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[whitespace] Big Fat Mommas Are Back in Style

By Richard von Busack


"They call, they call me the fat man
'Cause I weight 200 pounds
The women love me
Cause I know my way around."
--Antoine "Fats" Domino

My porky hero, critic Cyril Connolly, is credited in the Oxford Book of Quotations as being the first to say, "Imprisoned in every fat man, a thin man is wildly signaling to be let out." But at the 75th Academy Awards (March 23), the fat man and woman successfully imprisoned the thin man. One of host Steve Martin's innumerable bad jokes was something to the extent that Hollywood was made up of all types: "thin and skinny." Maybe so, but this year Oscar should have been depicted with love handles, cottage-cheese thighs and a beer belly.

And in the future, when someone writes a book titled The Adipose Screen, all about the history of fatties in movies, from actors (John Goodman, Marlon Brando, Margaret Dumont, Cedric the Entertainer) and directors (Hitchcock, Welles, Charles "Night of the Hunter" Laughton, Jean Renoir) to, finally, film critics (shoot, that's 10 volumes right there)--when these histories are written, let the 75th Oscars be remembered as the night when fat struck back.

There was the 300-pound plus Harvey Weinstein, up front, seeing that stumbling musical about that toddling town, Chicago, win award after award as a consequence of his throwing his weight around. Queen Latifah, wearing her fat like a mink coat (to use Palo Alto author ZZ Packer's phrase), sang her enlarged heart out. Kathy Bates stared the celebration down with unafraid amusement after being called a hot-tub tramp by Steve Martin--maybe she should be the host next year. And the justly-feted Pedro Almodovar, doesn't look like he turns down seconds at dinner.

Air of Dignity

Since this was a wartime Oscars, the air of dignity so thick it was painful. Dustin Hoffman and out-of-nowhere Best Actor winner Adrian Brody outdid each other to see who could be the most earnestly rabbinical at the podium.

Both were nudged--by a fat person, as we'll see in a moment--to broach the subject of war in a far-off place called Iraq. In deference to the soldiers fighting so that the world can watch the Oscars in freedom, the contestants dressed soberly, as if there were emergency sumptuary laws enforced for the duration.

The actors and execs showed up in funereal blacks, embossed with designs that look like they were traced off a protractor, then studded with rhinestones and glitter like the grill on an accordion. Cleavage was scarce (except from the winners of the crew awards, like makeup and costuming). It would be an offense to the Muslim world to show brisket on such an august occasion. Catherine Zeta-Jones, who got pregnant in a pathetic attempt to pick up on the fat-is-where-its-at vibe, was given a temporary exemption to wear something low-cut.

When Jennifer Lopez, being Jennifer Lopez, came dressed in wrapped in green gauze, Martin kept making lecherous cracks to the point where we flicked Jelly Bellies at the screen. (Jelly Bellies were the appropriate refreshment for the Fat Oscars; we had a bowl of them at our swank Oscar party, which consisted entirely of one cat and two nonplussed adults, man and wife, sharing a sofa, working on their guitar fingering during the commercials--such as the tasteful one where the very concept of AOL broadband drives a lady to the world's biggest orgasm.)

I had a thesis here, and I'd best find it before it wanders off. If the Oscars had a motto, it would be "I missed The Simpsons for this?" It was a frost, from Chuck Workman's hasty and obvious America-themed montage to the parade of aged stars--a constellation of liver spots that only Drew Friedman could capture on canvas.

Not to mention the absence of genuinely cool people like Paul Newman, Roman Polanski and Hiyao Miyazaki. And I suppose Eminem was missed by his partisans, too; chances are he wouldn't have thanked his mother from the stage. Instructed not to use the Oscar broadcast to comment on the political scene, the stars demurred, said a few gracious lines and got off as we slapped ourselves to keep from drowsing.

And then came Best Documentary Film. Diane Lane, who seems pretty smart, explained what the docs were about. Then the winner was announced and up waddled Bowling for Columbine's director and star, Michael Moore. Gulf War II was the elephant in the room no one wanted to talk about. And Moore decided: I will be that elephant. It's clear the Academy put him up to it. Known for describing our duly appointed president as "Gov. Bush," Moore shouted down the house about the illegality of the war, calling shame on Bush in a magnificent display of obese demagoguery that had the house awake (and snarling).

To quote the portly Randy Newman, who was interviewed in the "What did it feel like when you won an Oscar montage?" when I saw Moore, I felt what would be called emotion if I had a heart. During the commercials, I (292 pounds) phoned up my pal Mike (who I think tips the scale at about that same weight) and crowed, "Once again, the fat man shouts what the thin man is afraid to murmur!"

I can't wait to see the editorials, though, about how inappropriate it was for Moore to use the occasion to vent. This argument isn't as annoying as the "after all, our soldiers are fighting for freedom of speech," which is infuriatingly patronizing but perhaps well meant. The idea of an "appropriate" time and place for freedom of speech is one more way of limiting that self-same freedom and ought to be combatted in the future, lest the Oscar show gets more prolix than it is already.


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Web extra to the March 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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