Home > Critic-At-Large > Winter Dreams
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
During miserable winter months it's important to have something to look forward to, no matter how trivial, just to take your mind off the oppressive weather and the bleak landscape. This January seems to be working double-time with regards to fierce winds, arctic temperatures, blankets of snow, etc, as if to make up in a month the relatively mild conditions we've faced the last two years. I know it's Indiana, and I know it's winter, still, it's hard not to despair a bit in the teeth of those howling storms. You can only embolden yourself with so much coffee and whiskey, after all.
Which is why I like to make plans for those "bridge events" that are coming up in the next month or so, those trivial, meaningless fake holidays that at least take up space on the winter calendar and provide a "bridge" in your mind to Spring — Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, Academy Awards, Mardi Gras, March Madness, etc. Though I'm usually not terrible extroverted by nature, I find that I like to get out during the winter months and mix it up with people on those days, just to get out of the house and beat back a bit of that stifling cabin fever. After each event I sort of mentally check off a box in my head, imagining that I'm a little closer to sunshine and optimistic Spring mornings.
My favorite event during the "bridge" season is the Academy Awards broadcast, and I usually find myself at some large, rowdy, drunken gathering at a friend's house. Since many of my friends are theater people it's a pretty lively night, with lots of funny, bitchy crosstalk and hilariously mean-spirited brickbats. The Awards used to be exclusively on Monday nights, but they switched it to Sunday a few years back and the change seems to have made the parties a little funner — Sunday is still part of the weekend, after all, and people are more relaxed, more playful. This year the Awards are a little later in the season than usual, March 2nd, so I'll have plenty of time to work on my envy-laden insults directed at people much prettier than me.
The wait will also give me time to emotionally prepare for a moment that invariably happens every year during the party, a moment that absolutely kills me with pathos and empathy and aching. I first noticed the moment about 20 years ago, at an Oscar party, on the face of a friend, and every subsequent year I've seen some sort of reprise of the moment on someone else's face. And it just kills me, every year, without fail. I know I like to come off as a prickly, sneering sort but the fact is there are some tiny, naked moments that people do that just completely unman me and reduce me to teary compassion.
So anyway, what happens is this: during the ceremony, they'll announce a winner, Best Actor or Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay, and as the recipient is ascending the podium, I'll take a quick glance around the party at all the actors, directors, writers that are in attendance, these people I know, these friends and acquaintances of mine in the room, and I'll notice that one person has lowered his eyes, and is looking to his left, almost unblinking, and I can see that he's staring into some imaginary plane, and at that moment I know exactly what he's doing: he's imagining the victory speech that he would give if he was the winner.
He's articulating, in his head, a funny, disarming, irreverent (but moving) speech that everyone will remember for years and years. He's listing the people he will thank, not a rambling run-through list of agents and whatnot, but a heartfelt tribute to the people who've meant so much to him. He's imagining the slow smile at the podium when he first gets there, after the presenter has shuffled off, and he's thinking of that whimsical shrug he'll produce for the cameras. And he's imagining that inevitable shock-laugh from the audience that follows. But even in his fantasy, he catches himself — he doesn't want to come across as just a comedian here, for God's sake. He's thinking about some emotional thing that will probably erupt from him then, maybe not tears, exactly, but a hoarse voice, or a composure-blocked moment that everyone will recognize as true and honest. And he knows he'll take a pause after his speech, he'll stand there, at the podium, with a dazed smile, for just a moment, a perfectly timed moment, and then he'll give a tiny salute. And then he'll exit.
Sometimes, the illusion is so intoxicating and transporting that you'll actually catch your friend mouthing a few words to himself before he realizes what he's doing, and then he'll snap to attention, back to the real world, startled and embarrassed in case anyone has caught him in his fantasy. And I have, of course, but at least I'll have the decency to pretend that I didn't, so I'll hide my eyes and leave him there, a million miles from everybody in the room.
It's an aching moment to witness, bittersweet and understandable and yet ridiculous, and whenever I see it I always feel a swelling of. . . well, I'm not sure what. Sometimes you'll see people do something that makes you feel so empathetic for, not them really, but for humanity itself; for our species, for all of us, that we have such incredible capacities for absurdity and grace and childishness and foolishness and wonder. I should point out that most of my friends that I've seen indulge in this fantasy aren't bright-eyed youths or twenty-somethings that still hold on to the notion that they're going to "make it" out there in Hollywood, on Broadway. Nope. These are folks in the late 30s-middle age demo, people that know that they're not going to be chasing Bruce Willis in a helicopter anytime soon. But still, they can't let that fantasy go. No matter how stupid, far-fetched, half-assed it may be.
And yes, in answer to your question: Of course. Yes, obviously. I've made that Oscar-winning speech to myself, ten, twenty, a hundred times. The last one was a real corker, too, I kissed Halle Berry and shook hands with Daniel Day-Lewis and waved a little half-wave as I walked off with Kevin Spacey and Emma Thompson. One helluva night.