The End of Oscars (as) History?
Eliminating Testimonial Awards from the Academy Awards Telecast is a Depressing Mistake
by Stephen Glaister
For many viewers the high point of the 2010 Golden Globe Awards was Martin Scorsese’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures. Scorsese’s clips package wowed (at least up to its embedded Shutter Island trailer), and his acceptance speech eloquently testified that film is both massively collaborative (“[T]hat making movies is a collaborative process is not a cliché, it’s the truth”) and deeply historical:
“Because, as William Faulkner said: The past is never dead. It’s not even past. As far as I’m concerned, making films and preserving them are the same thing. In this room, none of us who make films and watch them would be here without the people who came here before us.”
The Oscars’ counterparts of the DeMille Award – principally Honorary Awards and the Thalberg Award (for producers) – have, similarly, long provided ceremony highlights. For example, while recent Oscars telecasts have lived in the ratings shadow of the 1998 ceremony at which Titanic won 11 Awards, on the night itself, Stanley Donen’s Honorary Award upstaged James Cameron’s juggernaut. Scorsese introduced Donen’s clips package, which spanned immortal ’50s musicals with Kelly and Astaire, and ultra-chic ’60s confections with Grant, Hepburn, Loren, Peck, and Finney, then Donen accepted his Award, saying that he should really be giving it to the long overdue Scorsese. Next, in two graceful minutes, Donen serenaded his Oscar statuette with a verse of ‘Cheek to Cheek’, brought down the house with an elegant soft-shoe routine, and humbly and wittily saluted 25 of the key writers, songsmiths, and actors who’d made his directorial success possible. It was a sublime moment. Hollywood’s glamorous past (and its past’s past – Astaire premiered ‘Cheek to Cheek’ in 1935′s Top Hat) indeed wasn’t even past, and the implicit argument that Hollywood c.1998 would have been quite different but for the efforts of Donen & co. was made. The evening’s other shenanigans (from Bart the Bear delivering an envelope, to Cameron’s grimace-inducing ‘I’d like to do a few seconds of silence in remembrance of the 1500 men, women and children who died when the great ship died’) looked simultaneously pinched and overdone by comparison.