I’m somewhat reluctant to spend yet another post talking about the Oscars two days after the fact, but something about the In Memoriam segment has been sticking with me. And it isn’t Bette Midler showing up at the end to remind us Beaches happened.
No, it’s how much the segment affected me. On top of being pretty classy — at least until Midler strolled on stage — what struck me most was how many of the names I had some kind of connection with. Not so much the shocking, sudden passings like Philip Seymour Hoffman, but names like Ray Harryhausen and Peter O’Toole and Harold Ramis and Shirley Temple and Hal Needham and Tom Laughlin. Some were people who had a big influence on me growing up, some were just names I knew as a kid as part of Hollywood lore, but they were all names I knew and recognized, and it felt like this year’s tribute had a greater percentage of names I knew than ones I didn’t.
Which means we’re reaching a time when a lot of our cinematic heroes are going to start leaving us. As much as I don’t want to think about it, as much as modern advances in health care can keep artists active and vital well into old age, I’m coming to realize that eventually, we’re going to see Steve Spielberg and Martin Scorsese on one of these lists. That’s we’ll hear somber music over images of Clint Eastwood and Christopher Lee. And while new heroes inevitably come along, they never have the same impact as your first heroes. And it’s going to be awfully hard saying good-bye to them when the moment comes.
Along with this comes the resultant awareness of your own mortality. If someone you idolized when you were young has passed on, guess what? You’re probably not all that young anymore. Like your parents, the artists of our generation that we connected with feel like these immortal presences, reliable, always there. And while cinema does offer a form of immortality, it’s nice to have the living, breathing embodiment around. It’s a comfortable reminder of consistency, and a comfortable illusion of permanency.
Which, sadly, cannot last. I expect more reactions like this to the In Memoriam segment as the years go by. More heroes will pass, more somber music will play, more images will slowly fade on a screen. For those few minutes though, it’ll feel like they can live forever.