By Lara Gabrielle Fowler
On February 1, TCM will begin its annual salute to the Oscars, 31 days of Oscar-winning films shown back to back until the Academy Awards ceremony on March 2. Kicking off what TCM calls “31 Days of Oscar” this year will be a new documentary from acclaimed filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, produced as a joint effort between TCM and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and celebrating the history of the Oscars and where they came from. The production is called …and the Oscar goes to…, and I had the great privilege to be able to see its world premiere this past Thursday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
It was a real event, and TCM pulled out all the stops. In attendance were several TCM luminaries including Ben Mankiewicz (who gave a pre-screening introduction) and Illeana Douglas who has served as a guest host on the network. Also there was George Chakiris, best known for his Oscar-winning role as Bernardo in West Side Story and for his role as a dancer in several high profile musicals. I was also glad to see many of my fellow classic film bloggers, along, as I was, to cover the screening.
Before the film began, we heard a talk by the directors and saw a beautiful promo for TCM’s “31 Days of Oscar.” In the 31 days leading up to the Academy Awards, TCM often makes some of its most brilliant programming choices–as the films chosen are all Oscar winners, they are almost universally superb, and TCM’s “31 Days of Oscar” is a highly anticipated event in the classic film community.
…and the Oscar goes to… began at 7:30. It tells the story of the Oscars from its inception in 1927 straight through to the present day, with ample anecdotes and stories behind many of Hollywood’s finest Oscar moments. It draws on interviews from contemporary stars and directors such as Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Moore to illustrate what the Oscars are all about, and uses plenty of archival footage to show the audience what the Oscars were like before the popularization of television. I was happy to see the film feature several of my very favorite Oscar speeches of all time, including those given by Hattie McDaniel at the Academy Awards of 1940 and Dustin Hoffman at the Academy Awards of 1980.
In Dustin Hoffman’s speech, he talks about the fallibility of the Oscars and the inherent unfairness in competition between peers. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film is quite unbiased in its attitude toward the Oscars. Instead of the Academy flouting what it does as somehow the be-all, end-all in Hollywood, it highlights several people who emphasize the idea that the Oscars are not really what Hollywood is all about. My absolute favorite quote from the film came from a director who said that everyone thinks the Oscars are the real Hollywood. They are not, he said. He continued on to say that the real Hollywood is seen when the actors, directors, and crew members show up on the set the day after the lavish Oscar party, wearing jeans and eating bad doughnuts and drinking stale coffee. Hollywood is not the Oscars, he emphasized. Hollywood belongs to the people who work all day and all night for the perfect shot and put their blood, sweat and tears into what they do.
Following that quote, the entire theater burst into applause.
There are a number of awkward segues that could be fixed in the editing room, but all in all, the film was a success and lots of fun to watch. This screening was the first time …and the Oscar goes to... has been shown in public, and I would venture to say that the awkwardness of the segues may be fixed before the film airs on TCM. I would highly recommend that you catch it when it kicks off “31 Days of Oscar” on February 1 at 8:00 PM EST, as I think it provides a wonderfully intimate glimpse into this storied Hollywood tradition.
See you next time!