[Note to Editor: If Martin Scorsese should score an upset with The Aviator, please amend that quotation to read: "I'm 62 and I finally won one of these things. But what I really want is..."]
Actually, Scorsese won a Feelie two years ago, when he won the Best Film Documentary award for Il Mio Viaggio in Italia, his 4hr. love letter to postwar Italian cinema. I can still hear (imagine) him saying, "It's the only prize the matters."
And I can hear you, impatient reader, asking what the heck the Feelies are. They are the annual bouquets I bestow to the antique pop culture that has warmed my soul and given an excuse for this column.
In the 28 irregular installments since last year's awards (the column proceeds in fits and stops), That Old Feeling has paid tribute to centennial celebrities (S.J. Perelman, Dr. Seuss, Anna May Wong) and deceased artistes (Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, Alistair Cooke and Arthur Miller, Ronald Reagan, Seymour Britchky, darling Phyllis Jenkins). It has journeyed, metaphorically, to Beatles reunions and comic-book conventions and, literally, to a Bette Midler concert and a Brian Stokes Mitchell cabaret. It's taken you to London for the new theater season and to New York's City Center for musical revivals at Encores! It has cast a critical eye on movie sex (Closer) and political violence (the anti-Bush documentaries).
Ernst Lubitsch, director of many a classy comedy (Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, Heaven Can Wait used to press his screenwriters to do better. He would look skeptically at a line of dialogue and ask, "Does it ring the bell?" Too little pop culture today hits that Lubitsch chime, or even aspires to. So now we look back in fondness and say another thanks never, not ever a last one to the people and events that, over the past year, rang the bell.
1. Best Info Website: South Park Scriptorium
Every word, including a few unintelligible ones (Kenny's) from Trey Parker and Matt Stone's great TV series, whose new season begins March 9. The site has scripts from all the shows, with explanations of the more obscure cultural and sexual references. Plus the Parker-Stone movies. I marvel at the meticulous scholarship of the site, which I mentioned in a column on Jesus movies; some of South Park's best episodes dealt with theological speculation. I hope to pour out my South Park heart in a column this year.
Honorable Mention: Internet Broadway Database
Modeled on the Internet Movie Database, this welcome site has the cast and chief creative crew of nearly every show that has opened on Broadway in the last hundred years. It was of crucial help in my columns on the Encores! revival series, Phyllis Jenkins and Arthur Miller. I wish IBDb listed the songs from musicals, as IMDb often does. And wouldn't it be lovely if there were a sibling site for London theater? A West End website, or WEbsite. Of course, the medium has a much longer pedigree in England. ("William Shakespeare, born 1564, died 1616. Author of...")
2. Best Infotainment: Media Funhouse
"Yyyyyyyyyes, ladies and gents, you're back in the Media Funhouse. Hi, I'm Ed your host. This is the Media Funhouse and we are the cable access show that's proud to bring you everything from high art to low trash and back again." Ed Grant says this week in and week out, always with a practiced laugh on the "Hi," and always delivers. Ed (who has also contributed pop culture pieces to TIME.com) is a champion spieler and smiling savant with more knowledge of the last 50 years of pop culture than one brain could conceivably contain. For 12 years now, he has offered New York viewers a half-hour potpourri unrivaled for its breadth and curiosity. Where else will you find a clip of Salvador Dali pushing his face through a hole in the "Mona Lisa" on I've Got a Secret, or clips from a Jack E. Leonard 007 spoof called The Fat Spy, or Brando forcing Larry King into a duet on "I Can't Get Started"?
"Speaking at a rate fast enough to sell Micro-Machines," as a 1996 article in Visual Opinion described his verbal shtick, Ed will play a silent clip from a foreign film (often French) as he Uzies data in an inset at the lower left of the screen. He also interviews actors (Peter Ustinov, Audrey Tautou, the unadorned and charmingly frank Carol Lynley) and such directors as Russ Meyer and Francois Ozon. Last month Ed did a tribute to 2004's "deceased artistes" (his phrase, which I occasionally borrow) that had the show's usual grand range: from Dayton Allen (the Steve Allen Show Man in the Street whose catchphrase was "Why not?") to novelist Hubert Selby Jr. (with a reading from The Demon), and from Frank Nastasi (aide de camp to Soupy Sales) to super-spieler Spalding Gray (his porn movie appearance). I eagerly anticipate his tribute to one of TV's master showmen of ennui, Dr. Gene Scott, who died this week.
Media Funhouse runs in the 2 A.M. Friday slot on low-resolution Manhattan Neighborhood Networks, where the night-shift guy doesn't always pay attention. This week's tape was abruptly aborted half-way through, and we were treated to a few minutes of a silent, still-frame corrupted tape. Ed deserves better. I'd give him the nightly half-hour after The Daily Show. Comedy Central doesn't know what to do with it since canceling ...
Honorable Mention: Tough Crowd
Hosted by the endearingly incompetent Colin Quinn (he can't read jokes off a TelePrompter without stumbling into incoherence), this was Crossfire with intentional laughs, or Politically Incorrect if it were held in a high-school lavatory. Nick DiPaolo, Patrice O'Neal, Jim Norton and (our favorite) Greg Giraldo would try to address world politics but pretty quickly devolve into comic riffs on race animosity. I'm not usually a fan of talk shows that become scream shows, but Tough Crowd kept my loyalty. I was sorry that, last November, it was canceled. For political discussion of a more refined order, see Bill Maher's Real Time. In a round last week on Iraq's attempt to create a constitution, guest Robin Williams quipped, "Take ours. We're not using it."
3. Best Documentaries: The Beatles' First U.S. Visit
The fans' frenzy, the media's cynicism and the Fab Four's patience and effervescence are on rare, raw display in the Maysles bothers' cinema-verite feature about that momentous week in February 1964. The world will never again be so young, innocent and friendly. My favorite passage is TIME Cub Reporter Chris Porterfield's corralling of Ringo Starr to ask: "Are you kidding us?"
Honorable Mention: Control Room
Jehane Noujaim's sympathetic look at Al Jazeera, the Arab-language network that proved so nettlesome to Donald Rumsfeld during the March 2003 Iraq invasion. Apparently the channel has made for awkward moments in Qatar, where it is based: Al Jazeera's owner wants to sell it. Or close it down?
4. Best Pop Culture Book: The Seuss the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel
Grown-ups who grew up on Geisel's books in rhyme will be surprised and educated by Charles D. Cohen's splendid compendium of his work as a college wit, a deviser of cunning ad campaigns, a political cartoonist and a writer of the most impish war propaganda. Handsomely designed, and with laffs on every page.
Honorable Mention: The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America
Capitol Records could have had them, so to speak, for a song, but turned down the U.S. distribution rights to "Love Me Do, "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You." The New York Times' Jack Gould, reviewing a Beatles clip on Paar's show, wrote that the sang "a number apparently titled 'With a Love Like That, You Know You Should Be Bad'." These and many other sad hilarities are offered in Bruce Spizer's heavily illustrated mini-history, which packs more lore per cubic paragraph than any other Beatles book I've seen.
Best New Show: Pardon My English
Of course I mean old. This 1933 musical, with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, ran just six weeks on Broadway. That makes it a perfect subject for resuscitation at Encores!, the concert series at New York's City Center. The show's five-performance last March, under musical director Rob Fisher, was another triumph for this invaluable concert series. Fisher, who for 11 years has also shepherded the freshening and refurbishing of the antique scores, has announced his retirement at the end of the season. I can't imagine Encores! without his sorcerer's baton leading the two dozen orchestra members, but I'll show up anyway. I suspect the series will still be one of the best reasons to live in New York.
Honorable Mention: The History Boys
Alan Bennett's comedy about a public school in the early 80s is long (nearly three hours), polemical (a code metes out moral retribution to some of its characters) and enthralling. The modern, utilitarian imperative smacks up against classical, "useless" learning, and guess whose side Bennett is on? Mine! As one of the school staff, told that his standards are out of date, snorts, "Standards are always out-of-date. That's what makes them standards." That could be the motto of this column. I'd love this play even if it weren't the funniest thing I saw last year, except for South Park.