Small Towns and the Oscars

Both are on my mind as I walk through the neighborhood on a weirdly warm, sunny day in February. Albany, Oregon is a great walking town and generally quite chilly and damp at this time of year. Icy, too. But today I followed one of my frequent routes, spied 3 scrub jays, 1 redtailed hawk, and a group of wild turkey moms with their chicks. These girls started early.

I passed through a neighborhood of ranch-style manors, built in the ’70’s on 1/4 acre lots barbered by paid gardeners. I imagined the interiors, (much larger than the 1400 square foot home our family of five had in Livermore, California). Sunken living rooms, large kitchens later remodeled into open living with islands, multiple small bedrooms, but best of all, 2 to 3 bathrooms! The garage was double or triple. Owners kept the garage doors closed over whatever stuff was stashed inside, and late model SUVs filled the driveways.

In one of the yards a turkey flock huddled under an incense cedar. The neighborhood seems to respect trees. To the south, the tiny river Calapooia curls its arm around the houses on its way to the Willamette. Cottonwoods, oaks, Doug fir and birches mark its path. I don’t see any political signs on the lawns, as if the dwellers made a pact not to talk politics. It’s hard to gauge this purple town; people living in the historical old quarter houses are planting organic community gardens and watching the impeachment trial-that-wasn’t, shaking their fists at Mitch McConnell. Folks from the valley, folks growing grass seed, hemp and blueberries park their pickups in the Costco parking lot and polish their MAGA stickers.

Inside the walls of this quiet settlement in southwestern Albany, I don’t know what kind of conversations go on. This Saturday morning I saw a groundskeeper in a cowboy hat pulling the empty trash can into the driveway while the homeowners stood there, phones to their ears. I waved at two tiny kids, still in their pajamas, sitting on the back of a couch to peer out the living room picture window. Better than TV, I thought.

There is an independent movie house down town called the Pix Theater. They show popular films a little past their sell-by date.Last week it was Little Women with 6 nominations This weekend it’s 1917, with 10.

I always look for the signs: Best Actor noms are always listed or talked about before Best Actress. How many female directors have been nominated (non this year). How many people of color? How many women of any color? I avoid the “Local Show” because of commercial overload and really bad jokes. Also I hate to see anybody lose. But I read about it, and I still see overload. It’s awfully white and male in more minor but equally important categories such as cinematography (vital!), original score and song, sound editing and mixing, original screenplay—oh wait, South Korean movie maker Bong Joon-Ho got a nod for Parasite. Any bets on whether he’ll win or not?

There has been a lot of chatter about the female director snub. The Oscars get way too much attention. Aren’t they a bit of a hold-over from the studio days? Even though Harvey Weinstein carried on the big studio casting couch tradition, female actors have earned a bit of a break from producer domination. Film quality and daring have leapt forward too, after the the studios died and auteurism took its place. Or kicked it out of its place, maybe.

To be female is to navigate two worlds—ones own idea of the feminine and the realm of men. I think if Albany in the same way, really. While the Monster Truck Jam is happening at the Linn County Fairgrounds, the 200 seat Pix Theater gives out free pop corn, sells pizza and holds special events like – wait for it – the 92nd Oscar night with formal wear and an Oscar pick contest. MAGA caps optional.

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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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Small Towns and the Oscars — 1 Comment

  1. I used to watch the pre-Oscar red carpet show for the gowns. Then they got too outrageous. Complaints. The next year the fashion show was simplicity. Now I live in jeans and don’t care. As for the awards? They have been bought before and probably are again. I don’t watch films until I can get closed captions on the TV usually 2-5 years later so they mean nothing to me. I’d rather knit or watch reruns of Cheers.