Film Bitch History
Oscar History

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HBO LGBT History: 1989 Oscar Flashback Best Documentary

Last week we enjoyed the eloquent musings of one Stephen Sondheim and quibbled over whether Todd Haynes’s intentionally queasy and dizzying take on “I’m Still Here” was worth including in James Lapine’s documentary on the Broadway composer. This week we’re taking a break from our regular programming and going back in time to celebrate one of HBO’s earliest Oscar victories.

As you may or may not know, films produced by HBO have won over 20 Oscars. Last year alone, HBO dominated both documentary categories with Citizenfour and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 emerging victorious in their respective categories. And so, let us travel back to March 1990 when Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (discussed here) won the Best Documentary Oscar. [More...]

It was a simpler time in Oscarland. Billy Crystal was hosting, a job he began by quipping about the applause that greeted him—“Is that for me or are you glad I’m not Snow White?”—and followed by announcing that the industry that year had made over $5 billion dollars (“or roughly half of what Jack Nicholson made on Batman”).

As the night went on, you got to see Glory pick up a handful of awards before Driving Miss Daisy would come out triumphant to the glee of many Oscar statisticians who began to swear by the Best Editing nomination rule, you got to witness Akira Kurosawa receive an Honorary Oscar presented by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (at the actual ceremony!) and, perhaps more importantly you got to see (check ’em) Jessica Lange, Isabelle Huppert, Julia Roberts, (pre-Downton Abbey) Elizabeth McGovern, Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Kim Basinger, Daryl Hannah (presenting the Little Mermaid songs!), Melanie Griffith, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Anjelica Huston, Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer all on stage presenting. What a lineup!

But the piece that concerns us happens shortly after Paula Abdul (“our wonderful choreographer for this evening”) and Dudley Moore gave Alan Menken his second Oscar of the night for “Under the Sea.”

“As a moviegoer, though, I take special pleasure in documentary features. They have an importance that deserves the widest audience and tonight we honor the best of these.”

Crystal tells us we’re going all the way to Buenos Aires where Charlton Heston will be presenting the documentary awards via satellite with the help of Oscar nominee Norma Aleandro—herself also the star of the Oscar-winning 1985 Argentine film, The Official Story. It’s unclear why they did this though it offers a nice chance to see the Ten Commandments star be flummoxed by a Crystal ad-lib about the lambada (“C’mon Billy, you know I can’t even dance the lamam...lamam… heck I can’t even pronounce it.”).

The entire sequence is worth watching to see the beautiful speech delivered by Epstein and producer Bill Couturié who thank their subjects as well as Elizabeth Taylor herself “for her heroic efforts fighting AIDS.”


Before there was Frances McDormand at the Golden Globes there was Frances herself, Jessica Lange at the 1989 Oscars*.

* Lange was nominated for the little seen thriller Music Box

 Fun Awards Fact: This year’s documentary category (which Glenn has done a great job of breaking down) has two HBO-produced docs, Going Clear and 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, and another they’ll be distributing, Heart of a Dog. In fact, the category might read like an Emmy field should any of Listen to Me Marlon (produced by Showtime), The Hunting Ground (which aired on CNN), What Happened, Miss Simone? or Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom (both Netflix properties) make it to the top 5.

Next Week: TFE will be Oscar crazy so to keep us sane, we will be visiting Gabriel Byrne’s Dr. Paul Weston. Dane DeHaan is primed to make a big splash this year (starring opposite Tatiana Maslany in Two Lovers and a Bear, taking on the role of Karl Rove in Young Americans with his Kill Your Darlings director, and appearing in that Vikander/Watltz film Tulip Fever as well as headlining Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness) so what better reason to revisit his stint on In Treatment?

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Reader Comments (4)

Love this! Although I'm not sure this is the right ceremony to discuss here. Nathaniel approves? There were many via satellite awards. Jack Lemmon was in Moscow for instance.

January 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Oh my - Charlton Heston looked mighty pissed when Common Threads won best doco.

Everyone knows what a homophobe Chucky was.

January 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

I remember watching this film as part of my grade 9 history class back in 1993. It was a very moving film that did a lot to educate the world.

Thanks for the memory

(Grew up in Canada if it helps understand how this was part of the curriculum)

January 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Drummond

@BetteStreep - huh. I watched it just to look for his reaction and his face didn't change at all.

January 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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