Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Oscars

Margaret Herrick, an Academy employee,
is said to have first given the statuette
 its nickname,in 1931, claiming it
reminder her of her "Uncle Oscar."
The traditional art world of painting, sculpture, printmaking, etc., has nothing to compare with it. Maybe we should though. Maybe we should have our own version of the AMPAS with our own nominating committees to selects five or six outstanding artists, that many more outstanding paintings, sculptures and prints, then put them in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet for other artists to vote on for "Best Picture," "Best Sculpture in a hard medium," "Best Relief Print," or "Best Serigraph." What we need is an "Academy of Traditional Fine Arts and Sciences." We could call the awards "Georgias" or "Sargents" or "Alfreds" after famous Americans who worked in promoting the traditional arts. We could get NBC to televise it and David Letterman to make bad jokes about the artists ditching paint-splattered t-shirts in favor of paint-splattered tuxedos and evening gowns.

1929...and the Academy Award goes to...Hollywood...err Hollywoodland
Janet Gaynor collected the first
Academy Award as "Best Actress"
for her performance in Seventh Heaven.
By 1926, the motion picture industry in this country had grown from an idea in the back of Thomas Edison's head to an art form so revolutionary there was virtually nothing in the dusty pages of art history to compare to it (even photography itself). Hollywood godfather Louis B. Meyer took one sniff at the factory town he'd helped build in the suburbs of Los Angeles and smelled unionism. Something had to be done. So, he invited three top industry bigwigs, (actor, Conrad Nagel, director, Fred Niblo (silent version of Ben-Hur), and Fred Beetson, head of the Association of Motion Picture Producers out to his Santa Monica beach house for dinner. There, they concocted what was at first just an organization to mediate labor disputes. But the longer they talked and smoked, the more ambitious their brainchild became, eventually evolving into an elite group of actors, directors, writers, technicians, and producers. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences became a legal, nonprofit organization on May 4, 1927. Douglas Fairbanks was its first president, membership cost $100, and awards banquets grew larger and larger, eventually topping 300 members. "The industry" had a mouthpiece. The Academy Awards were an afterthought.

The first Academy Award
(1928-29) winner for
"Best Picture" was the
silent film, Wings.
A committee to study the awards concept was appointed less than a week after the Academy opened its doors, though. A whole year, later they'd come up with little more than a voting procedure. It was much like they use today only simpler. Silent films dominated the market so "talkies" such as the newly minted The Jazz Singer were ruled ineligible. Comedies were such a powerful force a special award for directing them was instituted along side the "Best Director" award. "Best Screenplay" was divided then, as now, into "Best Original" and "Best Adaptation" categories but a special award was giving to "Best Title Writing" (remember, this was the silent era). Although the Academy set strict time limitations for eligible films, (those released August 1, 1927, through July 31, 1928), it quickly became apparent that academy members were ignoring them, nominating films that were, in some cases, two or three years old. So, they had to vote all over again.

Every "Best Picture" winner since
The Jazz Singer DIDN'T win
in 1929 has been a "talkie."

The naked man with a sword came just weeks before the first awards ceremony. The design came from MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons. The actual statuette was created by an unemployed art school graduate named George Stanley. It was sculpted in clay, cast in a tin and copper alloy, then gold-plated. His "baby" measured 13 1/2 inches tall, topping out at 6 3/4 pounds. The figure had as its base, a reel of film with five holes in the reel representing the five branches of the academy. The nickname "Oscar," didn't come until a few years later. After the membership voted nominees, the awards committee, which included Louis B. Mayer himself, made the final decisions. He kept the others up all night arguing for his choice for "Best Picture." Eventually, a compromise was reached. The 1928-29 award for "Most Artistic Quality of Production" went to 20th Century Fox's Sunrise.  A separate award for "Most Outstanding Production" went to Wings (what we now call  "Best Picture"). Janet Gaynor won "Best Actress (above, right)," Emil Jannings, "Best Actor."  The Jazz Singer (above, left) garnered a special technological award and a certain degree of "I told you so" bragging rights. A year later, all the "Best Picture" nominees were talkies. Maybe that's the problem with paintings, why they have no Academy Awards--they don't talk...or sing...or move...or make millions of dollars for their creators. 

No comments:

Post a Comment