Is it time for the Oscars again? Surely not? How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself. Our research project has been running a little film season on the general theme of ‘conspiracy’ (last week’s was All the Presidents Men) and we had a slight struggle to get them screened because “it’s the run-up to the Oscars” — which apparently meant that The Management thought that every screen under their control should be showing a nominated film, rather than some boring old celluloid film from the Dark Ages before CGA.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the Oscars. I’m not much of a film-goer and I detest awards ceremonies, whether in the UK (the BAFTAs) or the US. So imagine my delight at discovering (courtesy of The Browser) this wonderful essay by Raymond Chandler on the 1948 Oscar ceremony. “It isn’t so much that the awards never go to fine achievements”, he writes, “as that those fine achievements are not rewarded as such.
They are rewarded as fine achievements in box-office hits. You can’t be an All-American on a losing team. Technically, they are voted, but actually they are not decided by the use of whatever artistic and critical wisdom Hollywood may happen to possess. They are ballyhooed, pushed, yelled, screamed, and in every way propagandized into the consciousness of the voters so incessantly, in the weeks before the final balloting, that everything except the golden aura of the box office is forgotten.
If you think most motion pictures are bad, which they are (including the foreign), find out from some initiate how they are made, and you will be astonished that any of them could be good. Making a fine motion picture is like painting “The Laughing Cavalier” in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you. Of course most motion pictures are bad. Why wouldn’t they be? Apart from its own intrinsic handicaps of excessive cost, hypercritical bluenosed censorship, and the lack of any single-minded controlling force in the making, the motion picture is bad because 90 per cent of its source material is tripe, and the other 10 per cent is a little too virile and plain-spoken for the putty-minded clerics, the elderly ingénues of the women’s clubs, and the tender guardians of that godawful mixture of boredom and bad manners known more eloquently as the Impressionable Age.
It doesn’t really seem to make much difference how the voting is done. The quality of the work is still only recognized in the context of success. A superb job in a flop picture would get you nothing, a routine job in a winner will be voted in. It is against this background of success-worship that the voting is done, with the incidental music supplied by a stream of advertising in the trade papers (which even intelligent people read in Hollywood) designed to put all other pictures than those advertised out of your head at balloting time. The psychological effect is very great on minds conditioned to thinking of merit solely in terms of box office and ballyhoo. The members of the Academy live in this atmosphere, and they are enormously suggestible people, as are all workers in Hollywood.
Lots more in that vein. Wonderful stuff, which made me laugh out loud and reminded me that there is nothing — but nothing — to beat a good writer in disdainful mood.