June 19, 2013
We’d Like to Thank the Academy ... for What?
Posted on Feb 21, 2012
Fast-forward 83 years from that first awards ceremony. No longer an emergent form, movies today are “filmed entertainment,” in large part produced by the same corporate divisions that make television. Oscar is the senior citizen of awards season, the months formerly known as winter, when those guilds the academy was created to forestall—the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild—bestow statuettes that brighten many a Hollywood mantle.
Even 35 years ago, well before the mushrooming number of “kudos-fests,” as the Hollywood trade publication Variety dubbed the awards events, Alvy Singer in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” thus exclaimed of Hollywood’s prize frenzy: “Awards! All they do is give out awards! Greatest Fascist dictator: Adolf Hitler!”
In the years since “Annie Hall” received an Oscar for best picture, the Academy Awards increasingly have assumed the dual character of a political campaign and a beauty pageant. Producers effectively have engineered Oscar-winning movies and performances, spending so much money in the process that there have been cries for Oscar-campaign reform. Advertisers, hungry to sell products to a mass audience in a niche-marketed universe, have turned the event into a sponsored subsidiary of the beauty industry. Fashion titans use Oscar night as an opportunity to dress up the stars as human billboards for their designs.
At the 2010 Academy Awards, Jeff Bridges accepted his long-overdue statuette for the low-budget film “Crazy Heart” by observing that more time and money had been spent on the film’s Oscar campaign than on the indie film itself. (A statuette boosts long-term revenues for a film and raises its recipient’s asking price and negotiating leverage.)
As for the question of whether the Oscars have outlived their relevance, ask it another way: Would the film industry and movie-going public be better off without Hollywood’s annual pageant of self-congratulation? Is a film society that failed to honor Fred Astaire, Dorothy Dandridge, Cary Grant, Sessue Hayakawa, Alfred Hitchcock, the Nicholas Brothers, Barbara Stanwyck and Mae West relevant? Imagine Hollywood without the academy and the value of the organization becomes plain.
For despite its country-club demographics and the cynicism behind its creation, the fact is that without the Academy, what incentive would Hollywood have to make anything other than “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Transformers”?
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