Surprisingly, this will be the second week in a row that I have started typing my column while watching television.
Last week, everyone was anticipating the Super Bowl and the flood of mega-million-dollar commercials that would surround the on-field action. This week, everyone seems to be focusing their attention on Hollywood and the Academy Awards.
Like it or not, for nearly a century this country has been obsessed with movies. It started well over 120 years ago when it was discovered that a series of still pictures of a horse running could be displayed in such a way that the viewer could see the horse run. That type of imagery had never been seen before.
Year after year, inventors and scientists improved the technology. In 1920, film production companies started adding music and sound to the films they produced. Hollywood was becoming the epicenter of this new form of entertainment. In 1927, Warner Brothers and Vitaphone produced “The Jazz Singer.” It was the first full-length motion picture with synchronized sound.
When Al Jolson sang, it looked like the sound was flowing from his mouth. This phenomenal breakthrough brought an end to silent movies and ushered in the era of talkies, followed by talkies in color.
The first Academy Award presentations were held in 1929. The award for best picture went to “Wings”, a movie set in World War I about biplane pilots and their harrowing adventures.
One of the nominees for best picture this year was also set in World War I. The film, “1917”, follows two young soldiers who are on a mission to stop an attack from their own trenches that will save over 1,600 lives. It’s a close-up look at a war that took place over 100 years ago, but through the magic of movies it brought the terror of that war back to life.
That’s part of the amazing power of movies – they can generate memories of pain, joy, laughter, fear and terror.
According to many film professionals, winning that little, bald statue is a career-changer. Professional lives, after winning an Oscar, usually skyrockets when compared to their earlier career path.
According to Hollywood lore, the Oscar received its name from either Bette Davis or Margaret Herrick. Davis reportedly stated that the statue reminded her of her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. Herrick was a secretary for the Academy when she said the statue reminded her of her “Uncle Oscar.” Either way, the Academy Award statue has been lovingly called Oscar for over 80 years.
My parents didn’t take us to movies very often, but they enjoyed watching the Academy Awards on television. The family would gather around the TV and watch the show. For many years, I assumed it was the “Bob Hope Show.” He hosted the Academy Award show more than any other person – 19 times.
In recent years, we have had several shows that did not feature a host. Usually the Academy Awards show would start with a famous host performing a monologue and introducing clips from the nominated films. It was a fun way to start the program and preview the films that were in contention to win.
From Will Rogers to Whoopi Goldberg, there have been a wide variety of hosts. But, in my opinion, Billy Crystal perfected the role during his nine performances. Some of the hosts (especially Crystal) have stolen the show.
Others have totally flopped. David Letterman was an excellent talk-show host, but a flop at the Oscars. However, after over nine decades of shows, the Academy Awards show still brings in millions and millions of viewers every year.
Most of the winners for Best Picture of the Year have been wonderful movies, but some have left me scratching my head. I’ve watched the movie “Fargo” twice. I just don’t get it. The same can be said for “American Beauty.” “No Country for Old Men may have contained some noteworthy performances, but the sadistic violence was cringeworthy.
This year, “Joker” was nominated. The film was an amazing character study of a disturbed man’s descent into total madness. Most of it was not enjoyable, but it was worth seeing.
As usual, there were some annoying acceptance speeches that blasted politics and conditions in the world. I would rather they would humbly or humorously accept their professional award, thank the people who made it possible and move on, but there will always be people who want to take the opportunity to express their personal views to a few million people. OK. Freedom of speech.
Movies are one of those things that routinely unite or divide people – you love them or hate them. There are classics that I love to watch: “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Ben-Hur”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Sting”, “The Godfather”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Rocky”, “Gandhi”, “Braveheart” and more.
This year, nominees include actors who portrayed characters ranging from the Pope to a psychotic criminal. The diversity of entertainment that we see in movies helps make the movie-going experience fun and educational.
The awards show often encourages new generations of actors and film makers. That is a good thing.
For the young actors and crewmembers who work in our local high school theatre productions and for the cast and crew at Wilmington College, the Academy Awards are there to tell you … work at your craft. Never give up.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.