Monday, December 24, 2012

REGARDING FALSE IDOLS

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by Burt Prelutsky

When the Bible refers to false idols, it has a plethora of pagan gods in mind. The ones I’m referring to rest on mantels all over Hollywood, while the others reside in the White House.

Since 1928, when the World War I sky drama, Wings, won the first Oscar for Best Picture of the Year, 83 other movies have followed suit. I have seen all but seven of them, which even I find more than a little frightening. In my own defense, I will state that I reviewed movies for about a dozen years, so a lot of the viewing was work-related.

In my opinion, most of those movies were mediocre at best, coma-inducing at worst. But I have always contended that when it comes to judging movies, all that anyone is entitled to is an honest, but subjective, opinion. If you sit through, say, Titanic, and find it exciting, there’s no way on earth that I’m going to convince you that it was duller than watching grass grow.

What I did sense about the movies that the Motion Picture Academy has chosen to honor year after year is that they tend to be very, very long, as if the voting members, for reasons I can’t fathom, insist on confusing length with quality.

With that in mind, I decided to look into it. And sure enough, my instincts were right. Because the decade was nearly over before they started handing out Oscars, there were only two winning movies in the 1920s. Besides Wings, which ran 144 minutes, there was The Broadway Melody, which came in at just 100 minutes. That means, they averaged out to 122 minutes, or just slightly over two hours.

In the 30s, the average soared to 138.3 minutes. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1955 that a movie shorter than The Broadway Melody would win. That would be Marty, which ran a sprightly hour and a half.

In the 1940s, the average length would dip to 125.8 minutes; in the 1950s, in spite of Marty, the average would shoot back up to 138.2, thanks to the 212-minute slogathon known as Ben-Hur. The 1960s averaged 146 minutes, mainly due to Lawrence of Arabia eating up 216 minutes on the clock, with four musicals, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! all lasting more than two-and-a-half hours.

In the 1970s and 1980s, running times dipped a bit to 141.2 and 140.7, respectively. But the 1990s set a new record, averaging 154.5 minutes, with Schindler’s List, Titanic, Dances with Wolves and Braveheart, averaging out at a brain-numbing three hours and seven minutes.

With the start of a new century, the average dropped to 137.2 minutes in spite of The Lord of the Rings (201 Minutes), Gladiator (155) and The Departed (151).

In nearly perfect symmetry, there have been only two winners thus far in the present decade, The King’s Speech and The Artist, two fine movies that came in at a reasonable 118 minutes and 100 minutes, respectively. Only time will tell if we have entered an enlightened age, but Hollywood, being what it is, I wouldn’t bet on it.

This brings us to those other false idols, the ones who presently call the White House home.

Even people who have never set foot in Great Britain are aware of the endless complaints about the cost of maintaining the Royal Family. Converted from the English pound, the annual expense of keeping these blokes in crumpets is approximately $57 million.

No matter how anti-royalist an Englishman may be, it would be hard for him to argue that the pageantry that goes with having the la-di-dahs around doesn’t bring in several multiples of that paltry figure in tourist dollars.

Here in the States, on the other hand, maintaining the Obamas is estimated to run roughly $1.4 billion dollars a year, and understand I’m not referring to his loony economic policies.

It’s true that the cost of picking up the tab for any president and his family is mind-blowing when you factor in White House operating expenses; maintaining the grounds; health care that includes a traveling medical staff and equipment; the Secret Service; and the White House Communications Agency. But in the case of the Obamas, you also have to add in their numerous and extremely expensive vacations for family and friends; and, lest we forget, $311 million in unreimbursed campaign expenses, which included scores of cross-country jaunts on Air Force One for fund-raising events and those nifty black buses he used in Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

A few years ago, Newsweek compared Obama to FDR, even going so far as to picture Obama on its cover sporting a homburg and with a cigarette holder jutting out at a jaunty angle from between his teeth.

Now, after four years of a stagnant economy; an unemployment rate that’s in single digits only because so many people, out of sheer frustration, have removed themselves from the work force; and with the nation perched on the edge of a recession and record inflation; it’s clear that the president he most closely resembles is Herbert Hoover, with just a dash of Jimmy Carter.

In conclusion, I will only say that if I was upset with all those epic-length movies, and I was, especially when I added up the running times of the 77 Oscar winners I had actually sat through, and realized they ate up the equivalent of eight entire days and nights, you can imagine how I feel about sitting through eight years of what might best be called Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue.
©2012 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? BurtPrelutsky@aol.com.

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