GOOD DEATH OF A BAD IDEA

OSCAR BIZARROS

Rick’s Flicks did not post much comment about the proposed new Academy Award category because other writers were doing such a good job of analysis, ridicule and booing.  With the question now moot with the Academy’s temporary shelving of the proposal, it still seems worthwhile to celebrate a couple of the dissents:

For example:  “The Academy’s latest popularity contest seems to be a final admission that it has given up on believing that entertaining us can be an art.”  (“Oscars for Dummies” by Stephanie Zacharek, Time,  8/8/18.)

For example:  “…stupid, insulting and pathetically desperate.”  (Manola Darghis, New York Times,  quoted by Brooks Barnes in “Oscars To Add Blockbuster Category,” 8/9/18).

Rick’s Flicks:  Why HASN’T Daniell Steele won the Nobel Prize?  Consider her popularity and  —  I mean  —  look at her sales.”

_____________________________________________

Brooks Barnes’ piece, quoted above, ranges from neutral to ambiguous.  “Reasons for the Oscars’ decline abound  —  the general fragmentation of the media landscape is one   —  but the central complaints have been about the marathon’s length and increasing tendency to honor niche films that American moviegoers have not seen.  [American moviegoers have not seen most films.  I know people who watch the show to see who’s wearing what.]  Last year’s best picture winner, ‘The Shape  of Water.’ had sold [only!] about $60 million in tickets…”  So, should it nto have been made, in the interest of the show?  “‘Black Panther,’ by comparison, took in $202 million over its first three days in North American theaters alone.”

But Barnes offers sobering, realistic thoughts and facts:  “The Oscar telecast is a big business, generating 83 percent of the Academy’s $148 million in annual revenue.  ABC controls broadcast rights for the show until 2028 at a cost of roughly $75 million a year.  ABC was seeking as much as $2.8 million per 30-second commercial for the most recent telecast.”

__________________________________________________________________

O S C A R ‘ S  P A S T

Laurence Olivier, Nine-time Academy Award nominee

NEXT Friday POST October 26

Until then.
See you — AT THE MOVIES,
Rick

OSCAR BIZARROS — THE SHOW’S THE THING

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.

Two-time

_____________________________

Academy Award

 

Winners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

ODDS AND ENDS, SEGMENTS AND SPLICES

AWARDS

The insanity of awards season is upon us.  The New York Film Critics Circle has announced its awards for 2017.  The once prestigious body which often made more thoughtful, meaningful choices than the Academy  —   Charles Chaplin did win; so did Great Garbo, twice  —  has announced that this year’s best picture is neither the best directed nor the best written.  And the best directed film is not the year’s best.  Neither is the best written.  And so it goes.  This body of voters is comprised of four of the country’s most discriminating and knowledgeable critics.  Is a puzzlement.

MORE REFLECTIONS ON THE SEASON OF AWARDS

“The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial.  To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.”  (A.O. Scott in “Are Oscars Worth All This Fuss?” from the New York Times, 2/24/08).

Coupled with this from his same article:  “…I am…bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”

But my favorite passage in Scott’s article comes with his discussion of what is now called The Oscar Show.  He comments on “the overproduced underwhelming renditions of the nominated songs.”  Hear!  Hear!

REMINDER for my readers in Akron or Cleveland or nearby:  The Cleveland Cinematheque is showing The Earrings of Madame de… this Saturday and Sunday.  (See Rick’s Flicks for December 22.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST JANUARY 19

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

A HIGH-POWERED HOWARD

Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest (courtesy Verduno)

Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest

Howard in his prime (courtesy Verduno)

Howard in his prime (courtesy Di Verduno)

Leslie Howard in his Hollywood heyday

Leslie Howard in his Hollywood heyday (courtesy Di Verduno)

During his fabulous decade in Hollywood Leslie Howard received two Academy Award nominations.  His first was for the leading role in Berkeley Square, the part he made his own on stage and screen.  The second nomination came in 1938, the year before he would appear as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind  —  a nomination for his performance as Henry Higgins in the British film Pygmalion,a role for which he was eminently suitable and one which he played to the hilt.  As excellent as Wendy Hiller and everyone else are,  Pygmalion is Howard’s picture  —  as Of Human Bondage is his despite the fact that these days it tends to be discussed only in reference to Bette Davis.

Viewing Pygmalion for the first time in several years, I am aghast at how slow a start it takes, and how belabored some of the Shavian wit occasionally sounds.  This is a play, and no amount of opening up, no amount of montage-ing by the writing and direction and editing can disguise that this is a play, though contemporary (and some present-day) reviews seem so untroubled by this that I suspect I may owe the film yet another look.

But once these fine actors go to work, everything picks up, and the camera persistently catches an array of subtleties in the Howard face.  Most amazing of all, for a 1938 British film, is the richness of sexual dynamism In Howard’s portrayal.  As he begins to respond to Wendy Hiller’s growing interest and flirtatiousness, his eyes give us surprising erotic messages for a film of this vintage.

And speaking of its vintage:  Pygmalion was released the year before Clark Gable made a legendary exit in Gone with the Wind.  In Pygmalion Leslie Howard says damn four times.

In addition to his damns, Howard offers us another of his instances of seeming born to play the part.  He handles the Shavian lines like the professional he is, the Englishman he is  —  and solid actor and shining star.

Pygmalion
Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard
1938

Rick’s Flicks is grateful to Ginevra Di Verduno for permission to use photographs featured on her blog.  If you are not familiar with her INAFFERRABILE LESLIE HOWARD, you have a treat ahead of you. The blog is picture-filled with a wide range of portraits, on- and off-screen; it features history and interviews and memoirs; and embraces the latest in Howard scholarship.

https://inafferrabileleslie.wordpress.com

NEXT FRIDAY POST February 24

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

AWARD BIZARROS

The National Board of Review has announced its award winners for 2015.  The best written, best directed film with the best performance by an actor is The Martian, and the best film is Mad Max.  Interesting.  But then, the National Board of Review is always interesting.  Actually, they are.  And one must admire their going always their own way as the Golden Globes used to do before succumbing  —  to what?  I still admire the National Board for presenting its best actor award to William Hurt AND Raul Julia for Kiss of the Spider Woman.  We need more getting away from the idea of a single award for a single performance among all the year’s great work.  The Golden Globes make an effort but only by pretending that certain films are comedies.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

The awards madness has begun, and award givers continue to let journalists and talking heads influence their decisions, which decisions the journalists and talking heads will then decry.  While it is hard to take seriously a journalist whom the once-staid New York Times allows to use most to mean almost, the article in the 12/15/15 paper at least is not by the cynical Michael Cieply and did teach me that the typical budget for a best picture campaign  —  yes, you read that correctly, campaign  —  is one million dollars.  (“The Oscar Race Begins…” by Cara Buckley, 12/3/15.)

It does become increasingly difficult to take the Academy Awards seriously.  I have to keep reminding myself that the award did honor Vivien Leigh twice, even being ahead of its time in recognizing AT THE TIME what would prove to be the timelessness of the Streetcar performance.  (There seems some present confusion about their decision, however,  since clips from the film on the Oscar show never show HER but only feature non-winner Marlon Brando.)  In the past the Academy twice honored Olivia de Havilland as well for two remarkable performances  —  and Luise Rainer whose talents and two Oscars it is fashionable to denigrate today.  Some Academy voters had the guts to vote for Hamlet as the best picture of 1948.  They also recognized Maggie Smith in her Prime and the sets in Hugo and the editing of Body and Soul.  I wander.  There HAVE been good decisions.  I can’t dismiss the award though I reserve the right to despise the annual show.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

DOCUMENTARY SHORT LIST

The Academy has released a short list of 15 films being considered for the feature documentary award.  The list includes The Hunting Ground, Going Clear, and Where to Invade Next.  The final five will be announced January 14.  (My information from the New York Times 12/3/15.)

*         *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

MATT DAMON?  REALLY?

Matt Damon, among the best and brightest of current stars, has joined the ranks of those saying dumb things about Academy Awards.  Speaking at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Damon apparently described himself as “shocked” to discover that Ridley Scott had never won an Oscar as best director.  How could he need to discover that?  I’ve always known it.  Perhaps it only means that the Oscars are not that important to him.  I can respect and admire that while being shocked myself that Damon has not been nominated for such outstanding portrayals as those in The Rainmaker, Mr. Ripley, Bagger Vance, Contagion, The Informant and Pretty Horses.  No one admires Matt Damon more than this critic, but his comments disturb me since they suggest that artists should receive the annual Oscar for overall career work.  Isn’t That what the honorary ones are for?  (See Rick’s Flicks, 4/1/12, “The Myth of Cary Grant’s Oscar.”)

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

SOMETHING BESIDES AWARDS

If you are in Astoria, New York or can get there, you will not want to miss the Museum of the Moving Image, especially its exhibit “Walkers:  Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact,” (through April 10).  You will also find it time well spent to run down Kristin M. Jones’ beautifully written article about the exhibit’s juxtaposition of posters, stills and clips from Hollywood’s past with works of art influenced by filmmakers and their films, especially, apparently, Hitchcock and Ford.  (Wall Street Journal, 11/18/15.)

NEXT Friday POST JANUARY 15

Until then,
See you AT the movies,
Rick

ACADEMY AWARDS – a scattering of quotes

A few quotations over the last few years from the prominent and the not so prominent:

A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times in 2008:

“…I am…bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”  (2/24/08)

Scott wrote in the same article:  “The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial.  To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.”   This reminds me of the psychiatrist who after a “Good morning!” from a fellow psychiatrist, asked himself:  I wonder what he meant by that.  I wish Scott had written more about what he meant.

“the way we make, market and see movies in this country”:  Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes in the NYT later that same year:  “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 for the currently hot Mr. Downey in three pictures at once.”  (“Box Office Winners,” NYT 10/28/08)

Two years later, Tom Sherak, then president of the Academy, was quoted by interviewer David Mermelstein in the Wall Street Journal about interesting the public in the awards presentation:  “…make them feel invested and that’s done by having movies they like up for awards.”  Mermelstein:  “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.”   (3/3/10)  AH!  “the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”

Back to 2008:  Sean Smith and Benjamin Svetkey wrote an article for Entertainment Weekly called “Why Does Hollywood’s Biggest Night Keep Getting Smaller?”  There’s very little historical perspective in this piece by youngsters unfamiliar with the world before T.V.; but they offer a couple of fascinating quotations from E.W. Davis, then  Executive Director of the Academy.  “…it’s not because we’re too dumb to know that people aren’t fascinated by who wins best production design.”  Well, they won’t become fascinated if that’s how the Executive Director feels; and they could become more interested in technical awards if the same dumb, shallow explanations of categories were not engaged  every year with stupid comments from silly gigglers like Goldie Hawn and arrogant clowns like Mike Myers.  This year one of the two awards I was most interested in was the award for production design which I so wanted to go to Budapest Hotel.”  In 2011 it was the single category in which I was most interested, in favor of Hugo.

But the strange Mr. Davis did make a good point:  “We gave out Oscars before there was any television broadcast at all.”  (Hear!  Hear!)  But the article next immediately made fun of that remark.  And Smith and Svetkey made an admirable observation themselves about “a fragmented media culture  —  with a glut of award shows and 24-hour entertainment coverage dimming the mystery of stardom…” (EW 3/7/08)

And continuing with Academy Award history, from Jerry Vermilye’s The Films of the Twenties:  “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 Geroge Arliss.”  (Secaucus, Citadel Press, 1985)  THEM WAS THE DAYS.

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 3
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

MORE LEVIATHAN, PLUS 40s DISNEY

MORE ON THE RUSSIAN FILM LEVIATHAN

Please see last week’s blog (3/13/15) for an earlier description of the film.

The local priest is another interesting character in Leviathan.  He is portrayed as siding with the community’s power structure, perhaps even being part of it.  He offers sympathetic counsel to the grasping, drunken mayor but gives the desperate, honestly self-questioning Kolya bromides and judgmental preachments.  Interestingly he quotes the scriptural leviathan but likens him, if the subtitles are correct, to God (instead of the traditional enemy that God defeats).  Most reviews I have seen are more interested in Thomas Hobbes’ leviathan (Leviathan) than the Bible’s.

Lindsey Bahr, reviewing Leviathan for the Associated Press and describing Kolya’s struggle to save his property from developers, says many things better than I could.  Here are two:

“Kolya, a hot-tempered, passionate sort, calls in his cool, suave friend…a buttoned-up Moscow lawyer, for help in court.  Despite a front of masculine aloofness, Kolya wears every worry on his face and in every jug of vodka he consumes.  His entire being is wrapped up in the house, a physical representation of his heritage, and a symbol of his personhood, and it’s all in jeopardy.”

AND:

“Alas, their appeal is rejected by a humorless bureaucrat who reads what might as well be this man’s execution sentence with monotone, robotic speed.”

Reprinted in the Akron Beacon
Journal 2/26/15

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

DISNEY IN THE LATE 40s

My  out-of-town film festival program a couple of years ago promised that the annual Saturday morning potpourri of animation would include a feature mixing animation and live action.  Since the announcement further described the surprise film as one not having been publicly shown in a long while, I guessed to myself what I was about to see.  When the Song of the South title hit the screen I burst into applause, joined by only two others in an audience of more than a hundred.  The couple on my left stared at me as if wondering should they change their seats.

The Akron Beacon Journal‘s outstanding television/film reporter/critic, Rich Heldenfels writes a weekly mailbag column in which he responds to requests for information.  A recent query concerned the Disney 1946 feature Song of the SouthHeldenfels responded with information about the Disney group’s keeping the film unavailable for fear of reaction to what is seen as racist content.

Having seen Song of the South not all that long ago at that Midwest film festival mentioned above, I am convinced that the perception of the film and the company’s fears are groundless.  (Easy for me to pontificate:  I have nothing at stake.)  And it might be more accurate to say that the perception is wrong  but that the fears of reaction might be realistic.  I consider myself highly sensitive to racism in every form and, with a lifetime of moviegoing experience under my belt, especially sensitive to it on screen.  At this same film festival over the years I have been chagrined to find that many in the audience are quite comfortable laughing at the typical stereotypes and racial jokes in the typical Hollywood productions of the 20s, 30s and early 40s.  I confess to having once hissed a cartoon there.  But I write of my own sensitivity with fear and trembling, aware that I have never experienced for one moment the hurts and injustices that the average African- American must daily encounter.

Having declared my caveats, I feel prepared to assert that I found nothing offensive in Song of the South.  Uncle Remus is a slave, and he is obsequious in the manner of a slave toward his owners.  His speech is that of many African-Americans to this day.  But the boy Johnny’s devotion to him and his love for him are the emotional center of the story.  The audience identifies with Uncle Remus and his delightful tales (recently selected and rewritten for modern readers by towering African-American author Julius Lester).  As Johnny, Bobby Driscoll, an uneven, unreliable talent, is good here.  His performance works.  James Baskett as Uncle Remus received a special Academy Award for his portrayal.  Hattie McDaniel as Aunt Tempy is strangely subdued.  (Was she already ill?)

What shines through all the film is the strange historical, sociological fact that for Southerners more than Unionists, blacks were people, individual human beings.

When you are part of an audience you can sense its overall reaction, its general leaning, its siding this way or that.  At my film festival, the same audience that I was certain was so moved by the gentle Uncle Remus and were pulling for him, laughed at an ugly racist joke in the very next film.

Also in the cast are Ruth Warwick, Luana Patton and the great Lucile Watson.  The photographer was Gregg Toland.  The Academy Award-winning song, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah was written by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert.  James Baskett’s Oscar citation read:  “To James Baskett for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus friend and storyteller to the children of the world in Walt Disney’s Song of the South.”

Song of the South
Harve Foster (live action)
Wilfred Jackson (animation)
1946

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

FOR NORTHEAST OHIO

If you are a reader of blogs devoted to film, you will be aware that the Cleveland International Film Festival is underway.  Check out John Ewing’s current Cleveland Cinematheque calendar in which he describes how he uses the festival’s excellent but unwieldy schedule and calendar.  I found it to be personally helpful advice.

Be sure to check out also websites and Rich Heldenfels’ Akron Beacon Journal articles for opportunities to catch festival films at other, closer venues:  The Nightlight, the Akron-Summit County Public Library and the Akron Art Museum.

NEXT FRIDAY POST March 27
Until then,
See you at the movies, including at Akron and Cleveland,
Rick