Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Oscar Statuette

Another Oscars season has come and gone and so it only seems fitting that I dedicate a post to perhaps the most famous work of art in motion pictures. If you didn’t get the hint from the title- it’s that much desired little gold statuette-Oscar.

Just to let you know, I don’t quite care for the Oscars. For me, it’s an overly long night full of scripted jokes, a little too much excess and self-indulgence. Besides the awards are given on basis of a mix of snobbery and guilt- which can drive me crazy. Still, I assume like most people, I end up hating myself and flipping it on TV for a few minutes to indulge in well, the indulgence.

Regardless of my own personal opinion of the Oscars, winners are usually a fairly decent standard of quality in Hollywood. Still, when you think of all the greats who were snubbed only to receive an “honorary” Oscar a year before they’re dead- it makes me a little peeved. Anyhow- Oscar Night is generally the premier awards night in Hollywood and everyone wants to hear their name called so they can give their stupid little speech for two seconds before they are cut off. Enough ranting.
Sinatra and Donna Reed with their Oscars

Officially Oscar is called the Academy Award of Merit and has been given to members of the movie business since 1927 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. The first actual statuette was given in 1929. Interesting enough, the statuette was designed by one of the most important art directors in Hollywood history- and it is to him that I also dedicate some of my post.

Cedric Gibbons with the very award he designed (above)
and one of his sets 
So, in 1927, the newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science held its first awards night for the movie business. It was a hit and soon became the highest award in the industry. Aware of their new regard in show biz, the Academy commissioned a statuette befitting of their honor. Cedric Gibbons, MGM’s art director and one of the Academy’s founding members, designed the statuette. In case you ever wondered, according to the Academy, the statuette features a crusader holding a sword on top of a reel of film. Gibbons drew up this idea, got it approved and then had a notable Los Angeles-based sculptor, George Stanley (who also did work for the Hollywood Bowl) to actually make the idea come to life. The nickname of “Oscar” was apparently given (according to Academy legend) by the Academy’s librarian who called it her “Uncle Oscar.” Eventually, by the mid-30s, the nickname was widely used and it was officially adopted by the Academy in 1939. The standard came to be that Oscar was plated in gold and manufactured in Chicago. During the World War II, gold was rationed and the statues were made cheaply though after the war ended, winner could turn in their awards for the real deal.
Gibbons, it turns out, was quite the big man in Hollywood. He ran MGM’s art department from the studio’s inception and basically ruled it with an unbelievable amount of power. Apparently, everything had to go through his approval if it didn’t have his actual touch on it. Because of this, his name appears on thousands of MGM credits for years. He was a little hated by some- for pretty obvious reasons-but the quality of his work was incredible. He had this iconic look that just brings you back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. A lover of the elegantly linear Art Deco style, Gibbons believed movie sets shouldn’t reflect the “real world”- instead they should be ideal canvases in which the art of the film takes place. The hallmarks of a Gibbons set were perfectly polished floors, pure white walls, and elegant furnishings. In a word, Gibbons set the scene perfectly for the escapist films of the time and id it with such class that it is incredible. Who better to design the hallmark award for the glamorous and truly unrealistic world of Hollywood's elite that we are all so obsessed with?

That little statue even appeared in a few films because it’s an award so synonymous with the industry. Consider, Judy Garland’s A Star is Born (speaking of Oscar snubs), when Norman Maine bursts on the stage and upstages Vicki during her Oscar acceptance speech. Norman accuses the Hollywood elite gathered there of ignoring him while his wife (whom he loves) rises quickly to popularity. It isn't a story line so out of touch with reality, if you really think about it. Of course, that scene ends horrifically, but what Oscars ceremony isn't without its flubs? One thing that I do think is interesting is how that Oscars scene is set up; I always wonder if that is what the Academy Awards during the Golden Age actually looked like. 

No matter how you personally view the Academy Awards, enough people place them in high enough esteem to make them important. In actuality, I find the award’s story more interesting than the award itself- but I’m a little biased in the matter.

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