stop the music!
By Burt Prelutsky
The first year the Oscars were handed out, because a few silent movies were still being produced, Joseph Farnham took one home for writing the titles for MGM’s “Telling the World.” Titles, for the uninitiated, were written material that identified the characters, the setting and the period, and also provided occasional snippets of dialogue.
By the following year, thanks to the enormous impact of “The Jazz Singer,” silent movies disappeared, and the era of title writers was at an end. It is my suggestion that the Motion Picture Academy follow suit with the category of Best Song.
There was a time in the 30s and 40s, the golden age of the movie musical, when the likes of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin, were writing the tunes, but that day is, sadly, long past.
Back then, songs that won the Oscar included “Lullaby of Broadway,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Over the Rainbow,” “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and “White Christmas.” And, as wonderful as those songs were, winning the Oscar wasn’t easy; not when the competition included such classics as, “Cheek to Cheek,” “Lovely to Look At,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “How About You?” “That Old Black Magic,” and “Long Ago and Far Away.” In fact, things were so tough back then that such evergreens as “I Won’t Dance,” “A Fine Romance,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “A Foggy Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Love Walked In,” “The Boy Next Door,” “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” didn’t even make the cut.
But once the 1950s rolled around and musicals became as rare as snow in Los Angeles, just about the only songs we heard in movies were those title tunes sung under the credits of dramatic films. Occasionally one of those would be worth listening to, thanks to people like Henry Mancini, Sammy Fain, Jay Livingston, Burt Bacharach, and Jimmy Van Heusen. But even that petered out by the 1980s. I will of course apologize for that generalization to those of you whose favorite tunes happen to include such memorable Oscar-winners as “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” “Take My Breath Away,” “Let the River Run,” “Colors of the Wind,” “You Must Love Me,” “When You Believe,” “You’ll Be in My Heart,” and, of course, that catchy tune you just can’t stop whistling, “Things Have Changed.”
Part of the problem is that the members of the Academy, often described as stodgy and hopelessly square, often take the opportunity to prove how hip they are by voting for songs they think their grandchildren like. So it is that even a non-song like the theme from “Shaft” got to take home the gold.
This past year was so musically bereft that they couldn’t even dig up five songs to nominate. They made do with just three -- and then, to make matters worse, they didn’t vote for Dolly Parton’s “Travelin’ Thru,” the one song that had a melody and intelligible lyrics. Instead, the fools gave the Oscar to “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Now you well might wonder why the Best Song category hasn’t gone the way of Titles long before this. The answer is simple. The members of the music division of the Motion Picture Academy won’t allow it. They’d regard the suggestion as an insult.
Apparently it hasn’t occurred to them that the real insult is having a piece of rap crap like “Pimp” represent the best they can do. The worse insult is to the memory of such Oscar-winners as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers, to be joined by the likes of the posse responsible for “Pimp” -- Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, and Paul Beauregard, otherwise now better known as Three 6 Mafia.
To paraphrase Jon Stewart, for those keeping score: George Gershwin and Cole Porter, zero; Three 6 Mafia, one.