‘It wasn’t my finest hour,” Bill Clinton said after giving a rambling nomination speech for Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic convention. “It wasn’t even my finest hour and a half.” For that brilliant two-liner, Clinton can be forgiven a lot. And its message remains true to this day. The only thing that matters when making a speech is this: keep it short. The speech doesn’t have to be funny, or profound, or poetic, or fresh, or informative [Get on with it. Ed] as long as it is short. Sadly, this brevity rule is often overlooked. Tonight we will see the usual waffly speeches at the Oscars, despite there being a time limit: agents will be thanked, fans will be thanked, parents will be thanked because “without them I wouldn’t be standing here before you today”. (Well, durr!)
Only one Hollywood legend seems to have got it right. Woody Allen. When he won an Oscar he said simply: “Thank you very much. That makes up for the strip-search.” But now there is hope. A precedent has been set, by James Corden of all people. As he showed when he interrupted Adele at the Brit Awards, all you have to do is wait until they say: “Fank you. Fank you so much. Nuffink makes me prouder, yeah, than…” then you jump in with: “I’m so so sorry, I’m going to have to cut you off.” Corden was clearly doing Adele, and the English language, a favour, yeah. After all, we would much rather associate her with her pleasing singing voice, wouldn’t we? The question is: have we left it too late to fly Corden out to Hollywood to do the honours tonight?
Meryl Streep: “Thank you, thank you so much. Nothing makes me prouder than…” Corden: “I’m so so sorry, I’m going to have to cut you off.”
He would be saving them from themselves, because the whole point about Hollywood actors is that they seem cooler and pithier than the rest of us because they are given polished lines to deliver by cool and pithy scriptwriters. As soon as they open their mouths “as themselves” this illusion is shattered and we see them for the halting, sentimental, witless, emotionally incontinent people they really are.
Why stop there? James Corden should be invited to sit up in the Strangers’ Gallery in the Commons with a loud hailer, and when an MP fails to come to the point he should interject with an “I’m so so sorry, I’m going to have to cut you off.” He would be doing them a favour too, because the less politicians say, the more they say. We fill in the gaps.
There was one actor who truly understood this gap-filling principle. Steve McQueen had it written into his contract that he was allowed to delete as many of his own lines as he saw fit. This might have been because he was lazy and couldn’t be bothered to learn them, but he always claimed it was because fewer meant more. He said his job, indeed, was to “emote without words”.
More insecure actors would have done the opposite, demanding more lines, fearing that if they didn’t have them they would not be on screen. But McQueen was smarter than that, because he also had it written in to his contract that he had to be on screen for a high percentage of any given film he appeared in, and that in his scenes he had to have a close up every 17 seconds. Abraham Lincoln understood the McQueen-Corden principle. Why is the the Gettysburg Address the greatest political speech ever made? It’s partly to do with it being just 10 sentences long. (see original)