After a more than a four month awards season, the Academy Awards is universally considered the be all and end all of other such lesser movie recognitions. But, there is more involved beneath Oscar’s annual “super phoney-Coney Hollywood” glitz ‘n glam than meets the eye.
A few hours prior to the start of the show, union members hold signs and wave banners on behalf of low paid security guards, special effects artists, and screenwriters. Just a quick two-minute walk from the red-carpeted forefront of the state-of-the-art Dolby Theater site of the March 2nd Academy Awards, the disgruntled rank and file march adjacent to the very same Hotel Roosevelt that served as home for the first Oscars presentation. Way back when on May 16, 1929, at ten bucks each the Hollywood elite attended a banquet dinner-dance. At the end of this social event, it required no more than a mere fifteen minutes to distribute a half-dozen newly designed trophies as the assembled two hundred invited guests made their hasty ways home. As the first Best Actress Oscar winner modestly demurred, “Just a small get together for a pat on the back . . . .” Devised with the pretext “to raise the cultural, educational, and scientific standards” of film, this subdued gathering was in truth about union busting. Fearful of sharing more of their ever increasing wealth, powerful studio heads and producers decide to appease overworked and underpaid film underlings by way of bestowing annual awards. Almost nine decades later, the razzmatazz press coverage of the 86th Academy Awards ironically overshadows the very same type of union protest they were created to subvert.
The world-renowned 13.5″/8.5 lbs. of common metals beneath a buffed and polished thin plating of 24-karat gold had anything but a pedigreed birth. A studio art director used a well built wanna be extra as the tablecloth-sketched model for the full-length figure of a nude man gripping a downturned sword atop a film reel. Aside from the quick concept and execution of these award and their instant public popularity, they only briefly forestalled the inevitability of directors, producers, actors, and others following in the footsteps of the 1921’s Screen Writers Guild.
If Oscar failed his original purpose, he flourished as an increasingly lucrative infomercial-like means for film advertising and public relations. As Academy-nominated and award-winning movies increased ticket sales, Oscar lived on with evermore hoopla and clout.
Such is the most recent example only two Sundays ago. After a week of atypical storm clouds and torrential rain in the LA, CA area, powers-that-be panicked about well-turned out stars traipsing a saturated red carpet. As the rain finally stopped and sun mercifully appeared, a horde of minimum wage Black and Hispanic carpet cleaners were called in from near and far to suck up what amounted to sixty gallons of rainwater. Paparatzi as usual snapped away as meticulously styled stars emerged from limos to walk the newly dried runway. Nary a drop of water wet hems of the ubiquitous designer tuxedos, $50,000 gowns, much less $500,000 watch or $15,000,000 necklace accessories. Academy-selected bleacher creatures, fenced out fans, and those watching from 200 around the world countries were kept ignorant of menial work so as not to spoil the fantasy which they so willingly had been indoctrinated through the years to expect.
Finally inside the 3,400 seat Dolby, recognized stars and their less recognizable bosses schmooze and air-kiss their way to assigned golden circle seats. Doing their best not to trip over trains and not so well-attached beaded and sequined embellishments, dazed seat fillers scurry silently between main floor and balconies in order to pinch hit for those among the rich and famous needing potty breaks via lobby restrooms or intoxicating beverages from discreetly located cash bars. Upon the loud-speakered God-like pronouncement “enthusiastic applause,” hands vigorously clap. Ill at ease, nervous tension gives way to “show must go on” tradition. Guiding everyone through the night of let’s-pat-one- another on the back adulation is the always affably witty host, butch-tuxed Ellen DeGeneres. Lacksidaisically eliciting begrudged laughter from the jaded audience of entertainment elites by way of photo bomb and ordered pizza, Ellen plays right into the predominantly female, gay, and foreign at home audience tuned in to see their favorite stars acting cool rather than pretentious. Ain’t nothin’ better fur the rabbled but star struck masses like $70,000,000 per picture salaried American sweetheart Sandy Bullock gussying up from 10:00 AM—2:00 PM in all her America’s sweetheart finery only to scoff down on camera slices of pizza as high roller producer/promoter Harve Weinstein coughing up $200 in chump chain for the tip. Gung ho speeches from young A List Oscar recipients dare to condemn the injustices suffered by the poor downtrodden real life and fictional Blacks, gays, and women they have so winningly portrayed on past year’s silver screens and dvd’s. If self-aggrandizement appears more apparent than noble cause, mercifully they are disallowed going on endlessly about their inauthentic selves. The once youthfully popular though now befuddled elder (current Nebraska Best Actor nominee) Bruce Dern along with has beens Harrison (Star Wars) Ford, Liza (Cabaret) Minnelli, and Kim (Vertigo) Novak are at best pushed aside as much as possible or at worst offered up for the kill. Brave enough to come out again after long industry-imposed exiles from the Oscar spectacle, such golden oldies are mortifyingly mocked and ridiculed as addle-brained, slurring, unattractive, frozen freaks of former fame. If not quite the likes of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, or Billy Crystal, safe and sound Ellen manages to at least hold together the seldom thrilling, often tedious and overlong three and one-half hour ho-hum proceedings. Followed by the private AMPAS-sponsored Governor’s Ball along with renowned Master Chef Wolfgang Puck-ed one-bite black truffles, taro root tacos, crispy lobster-shrimp small-plate pizza, carrot orange gazpacho, funky chocolate popcorn all washed down with vintage champagne, whereby celebrities manage second wind enough for a get down round of uber-exclusive Vanity Fair, Elton John, Madonna parties through sunrise the next morning. As Hollywood revelers finally call quits to their Oscar Sunday reverie, groggy film fans awake Monday moanin’ to ready for work.
Albeit a good time for celebration, Oscar ceremonies come with less of a guarantee of a successful and lucrative future for individual winners than the whole of the Academy. Since NBC paid $100,000 to first telecast the less than two hour Oscar show on March 19, 1953, to a whopping 55,000,000 viewers, the show now costs Disney-owned ABC $75,000,000. Coming by way of other Oscar-relited tie-in revenues, another $25,000,000 is made for the Academy. Less the $40,000,000 cost of the 2014 show, the likely profit amounts to $60,000,000. Added to their already sizeable coffers, the Academy is enabled to run and maintain their four separate Beverly Hills/LA/NYC building sites for archival/library research, film restoration/preservation, education/scholarships, film exhibitions, international outreach, and come 2017 a Museum celebrating film history and Oscar lore. At least for the time a little before the oft touted “honor itself in just being nominated” through a little after the baited breath announcement of winners, the 2,930 Oscars thus far awarded at least temporarily increase the prestige and thereby offers for good work and high pay. But more often than members would like to recall, those once so in the good graces of the Academy can later find themselves out on the picket line.
The first Black and third female AMPAS President, other Officers, the first female CEO, four-dozen experienced Governors, and three hundred strong staff aside, Oscar needs as much help as he can get. This is no more apparent than during what became controversially contentious awards season for such truly amazing movies and in front and behind camera talent. Regardless of this rated as the most watched Academy Awards in the past decade, hash#ed bad mouth messages and media reviews indicate forever more room for improvement. With credence to Best Actress of the year Cate Blanchet’s wise acceptance speech mention of the Oscar as a “random and speculative award,” it all the more behooves the Academy to make notice of the honored as well as the underpaid.
Long story short, what goes around—even in LaLaLand!
—W.W. Spencer, New Smyrna Beach-side, FL (inveterate movie maven and irreverent friend of Oscar)