Monday, January 14, 2008

Well, ok, it's time for a little comment on movie award season.

In researching the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (what a name! but there it is, the official name), a number of books made it very clear: one of the reasons for the AMPAS was as a union-busting organization. There had been many problems on sets, and by 1927 Hollywood was in a tizzy: changes were happening, and the studios wanted to make sure that their authority went unquestioned. Sound was on the horizon, and there were attempts to sign up talent with the ability to speak. (Many stars who were originally from other countries, such as Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Lars Hansen, and Greta Garbo, were viewed with caution, as potential liabilities.) Many stage performers were getting signed by the studios (Marguerite Churchill, who would play the ingenue in the original Broadway production of "Dinner at Eight", was signed by Fox; she would marry George O'Brien and their son Darcy would write "A Way of Life Like Any Other", one of the finest novels ever written about Hollywood), and actors had been trying to form a theatrical union (which would result in Actors Equity).

Anything that could be done to stop unionism in Hollywood was tried. And one way was to create awards. In the first years of the Academy Awards, there was an explicit edict banning people who were in trade unions from getting an Academy Award. (This is similar to the edict years later, after the McCarthy HUAC hearings, where any political affiliation deemed subversive meant that you could not even be nominated for an Academy Award. Of course, this was to keep out the Communists, who were supposed to be driven out of Hollywood by HUAC.)

One of the problems was that it was hard to legislate box office: if someone became popular, it would have been ludicrous to prohibit them from being acknowledged in some way. This problem would arise by the mid-1930s.

But initially, it was easy for the bogus organization (the original members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were low-level studio executives; the heads of the studios, people like Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, Carl Laemmle of Universal, B. P. Schulberg of Paramount, Jack Warner, were loath to make it appear that they were simply giving the awards to themselves) to claim authenticity: there wasn't any competition, so The Motion Picture Academy was it, and it was the organization which presented awards for the film industry, and the egos of those working in film were so fragile anyway, any boost was considered worth it.

So the publicity machine of Hollywood went to work, and conferred respectability and prestige on this organization which was actually made up of hacks (and not even top-level hacks at that).

And here we are, now 80 years into the history of this organization, and this organization is still looked on as a reputable one! As if!

But that's all for now, i'm tired after the first day of panel....


Post a Comment

<< Home