|James Woods in Videodrome (1983)|
impersonates an average American viewer.
It’s the end of January, a time when we as a nation anesthetize ourselves in front of the television. The post-holiday season is invaded by pop culture stimulation that we welcome with open arms. Beginning with the Golden Globes and followed abruptly by American Idol and the Super Bowl, the end of January marks the beginning of an entertainment blitzkrieg, culminating in the most prestigious and competitive ceremony in the industry, The Academy Awards. This year marks the eighty-third annual event that the academy has distributed their awards, favorably called Oscars. The Oscars will be broadcast for the fifty-ninth time on Sunday, February 27, 2011.
The “academy” in The Academy Awards refers to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which was created in 1927 as a union between actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians. The initial concept was for these groups to come together and honor achievements of excellence in the filmmaking industry. Throughout the years the five factions broke off and founded their own separate guilds (SAG, DGA, WGA, PGA). This was in part due to competitiveness and suspected favoritism/corruption within the academy. Certain factions felt they were being misrepresented in Hollywood and set out for their own best interests. Although the guilds do bestow their own awards, the clout and prestige garnered by the academy is still insurmountable.
play for blood.
At the very first awards ceremony on May 16th, 1929 (honoring the 1927-28 production year) there were several categories honored that did not make it to the following years. These categories include artistic quality of production, comedy direction, title writing (for silent films – the only “talkie” was The Jazz Singer (1927), which received an Honorary Oscar out of competition), and engineering effects. There were also multiple nominations for individual actors and actresses, and two winners for best picture. The categories gradually became more defined, limiting the number of nominees per category and adapting to acknowledge new additions to the growing industry.
As the years went on and more films and their makers won awards the Oscars came to represent quality, which in turn reflected at the box office. A film featuring award-winning performers, directors, or producers became more of a draw because of the recognition and prestige tied to the Oscars. This made the event a lot more competitive, with studios launching campaigns for certain films and their eligible personnel. The focus was taken off of the honorary element of the awards and directed solely on the competitive aspect of winning. No longer objective, the awards grew more and more corrupt, governed by greed, politics, and favoritism.
In 1952 the awards were televised for the first time transforming into the grand spectacle we know them as today. The presentation itself now had to be as entertaining as the films being honored. What had started out as a low-key ceremony honoring talented individuals over a dinner and after party had escalated into a full-blown production. People at home would tune in to see their favorite stars out of character and view clips from their favorite movies of the past year. This was before the days of home video. Through this new form of presentation the award show again began to evolve, just as it had with the classification of categories, which continues to be on going. The Oscars became a variety program: part musical, part comedy, part suspense, and with the advances in video technology, part clip show, but all drama.
Despite the commercial appeal of the major awards, the Academy does still manage to promote a sense of accomplishment for lesser-known filmmakers. Categories that honor achievements in non-mainstream markets such as Foreign, Documentary (feature and short subject), and Live Action and Animated short subject films give these filmmakers the exposure and industry recognition to keep their careers moving forward. It is in this regard that the academy holds true to its original ideals. The competition is still dominant, but simply being nominated is enough of an award.
Through the coming weeks I will be profiling each of the major categories leading up to the Oscar broadcast on the 27th of February. Check back Wednesday for the first piece on the most recently added category: Best Animated Feature.