Saturday, January 19, 2008

Award season hysteria.

Now it seems that the WGA will not grant a waiver for the Grammys. In my opinion, this is stupidity: part of the reason seems to be the resentment that ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Arrangers and Producers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) have always gotten compensation (residuals, percentages, etc.) for their members. The WGA is trying to penalize another show business industry (the recording industry) for the fact that the WGA had to accept the copyright ownership of the studios for any written work done.

So far, the WGA has granted a waiver ONLY to the Screen Actors Guild. This is starting to look patently unfair. The Academy Awards: ok. Picket all they want, the AMPAS deserves it, just historically the AMPAS deserves to be picketed. And deserves to be stopped. But the Grammys? Ok, there was a lot of crossover and a lot of recording artists did become movie stars (Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra). And the first Grammy given to an album was to the LP of Henry Mancini's score to "Peter Gunn". But most composers (pop, jazz, classical) have nothing to do with the movies or TV... though the major record labels are tied to the same multinational corporation as the studios.

But when you start to seem punitive, you lose the high ground. And the WGA better watch it, because their p.r. isn't so secure. Striking back at the Golden Globes was funny, but if the WGA angers ASCAP and BMI, they're really in trouble.

But going back to the Motion Picture Academy: i went and looked it up, and, sure enough....

The first five winners of the Best Actress Oscar... well: there was NO excuse for those choices. For example: during the first year(s) of the Oscars (1927-28)... there really were no nominees. The "academy" (a group of what seemed to be mostly studio employees) met and then a few people proposed a name in each category, and then they voted on the one they wanted. BUT if you look at the actual "winners" (and also at the names proposed)... appalling! How (in 1927-28) could anyone NOT put forth the name Lillian Gish ("The Scarlet Letter", "La Boheme", "The Wind") or Greta Garbo ("A Woman of Affairs")? Well: Gish was the highest-paid actress at the time and she was losing her box office appeal and MGM was trying to dump her, and though MGM was building up Garbo, she was proving difficult: she'd already walked out because she wanted to renegotiate her contract. So their names were verboten.

And though the films were superb, Janet Gaynor is not the world's greatest actress. She was lucky to work with great directors (Borzage for "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel"; Murnau for "Sunrise"), and she is quite good... but she cannot be compared to Lillian Gish! But rumors abound that she was Winifred Sheehan's "protege" (as in that moment from the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" when Sue Ann - Betty White's character - says "Protege. From the French. Meaning: your place or mine?"). Sheehan (of course) was production head of Fox. Then the second year (1929-30), the award goes to Mary Pickford for "Coquette" (an actual studio head, since Pickford was one of the founders of United Artists and was the most involved in the running of the studio). Then in the next year (1930-31), the award goes to Norma Shearer for "The Divorcee" (only the wife of Irving Thalberg, the production head of MGM). Does anyone smell a pattern here? And the vote in 1931 (now the awards are being formalized into a yearly as opposed to seasonal event) goes to Helen Hayes for "The Sin of Madelon Claudet", an example of Hollywood trying to aggrandize itself, by giving an award to one of the acknowledged "great ladies of the American theater". And then the award in 1932 goes to Marie Dressler for "Min and Bill", an example of the sentimental vote: Dressler had been a big movie star in the 'teens, in the very first decade of the movies, but her career was washed up by the 1920s and then she had a comeback in the late 1920s and became popular all over again. So she's given an award almost as a career award. And those are the first five!

Right off the bat, that should have been enough to disqualify these awards from ANY semblance of credibility. But the movies were so disreputable to begin with, that this was just icing on the cake. And the AMPAS really took the cake.


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