- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The smart money said this year's Oscars would deteriorate into a celebrity anti-war teach-in. The smart money never met Michael Moore, whose "Bowling for Columbine" won the Academy Award for best documentary feature.
The supersized guerrilla filmmaker of the left managed to turn the standing ovation that greeted the announcement of his Oscar into a cascade of boos and catcalls for his malicious and conspiracy-minded caricature of the president as an election-stealing warmonger.
With a few mild exceptions, the rest of Hollywood's liberal stalwarts were circumlocutory, almost tame in expressing themselves on the war in Iraq.
What explains the unaccustomed caution?
Fear? The entertainment community was stunned recently by the swift public backlash in the red states against the Dixie Chicks for lead singer Natalie Maines' anti-Bush remarks on foreign soil on the eve of war. Added to this, the surprising ferocity of the spontaneous reaction in the Kodak Theatre against Mr. Moore's propaganda stunt might have instilled a prudent self-restraint in career-minded celebrities.
Or, did Mr. Moore's bullying polemics simply throw into striking relief the boundary line separating a squishily liberal Hollywood establishment from a radical fringe that would prefer to foment open hostilities between filmmakers and Washington policy-makers?
The professional movie community made several right choices on the occasion of its 75th awards presentation, starting with jettisoning the gaudier displays of vanity and privilege associated with red-carpet promenades and fashion plugs.
There was considerable uncertainty about how to react to a war being updated simultaneously, in compelling immediacy and urgency, over news networks. As Denzel Washington noted when deflecting a fluffy question about the red carpet, "Our hearts and minds are in a different place."
The predominant sentiment seemed anti-war, but few participants in clear-cut camera range seemed eager to associate themselves with Mr. Moore's dark screed, which strayed into the-moon-landing-was-faked extremes of paranoia.
(For the record, the Moore uproar was only the second-most-outrageous feat of radical political grandstanding in Oscar history. Bert Schneider, the producer of the documentary feature "Hearts and Minds," established a daunting precedent in 1975, when he shared an alleged congratulatory telegram from a Viet Cong delegation in Paris.)
Mr. Moore is a notorious sneak, but no one associated with the event could argue it was a sucker punch. He had vowed to exploit the ceremony as an anti-Bush, anti-war platform when he won earlier awards this season, including a screenwriting award from the Writers Guild.
The milder gesture of Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar, who dedicated his screenwriting Oscar to "people raising their voices in favor of peace," had been anticipated at the Golden Globes ceremony.
A Mexican participant, a young actor named Gael Garcia Bernal, took a presumptuous leap into the imponderable while introducing a musical segment connected with the biopic "Frida," inspired by the Mexican painter and communist partisan Frida Kahlo.
"The necessity for peace in the world is not a dream, it's a reality," he mused. "If Frida was alive, she would be on our side, against the war." It might depend on who she was channeling at the time, Leon Trotsky or Josef Stalin.
The more typical reactions to the convergence of Oscar night with another war in which American armed forces were risking their lives tilted toward hopeful equivocation, beginning with the plea of best-supporting-actor winner Chris Cooper, "I wish us all peace."
Fuller expressions of this kind awaited the awards to Adrien Brody as best actor for "The Pianist" and Nicole Kidman as best actress for "The Hours." The big surprise and emotional highlight of the evening, Mr. Brody's triumph began with several amusing touches, including his V-E Day embrace of Halle Berry upon accepting the prize. His remarks rambled before reaching a benediction: "Whomever you believe in, whether God or Allah, may He watch over you. Let us pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."
Apart from Buddhists and feminists, it's hard to see who would be offended by this. Moreover, Mr. Brody was the first participant of the evening to claim personal acquaintance with a real soldier in harm's way; he alluded to a friend serving in Kuwait and wished him well.
Miss Kidman made a simple, eloquent case for sustaining the Oscar show in times of turmoil: "You believe in what you do, and you want to honor that. It is a tradition that needs to be upheld." She also singled out the families of September 11 victims and the families of military personnel for special remembrance.
Somewhat disappointing was the failure of Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America and President Johnson's chief of staff during the worst of the anti-Vietnam protests to improvise an earlier mention of the armed forces. He followed Mr. Moore on the bill and appeared to be smoldering with unexpressed contempt for his predecessor but being a gentleman of the school, he held his tongue.
Years ago, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky seized a similar opportunity and rebuked Vanessa Redgrave for her anti-Zionist rant. Mr. Valenti blew his chance for a Chayefsky moment and there you have the difference between a lobbyist and a writer.
Instead it fell to host Steve Martin to deliver the perfect capper to the Moore escapade. "It was so sweet backstage," he reported. "The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."
Where does all the hubbub leave Hollywood as a new war is being prosecuted?
So confused it doesn't know what it's supposed to think and too scared to say it if it did.

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