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Diary of an Academy voter: L.M. Kit Carson

Part one of three

Screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson is tackling his first year as an Academy voter while contending with a variety of other projects. They range from an auto-documentary in which he “re-writes the ending to his life” after experiencing a dance with death on an emergency operating table, called “Remember Tomorrow;” to co-producing his partner Cynthia Hargrave’s directing debut, “Above The Bar,” to working with Nokia to develop a storytelling language aimed at entertaining teenage cellphone users. Carson’s credits include screenplays for “Paris, Texas,” and “Breathless” (American remake). Earlier this year, he attended the Academy’s induction ceremony, coming in as a writer (he’s also a producer and actor) along with inductee Sofia Coppola. “I met Fay Kanin and I met June Foray, the woman who was the voice for Rocky the squirrel in ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle,'” Carson says. “I looked around and realized, all these people are eccentrics! I thought, fantastic! ” Along with attending screenings, he’s been mulling the significance of it all.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve been trying to understand the “Oscar.” Trying since high school. Puzzled since years ago when the legendary Southern author Eudora Welty lectured a class at my Texas prep school on a morning after the Academy Awards — and I took the lucky chance to ask her how she felt and thought about what “Oscar” meant. And the Pulitzer/Guggenheim/Medal of Freedom/French Legion d’Honneur-winning Miss Welty answered (without a pause for thought): “Not a damn thing.” And this was back in the A-Award year of “The Apartment,” “Psycho,” “Spartacus.”

Since that early Welty-jolt, I’ve worked on movies that won awards; worked on juries internationally (from Sundance to now, heading for Mannheim) for festivals that give awards. And for me there’s always a surprise but also a coherence that clicks from getting-or-giving an award. Makes you go: ahhh I get it. OK. I see it now.

But year-by-year “Oscar” still seems to stay more and more puzzling. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Award has gotten so conflicted as a pop-mix tag that it’s not simply exactly meaning Excellence.

Today for movie-biz fans checking whatever begins with “E” (Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, the E!-channel) the meaning of “Oscar” comes easy — it’s the Hollywood-slam of millions in ad-hype dollars to buy that award-statue. The E-media has buzzed “Oscar” into something like it’s all about moguls over-out-reaching other moguls to grab that award-statue to make themselves look like they own uh, a Bigger Next Big Thing, or uh, own the Next Money/Glam/Power Point — aka a Bigger Ego.

Even among the New York E-media the “Oscar” Buzz-Battle (re: what’s cool/not hot/not cool tip?) Booms Off sooner this year. Pre-Halloween, over dinner in the journo-row of back tables at Elaine’s, Roger Friedman, Internet gossip columnist for Foxnews.com rambles, blasting the New York Times’ Sharon Waxman for “one of the craziest articles I’ve ever seen.” Friedman complains because Waxman reports in her “Oscar season” launch-story that so far this year the Buzz-Battle is wacky and unpredictable and this is important.

So slide another slug of meaninglessness into “Oscar” – now it means… too wacky and unpredictable?

Then here’s the funnier thing: this year (who knows, maybe because I can’t figure “Oscar”) I get lucky enough to get nominated and seconded for Academy membership by James V. Hart, Carl Gottleib and Frank Pierson – grand writers I’d worked with at The Sundance Institute Labs. [What’s the meaning of “Sundance”…? – that’s a whole other way to go story.] But now first thing: let’s get this A-Award Meaning Puzzle straight, OK?

What I can finally try to figure: “Oscar” stays impossible to define – and that’s real. Puzzling is good. Because year-by-year inside whatever silly, crass, jokey Money/Glam/Power Point aka Ego Show hits the E-media – there rises inside it the whole confused human core of our storytelling: the soul fighting to become complete. And this fight will never be completed – and this still-fighting core is what keys the Academy Awards. At the heart, maybe the word “Oscar” best means “struggle.” And this tangle-ass with the world action is what makes this A-Award work on us – intriguingly and not so badly.

Now maybe the “Oscar” seems truly in a lot of different ways too small to carry the burden of the human soul. But maybe the truth, friend, is very very small. That’s why it’s so hard to discover.

Part Two of Carson’s Oscar season diary will appear Dec. 13 in the issue Eye on the Oscars: The Writer.

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