Belated Reflections on the Oscars: Does it Matter that the Pictures Got Small?

It took us part of two nights, but we watched the Oscars. We can’t see the show all in one go. It’s too long, and it’s on a school night. Even when we have the time, and a late-rising morning to follow, my family and I cannot sit relatively still and be attentive for much more than twenty minutes in a row. This is just one of the reasons that we don’t go to the movies.
We will see some of the Oscar-nominated movies, eventually, at home. There is no pause button at the theatre, and we like our pause button. It’s not merely valuable for snack and drink runs. When our daughter was very young, I realized how handy it was to stop the action to explain a word or concept. Because we could break for discussion during a program about the worst jobs in the medieval world, at age six or so she learned quite a bit about the nasty tasks required of the wode maker and the fuller. Perhaps such knowledge isn’t vital to everyday life, but it certainly does put a twenty-first century kid’s bad days in perspective. I pause too often, probably, to point out certain actors to her (the cowboy at the dude ranch on Modern Family—that’sTim Blake Nelson, who was in O Brother Where Art Thou. Remember when he sang I’m in the Jailhouse Now?) We replay funny scenes, or those in which dialogue is indistinct. Tensions arise, naturally, when we disagree over what constitutes overuse of the remote. Sometimes it seems that we’ll never get through a show. But that’s OK, because we can always finish it tomorrow, or the next day.


This year’s Academy Awards ceremony, with its focus on retro Hollywood glamour, was not a night for the young. It wasn’t the most entertaining of Oscars, but I found the somewhat geriatric slant very comforting. I fit right in. Some stars, like Billy Crystal, the veteran comic host, were aging oddly. Others looked great (for their age), but no one stood out to me as looking particularly young. Not even the truly young.

For such a lavish production, we were puzzled by the bad sound quality. What was that tinny, echoing noise after Billy Crystal’s every quip? I was reminded of the constantly jangling cowbells on the ski slopes at last year’s winter Olympics. D said it sounded like the buzzing of a hearing aid, which would be appropriate, considering the largely AARP crowd that was honored.

It was fitting, also, that the biggest winner of the night was a mostly silent, black and white film set in the roaring 20s. (The Artist will be in our Netflix queue if for no reason other than Uggie the Jack Russell.) Throughout the night, there abounded references to a powerful, collective love of the movies. Misty-eyed presenters and winners recalled formative childhood experiences, spellbound in a packed theatre, the big screen before them in all its majesty.

I have such powerful memories, but my daughter, as yet, does not. She missed the era of the opulent movie palace. She has never known a time when a movie was an event, a destination. Instead, she will remember sitting on the sofa watching our fairly, but not overly large TV in the armoire, wrangling for the remote. Is this a loss? Will rapid advances in technology and communications make up for the absence of the grand movie experience? Will we all be so well-connected through new social media that we will be perfectly happy to watch movies on our contact lenses or some other tiny device? Will it no longer matter that the pictures got small, to paraphrase Norma Desmond, the aging star in Sunset Boulevard?