Rick’s Journal — MY FILM CAREER
And now there’s to be a new Oscar category! An award for non-achievement!!
I can’t open a desk drawer or reach for an attic shelf or look in a file without finding Oscar notes — jottings I have made over many years as I have planned the world’s definitive article about the Academy Award problem, not so much the frequent problem of the Academy’s choices as the perennial problem of what is now called the Oscar Show.
The problem comes with the fact there IS a show.
For many years the presentation of the annual awards was just that — a presentation. It took a lot of years for it to become a jumbled mess of song and dance hosted by someone who is hired to make fun of all the awards presented.
It is hard for me to believe now how breathlessly I used to await the Academy’s annual decisions. And it is still impossible to dismiss an award that went to Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day Lewis, twice to Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis and Luise Rainer and three times to Meryl Streep. The Academy appropriately presented Olivia de Havilland with a second statuette despite the fact that Susan Hayward had already announced who was coming to her victory party. (Susan Hayward! I ask you.)
Knowing now that I will never write that definitive article — given all the changes in award giving by the Academy and too many other groups, given the fact the Academy now wants to be more of a political and social force than an arts organization, I am going to throw at my readers my collection of shocking quotes as a way of easing my burden and moving on from my aborted article.
I seem especially to have tied myself in knots about all this in 2008, which seems to be the year from which many of my notes date.
I’ll begin with A.O. Scott of the New York Times: “…I am…bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and with the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”
The article on these matters that most infuriates me still is by Sean Smith and Benjamin Svetkey, “Biggest Night,” Entertainment Weekly, 3/7/08. The article is devoid of any grasp that awards are (or should be) for quality. The article is about making movies that will make people watch the Oscar show,
Well, what can you expect when an Academy president (Tom Sherak then) says that to get the public interested in the show you have to “make them feel invested, and that’s done by having movies they like up for awards.” The professional and aesthetic responsibility revealed here is staggering, is it not? Quality, anyone?
That statement is quoted in an article by David Mermelstein in the Wall Street Journal. Mermelstein also writes: “ABC, the show’s long-time broadcaster, depends on high numbers [ratings] to set pricey advertising rates. The greater the fees, the more the network pays to televise the ceremony. That’s important because over 90% of the Academy’s revenue is derived from this relationship…”
Getting back to that article by Smith and Svetkey, the only real historical perspective in the piece comes in a quote from Bruce Davis, Executive Director of the Academy: “We gave out Oscars before there was any television broadcast at all.” But before I can shout aloud to myself “Hear! Hear!” — the article immediately makes fun of this remark .
But does one laugh or cry about Bruce Davis who is quoted again: “… it’s not because we’re too dumb to know that people aren’t fascinated by who wins best production design.” They’ll never be fascinated with this kind of example being set by the Academy’s own E.D. They might become interested if the same scripted explanations of awards were not engaged in year after year along with stupid comments about the categories from stupid people like Goldie Hawn and Mike Meyers.
As to some historical perspective: “In the Academy’s third competition, there were no less than eight nominations for Best Actor, including two each for Ronald Colman, Maurice Chevalier and Geoege Arliss.” THEM WAS THE DAYS! (From The Films of the Twenties by Vermilye.)
For more perspective, look into the choices the New York Film Critics were making in the 30s, 40s and 50s and the choices the Golden Globes were making until they began aping Hollywood and bowing to misguided comments about their unusual nominations.
Smith and Svetkey do realize and comment on “a Fragmented media culture — with a glut of award shows and 24-hour entertainment coverage dimming the mystery of stardom.”
Much is habitually written about the show’s inordinate length with naive suggestions about shortening acceptance speeches. The problem of length is not in the acceptance speeches. Why shouldn’t people say thank for perhaps a singular moment in their lives. The problem is with presenter cut-ups, dumb jokes — and ridiculously long walks to the podium by people who have forgotten to wear shoes and gowns that can negotiate the walk.
Of course the main culprit as to the length of the show is what A.O. Scott calls “the overproduced, underwhelming renditions of the nominated songs.”
Scott also writes, “The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial. To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.” Ah Sir Laurence! Ah Lady Vivien! Olivia! Luise! the BD! Daniel DL!
But what to make of this?: “If, as expected, ‘Iron Man’ comes into the awards mix, that will be partly because Paramount recently moved a more conventional prospect, a drama called ‘The Soloist,’ into next year and out of contention. That film … had promised to complicate the studio’s life at a time when it saw awards potential form the currently very hot Mr. Downey in three pictures at once.” (Cieply & Barnes)
Cieply, Michael and Brooks Barnes, “Box Office Winners.” New York Times 10/28/08.
Mermelstein, David………..Wall Street Journal, 3/3/10. (I am unable to locate the title of Mermelstein’s interview with Tom Sherak, Academy president.)
Scott, A.O. “Are Oscars Worth All This Fuss?” New York Times, 2/24/08.
Smith, Sean and Benjamin Svetkey. “Why Does Hollywood’s Biggest Night Keep Getting Smaller?” Entertainment Weekly, 3/7/08.
Vermilye, Jerry, The Films of the Twenties. Secaucus, The Citadel Press, 1985.
And now the Academy is establishing a new category — for a movie that does not deserve to be nominated or awarded but WILL be because it has been popular. (Hasn’t it already received its award?)
NEXT FRIDAY POST August 31
See you at the movies,