Saturday, 25 February 2012

I am gonner

Why do people watch the Oscars? You know, other people. I don't watch it myself because it's past my bedtime and, well, boring. But lots of other people get terribly excited by it, a bit like general election night, which has also become a sofa party theme in recent years. I'd like to say I never see it at all, but every year I am unable to avoid the highlights spattered across the wider media.

I sort of watched it once, in an alcoholic stupor. That was one of the years when Billy Crystal was compere, a man for whom the word "schtick" might have been invented. I think I fell asleep, tired out waiting for a car-crash that never came.

Is it simply anticipatory schadenfreude? There's usually either a host who dies under the weight of the lame jokes, or an irruption of delicious bad form as a Vanessa Redgrave or a Marlon Brando sub (no, not a sandwich) takes the mike. The entertainment interludes are usually chicken-in-a-basket fare, while there is a whole media sub-genre devoted to wardrobe faux-pas on the red carpet.

Given the amount of money spent, you'd expect a slicker operation. The interpolation of clips from the films, displaying their evident excellence, appears to be an almost cruel contrast, but I suspect this serves to emphasise the authenticity of the gibbering creatives presenting or accepting.

You don't have to be a cynic to suspect that Janet Jackson's nipple and MIA's finger at the US Super Bowl were unconscious attempts to introduce a frisson of danger into an event (half-time filler, after all) that lacks the Oscar's unpredictability. More successfully, the Brit awards have graduated from national embarrassment to international embarrassment with the aid of Adele's finger - presumably a gesture towards the US market, which has never got the hang of the two-fingered salute.

The tension around time is interesting. The stars are normally seen as people who are under pressure to give more of themselves to their public; they have no time to themselves; they're always on show (yeah, right). The awards ceremony is conversely an opportunity to publicly ration the limelight, to box them into a 45 second slot. "That's quite enough of you". Given Adele's recent ubiquity in terms of awards, James Corden was perhaps subliminally doing us all a favour.

A study has shown that Hollywood films between 1935 and 2005 have tended to gradually standardise shot lengths and rhythm to match the optimal human attention span. The end result might appear to be a case of the bleedin' obvious, as it's humans who edit films, but the gradual shift from longer to shorter probably owes more to the dominance of theatrical conventions, together with the technical limitations (and cost) of complex editing, at the beginning of the period. What's particularly satisfying is that the lead author of the study is Professor Cutting.

The point of citing this work is that there is an optimum time and an optimum rhythm. We can have too much of a good thing, and when the rhythm breaks down, it can be difficult to get it going again. All fairly trite, but given an extra poignance by the news that Andrei Arshavin is off home to Zenit St. Petersburg, probably for good.

The little Russian produced some fine cameos in his early days at Arsenal in 2009, echoing his form in the 2008 European Championship, but he lost his way during the latter part of the 2010-11 season and never managed to get back into a rhythmn. He was a player of moments, most notably his fine winning goal against Barcelona in February 2011. That unfortunately marked the beginning of the end.

In sport you really don't need the winner to step into the limelight. Post-match interviews are rarely entertaining, let alone enlightening, if the interviewee has just won or scored. The best interviews are usually with the losers. Similarly sports award ceremonies are risible because the attempts at explanation, or even mundane thanks, look so flimsy in contrast with the action that led to the gong.

At the Oscars, you get the feeling that some recipients want to top out their winning performance in front of the lectern. Many of them are instinctively acting, though obviously trying hard not to go full retard. The fun for the audience is the palpable risk of hubris.

One of the more endearing features of Arshavin was his reluctance to do post-match interviews. Some will put this down to poor English, or laziness, but I think he was intelligent enough to realise that he had nothing to add. I am gooner. That was your catchphrase. I am gonner would be appropriate now. But not forgotten.

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