Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stop with the Death Montages

The Death Montage. We all know what they are: that year-end collection of clips of that year's movie industry people who have died--I'm sorry, too harsh a word--"passed away"--during the previous year. It's an entirely different thing than someone's own, heartfelt rememberances of a deceased movie person. But I've come to the point where I can't stand them and won't watch those Death Montages. Time was I loved torturing myself to a depressed stupor remembering all over again the cherished movie people who will no longer be with us. Plus, they often forget a beloved favorite of mine, so I'm angry and depressed afterwards. That's why I have Patrick McGoohan as the picture of this entry; he died back in January but didn't make AOL's annual death list. I probably should be happy for that; as McGoohan is more worthy of his battle cry "I am not a number, I am a Free Man!" for being exempt from that roll call.

The Academy Awards show started this practice and it was fine. Then around the mid-1990s it became a macabre popularity contest, with the loudest applause for the "biggest" legend who joined the Choir Invisible. As they said about a Hollywood mogul, whose funeral brought out thousands of mourners: "Give the people what they want and they'll come out in droves." It got to the point where people I knew looked forward to that part of the Oscar broadcast.

Perhaps I'm too cynical. And yes, I am. But behind every cynical man is a sentimental sap who's deeply affected by such things. Turner Classic Movies, in its ongoing move to "youthify" classic movies for my generation--the dreaded "Gen X"--it only serves to remind me how slick and pre-conceived (to quote Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters) it all is. It comes off as a mawkish, "Death as Nostalgia" production to me.

Ah, well. The year's almost done and I couldn't be happier. As much as I love the past, I'm not particularly enamored with my past. However, when it comes to the past of movie icons, I'm quite enamored with that. And to see their lives reduced to a three-and-a-half minute montage just casts a--pall--over me.


  1. I see where you're coming from and understand your frustration, though I don't know if I'm so vehement about it.

    I recall years ago at Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium, part of the annual ceremony involved reading a necrology of people in the baseball community who had died since the last Old-Timers event, but it was merely a reading of names, done with appropriate solemnity; had visuals been added, perhaps it would have reeked of overkill.

    As long as I sense "in memoriam" things are done from the heart, with genuine empathy for those who have left us, not just something done by rote, I suppose I don't mind.

  2. you absolutely have a point with the oscar popularity contest. when i watch it and an actor i have cherished dies i always get angry if they receive next to no applause which just seems silly and against the point. though i actually think that tcm has done some beautiful in memoriam montages, haven't seen the one for this year so i can't judge it but without that distraction i think they pay nice tribute.

  3. Though I can be maudlin and enjoy having a good cry over a RIP montage, I still think that you make several good points. The Oscar popularity cheer thing always makes me cringe, and I hate how they leave good people out because of supposed time limits. I will be making a 2009 RIP list on my blog--but I'll also make a list of the people still with us--because it's amazing how many still are. And I'll be including Mr. McGoohan in the dearly departed section--be seeing you ;-)

  4. I know what you mean - it always bothered me that some celebrities received enthusiastic applause while others received only polite applause.

    I was going to go on philosophically about popularity but I'll spare you


  5. I'm really surprised that Mr McGoohan didn't make the list!

    However, I like the montage. *ducks tomatoes* I very irreverently call it the Parade of Dead People.

  6. I know exactly what you mean.. in 2002 I was heartbroken when they didn't include Dorothy McGuire in the Oscar tribute. Since then I've given up watching the Oscars altogether (though not for that reason alone)...

    TCM's tributes in years past haven't bothered me, and some have seemed especially poignant but I really didn't like this years at all. I thought the music they used was awful for a memorial tribute. And what really got my goat was the way they displayed the photos of behind-the-scenes filmmakers - having their photographs sitting in puddles on the ground? I thought that was actually disrespectful. The individual tributes with the rain falling, and the windshield wipers (I hope you know which one I mean) are much more reverent and would be fitting for the years-end tribute too.

    On TCM I think they do mean well, and I do watch the tributes and feel sad... but the Oscars are like a dead popularity contest, and that just irks me to no end.

  7. Love your post and the comments. I've never watched the Oscars. You've offered another reason why I'll never start. I usually don't mind the TCM parade of the year's dead, but this years style bugs me. I just want to see pictures and subdued music, the stars are supposed to speak for themselves, don't doll it up - and what is that inarticulate song? Bob Dylan?
    As for TCM "youthifying" classic movies for Gen X... Well, I guess they have to do it to replace the audience who is dying out. But they are putting on too many new movies. 70's is way too new for me. (I am 49.)

  8. Interesting thoughts! I'm not wild about some of the music TCM uses (like this year's), but the historian in me finds it meaningful to pause and take stock of how the classic film world has changed in the past year and to consider once more the contributions of the people in the montage.

    I do prefer the TCM montage to the Oscars (which I stopped watching a few years ago, but I sometimes watch the ceremony's obituary montage on YouTube), and I don't care for the "popularity contest" applause during the Oscars montage.

    Best wishes,

  9. I quite agree with you. It's almost as if they're celebrating death...which is sort of sick.

  10. Good points, and some interesting comments. I'm with Kate, I've never completely gotten over the Dorothy McGuire Incident.

    But I confess, these days in an Oscar broadcast where I am familiar with few movies and fewer actors, the memorial reel is the only thing about the Oscars I can watch with some sense of knowledge. I know who those people are, and I will be sad. But, since they have achieved a certain immortality on screen, they haven't really passed from us. I always note the "popularity contest applause" during the Oscars with amusement, because it usually reflects not personal favorites, but only those film personalities with whom the audience happens to be familiar. It is invariably an exhibition not of popularity, but of the audience's knowledge (or appalling lack of) about the past giants of the industry on whose shoulders they stand.

  11. I thought last year's Oscar video was well-edited and touching with "I'll be Seeing You", but it was televised awfully. I blame the camera director -- they insisted on multi-angle shots showing the jumbo-tron, the singer and stage all together, which turned out terrible.

    I've seen every Oscar In Memoriam since the first one in 1994, and I remember the one that Kate and Jacqueline mentioned. That year, the person who worked on the video knew nothing about movie history, because they included clips of the late William Hanna's TV characters instead of any of his seven Oscar-winning animated theatrical shorts.

    I agree with Laura; these rememberances have a place in the year end ceremonies, but if only they are handled by the right people! I have to hand it to the TCM folks, they do the nicest tributes and I did like this year's.

  12. As for TCM "youthifying" classic movies for Gen X... Well, I guess they have to do it to replace the audience who is dying out. But they are putting on too many new movies. 70's is way too new for me. (I am 49.)

    Not young enough for me-they should also be showing '80's movies as well (TCM's been showing a few, like 2010, Batman Returns, Col. Redl, Dick Tracy, and Mephisto.) They should also be showing the 1980s flicks because now, it's been thirty years since the 1980s, and 40 years since the 1970s!


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