If you didn’t see any of the Oscar films and chose to sleep through Sunday night’s ceremony instead, you likely woke up on Monday morning with the impression that the 93rd Academy Awards were an unmitigated disaster. “The Oscars were a train wreck at the train station, an excruciatingly long, boring telecast that lacked the verve of so many movies we love,” slammed USA Today. TV Line wrote that the show’s “very curious production choices … turned cinema’s biggest night into one looong acceptance speech,” and asked, “Did they forget that this is supposed to be a show?!?”
Descriptions of Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony as slow and way too talky seem to target one major change to the 2021 event: the absence of “wrap up” music when the winners’ speeches ran on “too long.” In previous years, producers typically only gave winners about 45 seconds to remember to thank their mothers, God, and Steven Spielberg; this year, musical director Questlove was under strict instructions not to interrupt anyone with play-off music.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, the Oscars should keep this change going forward. The speeches are what the night is all about in the first place.
In previous years, play-off music has come across as everything from impatient to openly hostile. In 2015, the telecast interrupted Polish-British filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski as he was accepting Best Foreign Language Film; the producers then abruptly stopped his “get off the stage” music when it became clear he was trying to dedicate the award to his dead wife. Last year, when Parasite won, the show’s producers actually turned off the lights on the history-making cast and crew from South Korea in an attempt to shoo them off stage.
The argument for having “wrap it up” music makes some sense; every year there seems to be a random sound designer who decides to thank everyone in the phone book. We probably have Greer Garson to blame for the music at all, after she supposedly took five and a half minutes giving her speech for Best Actress in 1943.
On the other hand, who are the Oscars supposed to be for? I don’t think the answer is exclusively for the entertainment of people watching at home. The night is ostensibly intended to honor the achievement of film industry professionals; particularly for people working behind the camera, like costume designers and set designers, it’s often the only time they are recognized on a global stage at all.
And while there will be those who ramble on, speeches can also be the highlight of the evening. They certainly were on Sunday, when the lack of play-off music resulted in Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya hilariously thanking his parents for “having sex” so he could be at the ceremony, or director Thomas Vinterberg delivering a lovely, moving speech in tribute to his late daughter.
The 93rd Academy Awards’ producer, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, told The Hollywood Reporter prior to the ceremony that “ultimately, it’s been my personal view that the speeches are not the problem and so we’re going to test that theory this year.” And though Sunday’s show was far from perfect for reasons related more to the production than anything else, the ceremony itself didn’t exactly prove him wrong. Even if most people watch the ceremony just to see the expensive dresses and comedic monologues, contrary to popular opinion, the speeches aren’t what’s ruining the Oscars. Lest we forget, the entire purpose of the show is to honor the years of dreams, setbacks, tears, sweat, practice, failure, and stubborn perseverance that it takes to make a motion picture. Surely that deserves more than 45 seconds?
So keep the “Jaws” music off of future broadcasts. Let a winner soak up their spotlight.