RSVP : Just Your Basic Hollywood Big Night


One organizer of American Cinematheque's Moving Picture Ball said he wanted Friday's gala to be "non-boring." In that sense, it succeeded. However, the event could have used some inventiveness and heart to go along with the non-boringness.

Over the past 10 years, the ball has been one of Hollywood's annual Big Nights--those social cocktails that mix nervous tension, star power, industry turnout and self-interest into an event that stands out above the flood of forgettable fund-raisers inflicted upon donors. The ball has worked best when it's been a combination of high-class roast, industry frat party and career retrospective (even when the honoree was Eddie Murphy in 1986 when he'd only made a few films).

It wasn't that this year's gala honoring Mel Gibson was bad, it was just generic. Here was an honoree who's one of the world's biggest box office stars, someone many guests seemed to have a real affection for, and the feeling was that if the TelePrompTer broke, no one would have known what to say.

One key to saving the evening from boredom was the work of emcee Jay Leno. Whether in his quip after Michael Bolton sang an aria from "Pagliacci" ("Is there any thrill greater for an artist than performing for industry people who are eating?") or commenting on some of the more maudlin we-love-you-Mel speeches ("It's like, 'When did Mel pass away?' "), Leno kept the show animated.

Hollywood events like this are blessed with one sure-fire gimmick to enliven the evening-- the honoree's film clips. Gibson has done enough movies with shootings, explosions, head-butts, Shakespeare, axes in the skull and crashing trucks to keep an audience awake. But considering this is an organization dedicated to film history, the clips weren't presented in an especially imaginative manner.

Few of the people who have worked with Gibson were on hand. "It's a long trek from Malibu," was Leno's line. Jane Seymour, who has never been on-screen with Gibson, introduced the video messages from actresses who have co-starred with him.

Among those who were on hand to speak were Danny Glover, agent Ed Limato, James Coburn, James Garner, former honoree and award presenter Ron Howard, Piper Laurie, Cinematheque president Sigurjon Sighvatsson and board of directors co-chairmen Mike Medavoy and Peter Dekom, who were both extremely proud that the organization had an architectural model on display of its proposed remodeled home at Hollywood Boulevard's historic Egyptian Theater. They also raised almost $400,000 for on-going Cinematheque programs.

As is customary the last word came from Gibson. His was a very human and rambling speech in which he thanked the Cinematheque for the award, told why he chose an acting career (it looked like an easy job), recounted sage advice from his father ("When I was 14 or 15 and not exactly making the honors list at school he told me 'Everybody loves a clown, but nobody pays him.' He was wrong.") and he managed to do it quite well without the TelePrompTer.

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