25 March, 2001
Danny DeVito sat back in his seat, pulled a carrot from his pocket and crunched it. Hell, this was the 73rd Academy Awards ceremony and he was enjoying himself. Why not? He’d produced Erin Brockovich, which had been nominated for five awards. So he sat back, munched some more and watched Bob Dylan on the big screen.
Dylan had been linked to the movie industry forever. Or so it seemed. Back in 1967 he’d been holding up those cue cards, creating an iconic opening to DA Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. After which, many films had featured a song he’d either penned or performed. He’d gone thespian, too. In 1973 director Sam Peckinpah, who claimed he had never heard of Dylan, hauled him in to score Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid and became so intrigued by his songwriting that he cast him in the role of Alias. By 2001 Dylan could lay claim to a grand cache of Grammys and other awards. But Hollywood continued to ignore him when it came to handing out prizes.
“Who knows more about being a Wonder Boy, about the expectations and fear of repeating yourself?”
Director Curtis Hanson
Enter Curtis Hanson, director of such films as The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and L.A. Confidential, and a fan who had greatly admired Dylan’s musical backdrop to the aforesaid Pat Garrett. He was working on a Michael Douglas vehicle, Wonder Boys, and asked Dylan to contribute some songs because, “Who knows more about being a Wonder Boy and the trap it can be, about the expectations and fear of repeating yourself?”
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Not that the musical surround was left in the hands of Dylan alone. Hanson also employed songs by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Van Morrison and others. But it was Dylan at the helm, contributing Buckets Of Rain, Not Dark Yet, Shooting Star and Things Have Changed, the last-named a new song containing the line, “I’m in the wrong town – I should be in Hollywood.” There was also the cinematic phrase, “Don’t get up, gentlemen, I’m only passing through,” stemming from Blanche DuBois’ final line in the film of Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Name Desire, Blanche being the role that won Vivien Leigh an Oscar in 1952. They might have recalled that Leigh hadn’t been around to pick up her award on the big night.
Come Sunday March 25, 2001, the crowds assembled outside Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium for the 73rd Academy Awards. It was to be the final fling at the Shrine before moving on to a new home at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre.
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The Best Song category was an open race that year. Nobody was laying bets on the eventual winner as Dylan competed against songwriters such as Coco Lee, Sting, Randy Newman and Björk, who turned up to the ceremony clad in what seemed to be a wraparound swan and acted so strangely that Joan Rivers remarked, “This girl should be put in an asylum.”
Dylan was the last of the five to perform, with Things Have Changed beamed by satellite live from the Channel 7 TV studio in Sydney, Australia, where he was backed by guitarist Charlie Sexton, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper.
Moments later, presenter Jennifer Lopez announced that Dylan had won the award. Bob, seemingly fazed by his success, muttered, “This is amazing,“ before confiding, “Curtis Hanson just kept at it. He said this song was right and just encouraged me to do it so much, telling me it was the right song. I’m so glad I did.”
The litany of thank-yous included one for the members of the Academy, who were singled out for “being bold enough to give me this award for a song that doesn’t pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature.”
Then there was a farewell with, “God bless you all with peace, tranquillity and good will,” before Steve Martin resumed normal service with the quip, “It was great seeing Bob Dylan live from Australia, which has an 18-hour time difference, which, to Bob, is normal.”
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Then Martin walked into the audience and made his way to Danny DeVito’s table to deliver some savoury dip to go with the carrots.
Dylan and his band reputedly laughed when they replayed the videotape of the show later. And Bob made a mental note to add his Oscar to the cast of the Never Ending Tour. The statuette would duly find its pride of place on-stage, perched on top of an amplifier.