At the Academy Awards: of glitter, back-patting, and stargazing
''Tonight's winners will be next year's answers in Trivial Pursuit,'' jabbed master of ceremonies Johnny Carson at Monday's Oscar ceremonies. He's right.
Do you remember who won just two days ago in, say, the best screenplay category?
The glitter does fade fast, but it's fabulous public relations. An estimated 500 million people in 76 nations watched the 31/2-hour program. You can't attract that many viewers for 30 minutes of evening news.
But the public returns again and again to this annual event for a night of vicarious Hollywood extravagance.
What the television cameras beam is a glamorized view - like the movies - of the occasion. What you don't see is the endless stream of sequins and diamonds unloading on the terrace of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Every ticket holder must parade past a 500-seat grandstand full of cheering fans and press (who actually don formal dress for the occasion). A master of ceremonies plucks the stars from the passing parade of ticket holders, most of whom are not stars, but ''stargazers.''
Under crystal chandeliers inside, clusters of gowned and tuxedoed gawkers destined for seats in the outer reaches of the pavilion attempt to nonchalantly mingle near powder-room entrances - where they're sure to glimpse female stars. (Women queue up to use the full-length mirrors - except the most famous, whose wakes seem to precede them.)
Cynics have a point in their grousing about Hollywood's lavish, even narcissistic, annual pat on the back. Certainly cinema's best is not always honored, and the awards often just heap publicity right back on films already commercially successful. For example, ''Terms of Endearment'' snared five Oscars: three for writer, producer, and director James L. Brooks; the Best Actress award for Shirley MacLaine; and the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jack Nicholson.
But the awards do give smaller high-quality films wider appeal. For example, Linda Hunt won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in ''The Year of Living Dangerously,'' an Australian movie that had a limited release here. Her award, and Robert Duvall's for Best Actor, brought the most enthusiastic audience approval of any of the awards here. Mr. Duvall's recognition for his role in ''Tender Mercies'' also can be chalked up as a victory for a simple, independent, and less commercial film.
And in case you don't remember, the Best Screenplay Oscar went to Horton Foote for ''Tender Mercies.''