It’s been a long time since I watched an award show, but my husband was getting our son to bed last night, so I got to turn on the Golden Globes, which has long been my favorite awards show because it never seems to take itself too seriously, and just enough big stars always show up to make it fun.
I missed the beginning, so I missed some good Fey-Poehler moments, but thank-you universe, I got to see George Clooney canoodling Amy Poehler during the best actress in a comedy category moment.
And I got to watch all of Jodie Foster’s speech. Live.
And it made me cry. In a good way. Because it’s 2013, I said something on Facebook almost immediately, and then read a comment and HOLY CRAP–that speech was an instant controversy in a way something can be instant controversy only now, with all our immediate access and RESPOND RESPOND RESPOND modes. I’m glad I wasn’t looking at f.b. or Twitter when she was speaking, because the people complaining might have colored the speech for me.
It’s a pretty Rorschachy cultural moment, apparently. People who watched the same speech I did thought it was incoherent, fragmented, confusing, and inappropriate. On Twitter and Facebook, people have said she was drunk. On drugs. Unhinged. Or sad. Perhaps in need of professional help.
So far, the only article I’ve read that gets it right (from my perspective) is this one from Salon, “Jodie Foster Comes Out, Gritting Her Teeth,” and even there–I thought she was having more fun than that.
In an attempt to figure out why people are responding so differently, I’ve watched the speech several times and analyzed the transcript. Here’s what I think–it was the tone and the pace and the lack of transitions that made people holler “incoherent!” If you watch the speech again, knowing what’s coming, or look at the transcript, it doesn’t seem so wacky. Or even very disorganized or fragmented.
Some caveats for my analysis: I love Jodie Foster. She could pretty much do or say whatever and I would be fine.
Caveat #2: the speech did feel zoomy to me, sort of flight-of-fancy-paced, but HELLO. I like that kind of zooming, that kind of doesn’t-feel-structured-but-it-is feeling.
What did we expect her to do? I suppose we would have expected a brief “thank you, this town has been very good to me, etc.” speech. Something like her Oscar speech, when she won for The Accused in 1988, a 141-word snippet in which she also thanks her mother. She said, “There are very few things: there’s love and work and family. And this movie is so special to us because it was all three of those things. And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from.”
In contrast, last night’s speech was more than 1,100 words. Nearly ten times as long. Lots of time to do lots more.
And I do know from incoherence. I’ve been teaching first and second-year college students for 25 years now. There’s incoherence (no main point, supporting points that don’t match main point, supporting points that don’t connect to each other), and then there’s subtlety. I also teach creative writing, including creative nonfiction. There are ways to express ourselves that meander, that don’t add up to incoherence. I think Jodie Foster is more akin to Mary Paumier Jone’s “Meander” than a first-year disorganized essay, or a “bizarre” or “incoherent rant,” as many people are labeling the speech.
What she did, as I outline it, is the following:
- Start with an insider joke (“Well, for all of you ‘SNL’ fans, I’m 50! I’m 50!”)
- Thank the person who introduced her (“I want to thank you for everything: for your bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain, the sweet intro. I love you and Susan and I am so grateful that you continually talk me off the ledge when I go on and foam at the mouth and say, ‘I’m done with acting, I’m done with acting, I’m really done, I’m done, I’m done.’” MORE ON THIS LATER. IT IS KEY.)
- Comment on winning a Lifetime Achievement Award (““Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time….”)
- Announce that she is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat (“So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public.”)
- Thwart our expectations (“I’m single!”)
- Explain why she’s thwarting our expectations (After a weird moment without audio–I thought it was my TV, but the ABC transcript says “audio went out,” she picks up with “…be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age….”)
- Comment on culture in a joking way (“But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me….)
- Comment on culture in a serious way (““But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.” That BUT SERIOUSLY does count as a transition, btw.)
- Impart some wisdom (“There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first, love people and stay beside them.”)
- Thank people who have helped her (“That table over there, 222, way out in Idaho, Paris, Stockholm, that one, next to the bathroom with all the unfamous faces, the very same faces for all these years.”)
- Conclude (“I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”)
What’s so fragmented about that? Just because she didn’t say, “Next, I would like to comment on culture in a joking way.” Really? We needed that? “And finally I would like to conclude.”
I always tell students that transitions are for readers. They’re kind. They’re considerate. Jodie Foster wasn’t being so terribly kind and considerate, I suppose–maybe that’s why people actually seem offended by the PERCEIVED lack of coherence. We thought she was nice! We thought she loved us and wanted us along!
One reason I think this seemed incoherent is not because she was incoherent; I think it’s because she is so freaking smart. Who the hell tries to comment on culture and impart wisdom at the Golden Globes? Jode.
I don’t know that we’ll ever know if this was ad-libbed or totally planned or partly ad-libbed and partly planned or how sober she was. We just heard her thoughts on privacy, after all. But it stands up pretty well to analysis.
And it’s hilarious in some ways, even though people were mostly NOT laughing at the right places (not at the Golden Globes and judging from Twitter, not in a lot of homes). If we go with the notion that the biggest component of humor is surprise, we can see she was going for it again and again–starting with “I’m 50!” and tossing out the almost Schecky Green style of “my fellow actors out there, we’ve giggled through love scenes, we’ve punched and cried and spit and vomited and blown snot all over one another — and those are just the costars I liked.” (Someone should have done a rim-shot. Maybe if she’d slowed down and said, “bah dum bum” we’d have gotten it, but no, she was ZOOMING.)
Then she moved on “I’m single” and then with “I’m not Honey Boo Boo,” which, if she’d allowed us to linger, could have taken us to layers upon layers of serious hilarity. Jodie Foster, beautiful, in a shiny dress that matched her great blue eyes, fit, strong, brilliant, no she is not Honey Boo Boo. But wow. If she did have a reality show….But we didn’t get time to picture it and giggle to ourselves because she went zooming on to “I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air” (which he did laugh at–another reason to love him).
Then there’s all the deep irony of 1)coming out by thanking your longtime lover when HEY! You just told us you weren’t coming out! WAIT A MINUTE! and 2)sending a message to your mother who apparently has dementia and is close to death, which is a pretty goddam intimate thing to do when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY, 3)and also, there were your sons, which paparazzi are pretty crappy at grabbing snaps of, beautiful boys, right there at your table when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY….
[And this actually wasn’t the first time she “came out” in public. I’m looking for the link, but she thanked Cydney publicly at least once before and called her her wife–and if her being a lesbian were a secret at all, it was a pretty open secret. I know some people have been angry at her for years for not “coming out” in a big way, but obviously, she wanted to do it her way.]
Caveat #3: I love Robert Downey Jr’s performance in Home for the Holidays, and Foster’s commentary on the DVD of that movie makes it sound like he ad-libbed almost constantly, and that she loved it.
So maybe I wasn’t as startled at the pace and lack of transitions in the speech because Robert Downey Jr. introduced her. He set the tone, and he set the pace. He was ironic almost all the way through, and silly, and almost no one laughed, it seemed, when he praised her for her philanthropy and the Jodie Foster Aquatic Pavilion, which he followed up quickly with a picture of her face photo-shopped onto Bo Derek’s famous “10” shot, with the caption, “Let’s Get Wet!”
He didn’t pause to let any of his jokes sink in. He just plowed on through.
And when she thanked him, she specifically mentioned his “bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain,” and “the sweet intro.” You know what? The intro wasn’t sweet. It was, I trust, sweetly intended, since they’re friends, but it was mostly for her I think, an individualized, Robert Downey Jr.-ized chunk of what she would find funny.
She just picked up that baton and ran with it, and if we couldn’t keep up, well–we don’t get to hang out with them, do we? We’re not in their league.
Mel Gibson did look a little lost. I’d rather not be in his category of lost-ness.
But it says something, doesn’t it, that the two actors she chose to have at her table are not known for their clear-headedness and decorum? I take from this that she is loyal as the day is long and she has a fondness for the crazy. Both traits I happen to share.
I did feel dizzy at the end of her speech, no doubt, and the “I may never be on stage again” was a very weird moment, but we got a lot of Jodie Foster last night, more than I ever thought we’d get. Just looking at who was at her table–that was a lot, by itself.
She’s been in the public so publicly, so long, I’m not going to say “we got the real Jodie Foster!” There are layers upon layers upon layers there.
But in a room where she feels at home, where she can take whatever tone she wants and zoom however fast she wants, she ended with good news, “I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved,” and what I took to be the storyteller’s basic credo: “Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.”
She finished with “Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”
That’s why it matters, right, why it was bothering me for people to react to the speech so differently than I did? Because I was, very distantly, keeping her company. I’m 47. Beginning with her picture on the Coppertone bottle (and I could write a whole blog about Coppertone, the very name working as a transporter, and if I ever smell it–wow, I’m gone), she has been a part of my life.
She was never not there.
I wish her well and I loved, loved, loved that speech.
UPDATE: Here’s a story from 2007 when Jodie Foster thanked Cydney Bernard. She isn’t quoted as having said “wife,” so I’m either remembering a different story, or remembering this one wrong, but this is from five years ago.