The Big But Less So Night

On Sunday night, Denzel Washington has a chance to enter rarified air and win a third Oscar, something only Walter Brennan, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep have accomplished. This would be for his role in “Fences,” an adaptation of the August Wilson play.

And that’s about it. All I know about the Academy Awards this year. Oh, a couple of other details; I’m aware of most of the films, even if I’m not sure what they’re up for. But the rest, no. And watching? Also no, I’m pretty sure.

The last time I watched the Oscars, I was in Austin and my son-in-law wanted to see it for some reason. I remember that it was vaguely entertaining, with maybe a surprise, but that’s sort of the point. For people who like movies – and that seems to be most of us – it feels as though the world has outpaced the Academy Awards. What used to be an industry back-patting, putting a period at the end of a season of cinema, has become a blip on screens that have a lot of blips.

I miss that. Those days, when I’d have seen most or all of the films, and I had favorites and it was just fun, right? It was an All-Star game, the best of the best, and it became a night I marked as one to wait for, to anticipate, to look forward to.

I remember the 1981 Academy Awards. I was working a swing shift schedule at a medical clinic, just me typing in a spare office, alone for the last few hours aside from the janitor. I was having transmission problems with my car, so I’d started riding a bike to work, only a few miles, and I left a little early that night, hoping to catch the last 90 minutes or so of the big show.

There was no show, as it turned out. That afternoon, President Reagan had been shot. That alone is worthy of a head shake; I’d spent several hours being oblivious to a major news story. How is that even possible, I think now, but of course it was, and is. It’s just that I’d have to be on a plane or in, irony alert, a movie theater, or undergoing surgery. Really, I can’t imagine it.

So the world has changed in the past 36 years. Alert the media.

***

I don’t miss those days in any real sense. I was younger, for one thing, with fewer responsibilities than would come along soon. My wife and I went to the movies all the time, sometimes several times a week. Few interesting films escaped my butt in a seat, because there was an imperative that no longer exists: See it in the theater, or wait a few years for it to show up on network television, edited into a family- and commercial-friendly version.

This isn’t breaking news either, but I can’t help but reflect. We live in a world that is a logical extension of ideas and inventions and adaptations, but we were certainly not ready for it. Cable television begat video rentals begat streaming everything, although it wasn’t begatting as much as exploding.

And as I think about it now, 1981 might be a good touchstone year as far as the beginning of today. CNN had just gone up the year before. Video stores were already around, a niche service for a country in which maybe 10% of us owned VCRs. Alan Alda was doing commercials for IBM’s original PC. We could see what was coming, or some of it.

I would have looked forward to the rest, too, had I known. I just couldn’t have anticipated that what changed the world would also change me. I still watch movies. And I don’t miss the Oscars, not a bit. I just maybe miss missing, if that makes any sense. Good luck, Denzel.

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