Monday, March 03, 2014

What a Drag it Isn't Getting Old: the 86th Academy Awards

Judi Dench in Philomena

The mid-western weather is depressing. How depressing? People are calling for permission to blow off therapy. That's how depressing.

I'm home unusually early one night last week and the TV is singing to me. With the flick of a button there's Andy Griffith as the Mayberry sheriff in a rerun in black and white (1960).  The sheriff looks handsome, smiley and helpful in his khaki uniform, helping Aunt Bee break into a pharmacy.

They have to use the "hidden" key on the door-ledge because it seems the old pharmacist isn't feeling well. The older man's niece will fill in for him. A stranger in this small town, she has all the right credentials and she is going to run a tight ship.

Another townsperson, also elderly like Aunt Bee, a known quantity, bursts through the door in a panic. As Andy proposes to help her get her pills, the new pharmacist puts her foot down. No you don't. Not without a prescription. Nothing doing.

"But my pills! My pills!" the clearly pain-racked, tottering old person demands dramatically. "You wouldn't deny an old woman her pills!" Then she describes her many aches and pains, and how now she will certainly die without them.

Andy turns on all of his charm, and by the end of the show the new pharmacist relents, visits the older woman at her home with a pot of soup and her pills. Andy asks about the change of heart and the younger woman confides, "They're placebos. They were sugar pills, Sheriff."  Her uncle hadn't been plying this customer with opiates after all. He knew what he was doing.

Oh, if only it always worked out this neatly. We baby boomers are just beginning to notice our aches and pains, our arthritis, weak knees, necks, shoulders, and hips, parts of the body we didn't even know existed before. We're popping Advil and Tylenol, comparing which analgesic works best.

Therapists who have been sitting for years (it's a living) suffer lower back pain, an occupational hazard. Years ago a mentor of mine, sitting on a pillow shaped like a doughnut, warned me that sitting is the most dangerous part of this job. She was right, ___ her. But most of us with an ounce of sense won't be asking our doctors for anything stronger than ibuprofen, and we'll try not to even have to take that. We'll dutifully carry on with our yoga, those swims, physical therapy.

But I digress. The morning after the Andy Griffith Show, a song pops into my head, Mother's Little HelperRolling Stones, circa 1966,Aftermath. (Remember that album?!) The lyrics, if memory serves, include these verses:
Things are different today, I hear every mother say that she needs something today to calm her down. And though she's not really ill. There's a little yellow pill.
She goes running to the shelter of her mother's little helper.
And it helps her on her way. Gets her through her busy day.
Refrain: Doctor please, some more of these, outside the door, oh a few more.
What a drag it is getting old.
There are a few more verses before the close:
And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose.
No more running to the shelter of your mother's little helper.
Yet heroin is on the upswing, almost fifty years later.  

Let's get to the Oscars.

(1) In early January I had the pleasure of viewing Philomena, a film about an elderly woman seeking her lost child. As an unmarried pregnant teen, her father warehoused her in a Catholic orphanage. There, at the hands of brutal, poorly trained midwives, she has a baby boy. She is allowed to watch nuns, nurses, cuddle with her baby, and as he grows she observes as he plays with other children and they interact as mother and child. He knows she is his mother.

She is in his life for an hour a day until, at age three or four, he is lost to adoptive parents, no goodbyes. Left is a tearful young woman who will always have an empty place, a hole in her heart that no one, nothing but he can fill.

Judi Dench, nominated for best actress, didn't win the Oscar last night, but she will be remembered as Philomena, a light-hearted (if sad at times) woman, hopeful and religious, screaming youth and positivity that at her age isn't supposed to exist. But it does.

The real Philomena Lee attended the Academy Awards ceremony. Ms. Dench is working. She couldn't get off.

(2) The drug-overdose and death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me angry.Why did this happen? Who gave him drugs? Why didn't someone who cared stop him from killing himself? Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines. You will tell me, and I will tell you, that drug-seekers will find their drugs. It is the secrecy, however, that boggles the mind. The secret is so special that no one blurts. Because, after all, nobody dies of this stuff.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
A British street artist, hoping to draw attention to the issue, erects an eight-foot sculpture on Hollywood Blvd., Oscar injecting heroin. The words inscribed on the shunned piece of art: "Hollywood's best kept secret." 
Oscar shooting heroin

Only a few blocks away at the awards ceremony, a memorial is going on, featuring those in the industry who made their mark but passed away. Some timely, others not. It is an annual awards retrospective.

At the end, the fade, the camera lingers on photos of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Other memorials fly by so fast that they are hard to read, but this one hovers on stage just a little longer than the rest. Hollywood's best kept secret.

Earlier in the evening Bill Murray had addressed the academy, slipped in a reference to his deceased friend, Harold Ramis. The crowd is surprised, but uncomfortable, we're not there yet, not remembering, and Mr. Murray moves on quickly to the movies at hand.*

Harold Ramis, we miss him already

June Squibb at the Oscars
(3) If you haven't seen Bruce Dern in the film Nebraska, as grumpy old Woody Grant, an elderly alcoholic who thinks he has won a magazine sweepstakes, his portrayal is trumped only by June Squibb as Kate, his aging wife. She is aging better than he is and has plenty of attitude. She laughs at him, berating his stupidity while protectively telling him not to leave, as he heads off to claim his prize in Omaha.

Marvelously irreverent, Kate sarcastically rips into Woody. She roasts everyone she has ever known and isn't particularly nice to her son, either. In an interview with Bob Nelson, the screen writer (WSJ), I read that the people behind Woody and Kate are Mr. Nelson's parents, very much the same in real life. Nebraska is nothing, imho, without June Squibb, hilarious in this role, and many of us were rooting for her for the Oscar.

She didn't get it, either. But more important, perhaps, she scored attention to aging well,as Judi Dench does for Philomena. Ellen Degeneres (simply brilliant, ordering pizza for the audience, three large ought to be enough, taking tips when it arrives) jokes poker-faced with Ms. Squbb, roasts her early in the opening monologue. Assumed by the hostess to be hard of hearing because of her age, the actress is charmed, if perhaps a tad insulted at the very idea.

(4) Death, unless we're ready to hear about it, and even then, is a drag.

Hard-rocker Pink incongruously sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow halfway through the Oscars ceremonies in a tribute to Judy Garland. This before the retrospective and that Philip Seymour Hoffman punch, just before Bette Midler comes on to sing Wind Beneath My Wings. Talk about milking it. But Judy did die young, and she spent years abusing alcohol and prescription meds. Her children, in third row seats, surely had a hard time watching, listening.

As Pink makes us cry, we eat up the set, a delicious montage of a young Judy in the Wizard of Oz, ruby slippers and all. We are reminded that there was a time, way back when, that we stayed glued to our television sets on Thanksgiving for our annual Wizard of Oz fix, anticipating that blast of color at the end of the black and white film, assuming an aunt had a color set.

Pink does a nice job, singing a quiet song; her family must be proud. And Bette Midler, like Pink, doesn't belt it out either. This show had to be sad, mellow, and it is all the better for it.

Probably some people thought about it, during that emotional television event, about those mother's little helpers, the pills that people like Judy Garland used to get through the day.

They aren't just Hollywood secrets.


* Mr. Ramis died of complications from an auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis, a relatively rare disorder. Chicagoans loved his improv at Second City, and everyone remembers his films:  CaddyshackGhostbustersStripes and Groundhog Day. Cut down in his prime, like Mr. Hoffman, but this one makes me sad.
Aftermath, Rolling Stones about Valium


1 comment:

Syd said...

It seems that more and more people are using drugs in order to obliterate the stresses of life today. When I was in college, the drugs used were marijuana and LSD. Heroin and cocaine weren't around in the crowd I hung with. I don't understand the idea of going through life messed up on drugs. Just like alcohol, it is symptomatic of some deeper problem. And the dramatic increase has occurred over the last decade.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts