Monday, March 8, 2010

Seeing Martins

Dang, the Oscars are over. Was it worth the four hour investment of my Sunday night, including the smarmy red-carpet interviews and Neil Patrick Harris's dance routine? Not at all. Would I do it again? Of course. Why? I'm not sure. The Academy Awards is one of those red-letter days. Not a holiday, but an event laden with great expectations, and towing a mythology of rising curtains and dimming lights and roaring lions and the cartoon and the newsreel.

I don't get it, but there seems to be this need to see movie stars, hear them say potentially wise and moving and funny things, have the camera pounce on their grins and scowls as it roams their godlike assemblage. No doubt they are better than us. No, they're luckier than we'll ever be. But they're undeniably beautiful and talented. And they're also real people, kind of. It's easy to digest their accomplishments. We know them! We've seen their giant faces so often that there's practically nothing they can do that will surprise us, not that we want them to, any more than we want a fig newton to taste any different. That Steve Martin! That Alec Baldwin! Their faces are almost Hirschfeld caricatures of themselves; you're tempted to squint at Meryl Streep's hair for a NINA. We also hate them a little. Resent their gold dust, their airs, sneer at their humble remarks, wait eagerly for their faux pas, their miscalculations. Because, how dare they outdo us?? And how dare they fail??

It's interesting to compare seeing movie stars and seeing birds. Especially these waning winter days when you scan the thickets and marshes for new arrivals as if they're arriving by limo. Is that a grackle taking flight? It is! First grackle! Binoculars go up as eagerly as a thrust autograph book.

Yesterday morning, with a group of birders out at Dunback Meadow in Lexington, Marj Rines let out a "whoa!" somehow discerning the soft warble of an Eastern bluebird in the distance. Then, too briefly for the rest of us, Renee LaFontaine spotted it in a faraway bush. Definitely like seeing a star, same hunger satisfaction, but wild, chancy, accidental, near-miss.

By contrast, the Oscars are an aviary, all the birds in their finery gathered together in one pleasure-dome. Better to catch an unexpected glimpse, like I once had of Sidney Poitier on a street in London, leaving a trail of "Wasn't that—?"s in his wake. Or the day they were shooting "HouseSitter," with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin at my office building in 1991. Rumor had it that Steve Martin was riding a bicycle in the lobby, and if you approached him he would hand you a card that said something like, "You have had an ennobling encounter with Steve Martin." Pretty cool. Approach a purple martin, say, in one of the parking lots out at Plum Island in another six weeks, and it will wheel away with a sharp twitter, no less reserved and just as famous.

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