I count my blessings over and over again. Having watched the Academy Awards since I was ten or eleven years old, I have to pinch myself whenever I rub shoulders with Oscar candidates at their annual nominee luncheon and the decade-old Governors Awards presentation, which took place Sunday night. It’s a glittery event that represents Hollywood at its very best. This year’s winners (chosen by the organization’s 54 governors) were directors David Lynch and Lina Wertmüller, actor Wes Studi, and actress Geena Davis, who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to open the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ YouTube channel (imagine!) and watch highlights of the evening. David Lynch had very little to say at the podium, while Wes Studi took his time thanking the many people who helped him reach this proud moment. The highlight for me was listening to Geena Davis, whose foundation has made a real difference in our world. The media still falls far short of gender equality and, as she noted, writers and directors “make this stuff up” and have no excuse not to do a better job. I hope her speech lit some fires in the creative community.
Seeing the majestic Lina Wertmüller, and reviewing excerpts from her films, took me back forty years to a time when she was the hottest filmmaker on the planet. I haven’t revisited Swept Away… or Seven Beauties since they were new, yet they are so vivid in my memory that I can almost feel them working on me as they did so long ago. Who could ever forget those groundbreaking films or the performances that made them so great? What a bold, original storyteller! She was celebrated by other exceptional women who sang her praises from the stage: Sophia Loren, Isabella Rossellini, Greta Gerwig, and Jane Campion.
Sitting in the star-studded audience for this grand ceremony is exciting, to be sure, but the best part of the night is the schmoozing that takes place before and after. Where else could I ease into a conversation between Quentin Tarantino and screenwriter Scott Alexander in which Quentin was waxing enthusiastic about Dolemite is my Name, the new movie written by Scott and his partner Larry Karaszewski?
I even got to congratulate the effervescent Geena Davis, who asked the assembled crowd to think about giving her a job while they’re working on the larger task at hand. She is a delightful woman who manages to address serious issues with a disarmingly light touch. No wonder she has made such strides. If I were writing or producing a script I’d give her a job in a heartbeat.
As for David Lynch, please indulge me one personal anecdote. His longtime collaborators Laura Dern and Kyle McLachlan told of meeting the director at his favorite dining establishment, Bob’s Big Boy. I had the pleasure of encountering him at another Los Angeles landmark, a coffee shop called DuPar’s. We wound up paying our bills at the same time and I told him that I figured him for a DuPar’s customer because of its reputation for pies and milkshakes. Not long after that I invited him to bring his wonderful film The Straight Story to my class at USC. He hesitated for a long moment and I thought I had blown my chance when he asked, “Can I smoke?” “Of course,” I said, having no authority to do so. Sure enough, when he came several weeks later, I got in two questions when he asked again if he could light up. Once again I boldly said yes. I hope the statute of limitations has run out by now, because by flouting fire laws I got to bring a great filmmaker to my class.