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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A History of Multiplex and Celebration

“I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future” - Best Supporting Actress – Hattie McDaniel - Gone with the Wind - 1940

The Oscar awards or better known in the US as the Academy Awards is one of few ceremonies dedicated to the film industry. Dating back to the 1920s when doo-woop music sprung to life, black and white television was a luxury and pop-eye the sailor man showcased what we all see in modern gym advertisement, the Oscars is the oldest award ceremony followed by the Emmy awards (TV), Tony awards (Theatre) and the Grammy awards representing music and recording.

In May of 1929 the first Oscar award ceremony was held in the Blossom room of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in honour of movies released from August 1st 1927 to August the following year. Just as glamorous but not as rich, the venue was host to 270 people with fifteen awards on standby for potential winners. The price into the ceremony would cost no more than $5 as opposed to the grapevine whisperers speaking of numbers from $30,000 - $40,000 to attend an Oscar event today. The ceremony of 1929 was due to last no longer than fifteen minutes with the nominees announced prior to the event. Much different from what we see today, there was no element of surprise in the build-up as the winners were announced to the media three months before the event would take place. Such generous policy lasted up until 1940. The modern messiahs of Oscar coverage can thank The Los Angeles Times for breaking an embargo in 1940 when, much to the displeasure of the Academy, they published the winners of the event in its evening edition prior to the official ceremony. This is what led to the “sealed envelope” concept. Introduced in 1941, the sealed envelope turned out to be the most logical approach to concealing potential winners and is still used in raising the anticipation today.

Only a handful of famous names attended first Oscar ceremony. Some would go on to receive awards in years to come, others were just as surprised as the audience; among the winners were Frank Borzage (right) for best director on 7thHeaven; titled under “dramatic picture” and starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. It is the thirteenth highest grossing silent film in cinema history and went on to gross 2.7 million at the box office. Female protagonist Janet Gaynor went on to take the award for best actress in a leading role. The award for “outstanding picture” went to “Wings”; a story of two World War 1 pilot friends. Another creation of the silent movie era, Wings was directed by William A. Wellman and beat Frank Borzage’s 7thHeaven to the award for best picture.

History would show a dark day in New York’s Wall Street. Forever remembered as Black Tuesday, it was the crash of the stock market which began in October 1929. It is forever known as the greatest stock market crash in the history of the United States. Among this great depression saw the second academy awards held in Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel. The Broadway Melody stole best picture, Warner Braxter took best actor for “In Old Arizona”, Hans Kraley was awarded for penning “The Patriot” and Twinkies are introduced to bakeries around the United States.

On November 10th 1931 the fourth annual awards was held at the Sala D’Oro in the Biltmore Hotel honouring movies released from August 1 1930 – July 31, 1931. A Free Soul starring Lionel Barrymore, Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard; it follows the story of an alcoholic defence attorney who is forced to defend his daughter’s ex-boyfriend on charges of murder. Nigel Barrymore went on to take the award for best actor and director Clarence Brown was nominated for best director in which he lost to Norman Taurog for “Skippy” which was based on a comic-strip by Percy Crosby. Six months later, in the year of 1932 the citizens of New York were witness to the opening of the Empire state building. On October 17th, pint sized crime boss Al Capone was sentenced to 11 years for tax evasion and the 5th Oscar award ceremony would follow on November 18th.

Held at the Fiesta room in the Ambassador hotel, the 5th Academy award ceremony was home to faces of old and new. Routine winners such as director Frankie Borzage picked up the award for best director for Bad Girl; a dramatic tale of ordinary people living mundane lives. It starred Sally Eilers and James Dunn. Released in 1931, Bad Girl was adapted from the novel and play by Vina Delmare, therefore picking up the award for best screenplay adaption also.

“A change is gonna come” – Sammy Cook
On May 10th 1940 Winston Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister, the Tokyo Olympics was cancelled and the 12th annual Oscar ceremony saw a new star in the making, one who paved way for many of her race to follow; Hattie McDaniel. Gone with the Wind was directed by David O’Selznick (Selzick International pictures) and starred Scarlett O’ Hara and Ashley Wilkes who play a historical romantic duo set against the backdrop of the American Civil war.  

Despite its two year delay, Selzinick’s film won the award for outstanding production. In the mix was Hattie McDaniel’s award for best supporting actress (the mammy) which was a significant achievement in itself because Hattie (left) was the first African America to win an Academy award. Accepting the award on February 29th 1940 Hattie was humbled; “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honoured guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you”.

Through-out the late 1930s and 1940s the Oscar award ceremony was consistent in its success and dedication toward onscreen recognition. In 1943 the Oscar awards introduced a new category of awards in honour of the pretentious work ethic of those who often go unnoticed; Best documentary feature (1943), Best Foreign language film (1947), Best costume design (1948) and best makeup and hairstyling (1981). In the mix was the celebration of best animated short, best visual effects and best sound mixing; most of these categories have withstood the test of time from the year 1940 right through to 2010. Such categories and more have gone on to boost the face of the Oscars and its recognition of celebrating every aspect of film craftsmanship. However not every category made it as far with some discontinued since the early 20s and late 60s. One such award is the best comedy picture which was strangely presented to a Lewis Milestone for “Two Arabian Knights”. Unfortunately, though the last movie you may have seen had you hurting with laughter, you will not see such gratitude in the awards today. In fact that award of 1929 was the first and last. Along with the extinguished is the award for best Dance direction (1935-1937), best original story (1928-1956) and best title writing (1928). An award for best title design was almost introduced back in 1999 but was later rejected).

That wonderful toy
There are many awards granted to those worthy, but not all of them come in the form of what we perceive to be an Oscar award, well to put it correctly, each statuette, no matter its design is an Oscar award per say. But, followed by the award for, let’s say the Academy Award for Technical Achievement, the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, the Student Academy Award and many more of that niche, the statuette in which signifies this event is The Academy Award of Merit; plated in copper, nickel silver and 24 karat gold, it stands tall and weighs approximately 8 ½ pound.  The appearance renders a knight holding a crusaders sword posing on a reel of film with five spokes attached. The five spokes represent the original branches of the academy which are the actors, directors, writers, producers and technicians; Pretty cool right?  So who the hell is Oscar? While the name of Oscar Wilde and many other fabricated but pretty nice philosophical related stories have circled in its time, Rebecca Murray of Hollywood Movie Entertainment has settled on one such story that the Academy has gone on to use; “the most popular story has been that Academy librarian - and eventual executive director - Margaret Herrick believed it looked a lot like her Uncle Oscar. After she made that observation, the Academy staff began calling the award 'Oscar.' The Academy didn't officially use the nickname until 1939”.

Pause for significance
Below are some notable millstones in the history of the Academy Awards.

14th Awards – In 1941, a documentary category appeared on the ballot for the first time.

20th Awards – The first special award to honor a foreign language motion picture was given in 1947 to the Italian film “Shoe-Shine.” Seven more special awards were presented before Foreign Language Film became an annual category in 1956.

21st Awards – Costume Design was added to the ballots for 1948.

25th Awards – For the first time, the Oscar presentation was televised. The NBC-TV and radio network carried the ceremony, honouring the films of 1952, live from Hollywood with Bob Hope as master of ceremonies, and from the NBC International Theatre in New York with Conrad Nagel as host.

29th Awards – The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was established and Y. Frank Freeman was its first recipient.

36th Awards – The Special Effects Award was divided into Sound Effects and Special Visual Effects beginning with the honors for films released in 1963.

38th Awards – The Oscar ceremony in 1966 was the first to be televised in color.

41st Awards – The April 14, 1969, Oscar ceremony was the first major event held at the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Music Center.

54th Awards – Makeup became an annual category, with Rick Baker winning for his work on the 1981 movie “An American Werewolf in London.” The Gordon E. Sawyer Award, recognizing technological contributions to the industry, was established.

74th Awards – The Animated Feature Film Award is added, with “Shrek” winning for 2001.

Media Intervention
The origin of the Oscar ceremony is of very little significance regarding publicity and advertisement. Far from what we see today, the Oscar ceremony was an intimate way of toasting to those representing the film industry and the future it long beholds. Unlike the drama and the significant glamour involved today, the first Oscar ceremony managed to stay hidden from the public eye. However the reception and coverage that followed would forever blow this little place of many characters into a global reception.  The privilege of being nominated and better yet, to win, was blown up by the little existing media of that time.  The second Academy Awards was significant in its enthusiasm and thirst of interest. And so, for the very first time the Oscar awards was broadcast on air for approximately one hour and of course going on to do so ever since. Do you think that mysterious broadcaster would have guessed the many ways we could watch the Oscars today?

In 1953, the first televised Academy Awards enabled millions through-out America and Canada to celebrate their favorite action star, tear-jerking love story, musical wonder and female protagonist, all from the comfort of their living room. Just like video tapes to DVDs, or cassettes to CDs, twas the dawn of the color television in 1966 that gave home audience an immersive interaction that would blow their socks off! A bit like the forceful concept of 3D today, the difference with the introduction of colour TV was that it actually worked, and we, as human beings have gone on to inherit nothing else since.

The Oscar award ceremony reached new heights in 1969 when it began broadcasting internationally in over 200 countries.

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