It had to intrude.
Despite the best efforts of Academy organizers, the war raging a world away in Iraq took center stage at the Academy Awards as the winner for documentary feature, director Michael Moore, charged President Bush with waging “a fictitious war.”
Both the actor and actress winners made moving, seemingly spontaneous references to the ongoing war and its meaning for them.
Without taking anything away from the razzle-dazzle half-dozen wins for the musical “Chicago,” the 75th edition of the Oscars likely will be remembered as a schizo show, caught uncomfortably between the celebratory and the solicitous.
Wagging his finger from the stage, Moore intoned, “We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you.” He was politely applauded by those in agreement and loudly booed by the few in the theater who disagreed or found his remarks out-of-place.
Moore won for “Bowling for Columbine,” an exposé of the roots of gun violence in America. The irrepressible Moore had invited the other docu feature nominees to join him onstage in solidarity against the war against Iraq.
“We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times,” Moore then blurted out. “We live in a time where we have fictitious election results, that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.”‘
Oscar host Steve Martin joked, after Moore finished speaking, “the Teamsters are helping Mr. Moore into the trunk of his limo.”
It might, in fact, have been wise to hide him, since radio talkshow hosts across the country were immediately besieged with callers clamoring for Moore’s head and branding him a traitor to the nation.
Despite Moore’s outburst, the Oscarcast was generally restrained: The champagne was put on ice, the jewels sparkled less brightly and the speeches were generally shorter and more subdued as the war against Iraq hung over — though did not stymie — the ceremony.
It was, however, an underlying leitmotif that couldn’t be kept completely at bay.
As Denzel Washington told journalists backstage, “Our hearts and minds are elsewhere.”
Following a nerve-wracking week, most celebs and presenters chose not to mention the war at all onstage, opting instead for giving the usual heartfelt thanks to collaborators and spouses. A few Tinseltown VIPs, including Will Smith and Tom Hanks, decided not to attend the event because of the ongoing war.
Host Steve Martin alluded to the conflict just once during his opening monologue when he said, “Everyone has been so supportive of my hosting — except for France and Germany.”
Chris Cooper, winner of the supporting actor Oscar for “Adaptation,” set the tone early by declaring, “In light of all the troubles in the world, I wish us all peace!”
Gael Garcia Bernal, prior to presenting the song “Burn It Blue” from “Frida,” made a similar allusion by asserting, “The necessity for peace in the world is not a dream, it’s a necessity.”
But best actor winner Adrien Brody would not let the music cue him off the stage before tearfully commenting on how the experience of the Holocaust-themed “The Pianist” made him more aware of “the dehumanization” and “the repercussions” of war.
“Let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution,” Brody movingly encouraged the assembled. His comments marked the emotional high of the evening, one that the entire audience could respond favorably to.
Unfortunately, the timing of the Oscarcast coincided with stepped-up hostilities in faraway Iraq.
ABC News broke in during two commercial breaks with an update on the movement of troops toward Baghdad and the growing resistance they were encountering.
“The war grinds on. More than 50 coalition soldiers have been killed today, and serious resistance is being met, ” Peter Jennings said during one commercial break in the Oscar proceedings.
Best actress Nicole Kidman defended coming to the Oscars in such trying times, saying that “art is important and a tradition that needs to be upheld.”
Kidman went on to allude to the post-9/11 pain and the families who have had losses in the war, while original screenplay winner Pedro Almodovar dedicated his Oscar to all those who raise their voices for “international legality.”
To play down the contrast between the horror of war and the frivolity of Hollywood, Academy toppers decided last week to truncate the red carpet and keep journalists at arms length from arriving celebs. The result: an altogether more muted and less glitzy affair.
Signs of protest from the traditionally pro-Democratic, liberal-leaning Hollywood elite were kept in check. Anti-war activist and presenter Susan Sarandon quietly gave the peace sign before introducing the In Memoriam section of the show and only a sprinkling of peace insignias and dove pins were spotted on celeb lapels.
No stars sported duct tape affixed to their ball gowns, as many pundits had predicted they would.
The demeanor of the 3,500 Oscar attendees from the moment they stepped out of limos was dignified rather than flashy or expansive.
Even backstage, most winners were reluctant to elaborate on their views on the war, choosing rather to concentrate on the award at hand.
Asked if he wanted to amplify on his expressed desire for peace in his acceptance speech, supporting actor winner Chris Cooper responded, “As the war goes on, minds will be changed.” He added, “I really did say all I wanted to say.”
Ditto for Peter O’Toole, who received an honorary Oscar at the ceremony.
“I’m an entertainer. Men, women, children and soldiers are being killed right now. My job is to cheer anyone up that I can.”
Moore, however, warmed even more to his theme backstage.
Asked if this sort of strident speechifying might result in his being blacklisted in Hollywood, Moore reminded reporters that he didn’t work in Hollywood.
“I’m funded by Canadians,” he smiled, “and others that don’t live here. But it was Hollywood that voted for this award.”
Moore feigned puzzlement at the intense focus on his Oscar outburst, parts of which were identical to the filipic he unleashed only a night before at the Independent Spirit Awards.
“Look, let’s just get real here,” said Moore, regaining momentum. “I’ve been around for 13 years now. I think they knew they weren’t getting a speech thanking agents, lawyers, lawyers of agents and agents of lawyers … I put America in a good light. I showed how vital it is to have free speech.”
For his part, the iconoclastic Spanish director Almodovar distilled his message more finely once backstage.
“We are against this war,” he said emphatically, calling the Spanish government’s participation in the coalition forces “the most anti-democratic gesture I’ve ever seen.”
Journalists, however, found the contrast between the Oscar ceremony on stage and the images of war being broadcast on other networks and on the Internet to jarring to let pass.
With no winners yet to interview, more than one reporter took the opportunity to check out the Drudge Report, with its photos of war casualties, on a laptop computer.
Scenes of Bradley fighting vehicles taking fire outside the Iraqi town of Nasiriya flashed on eight TV monitors in concert, making for as surreal an Oscar pre-show as ever there was.