecast was not quite 30-minutes old when Chris Cooper -- who won for Best Supporting Actor for "Adaptation" -- offered the ceremony's first comment on the war.

"In light of all the trouble in this world I wish us all peace," said Cooper.

Not all presenters honored the mandate to stick to the script.

Gael García Bernal, one of the stars of screenplay nominee "Y tu mamá también," quoted the late artist Frida Kahlo: "Peace is not a dream. It is a necessity." He took it a step further: "If Frida was alive she would be on our side, against the war."

Barbra Streisand -- a favorite target of the American right for her aggressively liberal politics -- was a presenter, and therefore expected not to make a political statement. She came close to it, however, saying she is proud to live in a country where people are allowed "to say and sing what they believe."

Host Steve Martin largely avoided overtly political humor, engaging in occasionally sly references to Hollywood's image as a haven for the mercenary and the vain.

Referring to the questions about whether it was appropriate to hand out the Oscars with the U.S. at war in Iraq, Martin said: "Proceeds from this Oscar telecast -- and I think this is so great -- will be divvied up among huge corporations."

Peter O'Toole, who was given an Honorary Oscar, told reporters backstage that there is ample justification for handing out Oscars during wartime.

"I'm an entertainer," he said. "There are men, women and children -- families of soldiers being killed right now. My job is to cheer them up."

The telecast opened with a film clip retrospective of classic moments from Oscar-winning movies over the previous 74 years. It included several segments fondly recalling memorable acceptance speeches and production numbers from past telecasts.

A high point of the evening was the appearance onstage of nearly 50 past acting Oscar winners -- including Julie Andrews, Olivia de Havilland, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint and Denzel Washington.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went all out to make the 75th Anniversary Academy Awards an occasion to remember. It was that, and then some.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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