FROM GOLDIE TO OLDIE: A LOOK TO THE OSCARS FROM YESTERYEAR
by Frank Ochieng
It is always a fashionable gesture to prepare for the glitz and glamour regarding the movie industry’s biggest annual event known as Oscar Night…or more formally The Academy Awards extravaganza as the spectacularly world-wide production of The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences. Avid film fans and cinema enthusiasts await with baited breath the star-studded spectacle as Hollywood hotshots assemble in stylized ecstasy to recognize the best and brightest in cinematic sensationalism from the previous year.
There is no doubt that millions of eager eyes will shine upon The Kodak Theater as the 83rd Annual Academy Awards will make its glorious mark as expected on February 27, 2011. Acting honors, Governor’s Awards, technology acknowledgment in excellence, moviemaking brilliance-all will make an indelible impact as the frothy filmmaking community comes together to make the wondrous world of fantasy become a broadcast bonanza of reality for starved cinemaphiles globally.
Still, it is easy to forget the humble beginnings and inauspicious breakthrough of the Oscars over eight decades ago when the sensation factor was minimal and somewhat surprisingly inconsequential. The vintage Academy Awards ceremony was predictably understated and the suspense was about as gripping as watching an ice cream cone melt on your Uncle Milton’s antique radiator. But hey…all newsworthy cultural events have to start somewhere and somehow-particularly without the inevitable opulence that would grace the Golden Oscar bandwagon throughout the progressive years as movies became more innovative, daring, stunning, mature, introspective and dare we say it…immensely profitable.
Nowadays, we have cutting edge comedians and youthful movie actors spearheading the percolating proceedings with frivolous finesse to match the jaw-dropping odyssey of majestic motion picture magic. Now try to contrast that with the wooden presence of the first Academy Awards ceremony as an understated banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929 when emcee and Academy President Douglas Fairbanks stiffly handed out Oscar statuettes as if he was routinely selling cotton candy at a rain-delayed baseball game at Fenway Park. True…it’s like the difference between night and day, right?
Thankfully, all great milestone events in major entertainment circles are realized yearly with ardent enthusiasm, excitement and expectation. However, does this excuse the oversight of how the grandiose Oscars got its ritzy, refined and ribald reputation by ignoring its underwhelming and overlooked histrionics? Sure, we live in a transfixing society where new and approved bests the concept of old and vintage. Amazingly, there is still a lingering prejudice that exists amongst some young and spoiled demographics that still think watching a black and white television program from the 1950’s and 1960’s is blasphemous and passé when the hip viewing tactics of appreciating colorized television is something to be considered contemporarily acceptable. Naturally with this kind of mindset in place who would dare to recognize the storied past of Academy Awards folklore from time gone by when technology was about as compact and simplistic as a rusty tin can?
In examining the basic and bone-dry banquet at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel during the onset of the incoming 1930’s one could appreciate the straight-forward, business-like aura of an Academy Award gathering that by today’s standards could be perceived as monotonously uneventful and lacking in gloss and gumption. Primarily bombarded by a long and drawn-out affair hampered by endless speeches and praise (this hasn’t changed too much at all with today’s bloated and garrulous telecasts) and little surprises in terms of who won what trophy in a given category the Oscars were low key and lackluster.
Interestingly, there were a mere fifteen statuettes awarded at the Oscars’ first ceremony. Also, the 1929 Academy Award gathering tapped into the prior two years (1927-28) by acknowledging the cinematic achievements retroactively. The now practiced act of bestowing “special awards” for movie pioneers was instilled at the first Oscar ceremony. Both legendary actor/comedian/filmmaker Charlie Chaplin (“The Circus”) and movie studio Warner Bros. (for the groundbreaking talking motion picture “The Jazz Singer”) were cited for their distinctive excellence in filmmaking.
Check out this “did you know” factoid: the Oscar was originally a bronzed knight and went by the moniker of “The Academy Award of Merit”. Hmmm…what film fodder food for thought, huh?
Let’s now take an intimate look at what the 1927-28 Oscar winners were from yesteryear, shall we?
The 1927-1928 Academy Award Winners
Picture (Production): Wings
Picture (Unique and Artistic Production): Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Actor: Emil Jannings (The Last Command; The Way of All Flesh)
Actress: Janet Gaynor (Seventh Heaven; Street Angel; Sunrise)
Director: Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven) / Lewis Milestone (Two Arabian Knights)
Adapted Screenplay: Benjamin Glazer (Seventh Heaven)
Original Story: Ben Hecht (Underworld)
Interior Decoration: The Dove / The Tempest
Overall, the enormously celebrated entity known as The Academy Awards is revered as the most heralded star-studded escapist fare known to millions around the globe. Its meager origins may have been considered shabby and a progress-in-work but the sole impacting fanfare that has now developed into a stimulating “showbiz shindig” for the unfulfilled senses in today’s ritualistic realm of movie mayhem and madness is equally significant when adhering to the Golden Guy whose presence on a lucky artist’s mantle is a ticket to fortune and familiarity in the minds of film fanatics everywhere.
In hindsight, one being in awe at the overhyped Oscar’s boisterous buzz in the 21st century should not be construed as totally disrespectful or dismissive. After all, it took over eighty years to have this mega-moviemaking movement heralded as the ultimate showcase for filmdom’s fancy footwork to do its high-minded and hedonistic high-stepping. From rags to riches the Academy Awards experience has been overtly enriching culturally and consciously.
Still, it does not hurt to pay homage to its early (and sadly often forgotten) infancy and eventual growth that materialized into one of the World’s Greatest Show on Earth (please accept my heartfelt apologies to Barnum and Bailey’s as well as other circuses for borrowing such a omnipresent phrasing). And now the award goes to…the appreciation of Oscar’s bare-knuckled beginnings-a sentimental salute from a modern-day “goldie” to “an oldie” where we look to the Academy Awards of yesterday with nostalgic naughtiness.