Long title, but bear with me 🙂 I came across this clip of Fred Astaire dancing at the 1970 Academy Awards ceremony the other day—and marveled that one could have watched the Oscars broadcast that year and witnessed such entertainment. (If you want to cut straight to the chase, you can zip ahead to where Astaire starts dancing, around the 3:20 mark.)
Several things in this clip stand out to me.
For one, Fred Astaire and Bob Hope, presenters of the Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short, actually talk with each other instead of reading some lame “joke” off the teleprompter.
For another, the winners of these Oscars actually get a chance to make little speeches and thank people instead of being given the bum’s rush to get off the stage ASAP.
Third, everyone in this clip, even the guy in a tux who hands the Oscar statuette off to to the winners, seems like an adult to me. Being a “grown-up” meant something quite different in 1970 than it does today. There’s something juvenile about the Oscars shows now, from the incomprehensible “in” jokes to the pseudo-impromptu moments of product-placement (as apparently Ellen’s “selfie” was—although I love Ellen and everyone who was in that photo 🙂 ).
One last point: that melody Fred Astaire dances to is pretty jazzy. It reminds me of the jazzy scores that hip movies or television shows had back in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Like the theme from Ironside, by Quincy Jones.
Apparently jazz had a moment around that time and could have become as dominant as rock in popular culture. At least according to what I read in Clive Davis‘s memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life (a really good book, by the way).
Davis, a legendary figure in the music industry, was once president of Columbia Records and founded (and was president of) Arista records. Davis discovered all kinds of talent; I mean he has sort of been the man behind American popular music for decades. I truly admire his talent.
At one point in his book, Davis talks about discovering Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival and describes her performance as mesmerizing, something you couldn’t take your eyes off of. I was quite skeptical reading this. Janis Joplin was before my time, but all I could think of was this drugged-out woman with bushy, long hair hiding her face as she screamed out lyrics in a coarse, hoarse voice.
But out of curiosity I looked up the video of Joplin’s Monterey Pop Festival performance. Yep, mesmerizing. Something you can’t take your eyes off of.
Especially her rendition of “Ball and Chain.”
Back to the original clip of Astaire dancing, that’s Elmer Bernstein down in the orchestra pit, FYI. Yes, Elmer Bernstein of The Magnificent Seven‘s musical score, not to mention many, many other films’ musical scores. And he’s the musical director for the 1970 Oscars show. That would be like, I don’t know, Howard Shore or John Williams turning in a stint at this event, which I’m pretty sure neither of them ever has. I found this clip of Bernstein talking about his work that year.
Every song he mentions that was nominated for Best Original Song is one that I’ve heard of and even sort of know well enough to sing—and I’ll bet you do, too. (I can’t say the same for any of the lists of nominees in recent years.)
On YouTube I found this homage compilation of someone’s favorite scenes in The Magnificent Seven, complete with Elmer Bernstein’s score. Enjoy!