When YouTube Trumps Hollywood

Forget about the Oscar tribute fuss – check out this girl’s bittersweet YouTube salute to her late mother

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 1:24 AM EDT
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Sarah Phillips video is a sign of how the Internet can connect strangers on a personal, emotional level that eludes Hollywood.

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Much of the usual post-Oscar fuss has centered on the annual tributes to fallen entertainment figures, which were notable this year for the separate John Hughes salute and for the inexplicable exclusion of Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur.

The strong reaction to the yearly Oscar ceremony pastiche of faces that were part of our lives in some minor, but meaningful way, shows that mass media and pop culture, while in transformation, remain a force.

While tens of millions watched the awards, a growing crowd is taking to YouTube to view a daughter's heart-rending homage to her 48-year-old British mom, who was never a celebrity in life, but whose loss we can all somehow feel.

A tribute to Debbie Phillips – set a recording of “Autumn” her 16-year-old daughter sang into her a cell phone after sharing a final “I love you” with her cancer-stricken mother – is on its way to become a modest YouTube hit, notching more than 237,000 hits in just over a week.

Sarah Phillips’ tribute to her mother is no sneezing baby panda or zonked boy babbling after dental surgery, in either tone or, so far, reach. But the bittersweet Phillips video is a sign of how the Internet can connect strangers on a personal, emotional level that eludes Hollywood.

There aren’t any clips from classic movies set to James Taylor singing the Beatles' “In My Life,”  as in Sunday's Oscar "in memoriam" segment – just excerpts from family vacation videos with Sarah’s poignant rendition of Scottish singer Paulo Nutini's song providing a haunting soundtrack.

“I was always very close to my mother and we have always been a close-knit family. I have wonderful memories of us all together," Sarah Phillips told the Telegraph of London.

The three-minute, 15-second video post includes a link to the recently set up Debbie Phillips Cervical Cancer Research Fund at University College London.

Debbie Phillips, a mother of three and a lawyer, won't be featured in next year's Oscar broadcast. But she won't be forgotten, not by her family and not by anyone who has seen the video.

In some small way, thanks to YouTube and a daughter's love, we all know Debbie Phillips.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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