Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards For 1927-28
PICTURE: Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (prod. William Fox)
ACTOR: Lon Chaney (Laugh, Clown, Laugh)
ACTRESS: Mary Pickford (My Best Girl)
DIRECTOR: F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jean Hersholt (The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Clara Bow (Wings)
SCREENPLAY: King Vidor and John V.A. Weaver; titles by Joseph Farnham (The Crowd)
SPECIAL AWARDS: The Circus (prod. Charles Chaplin) (Best Picture-Comedy); Al Jolson (The Jazz Singer) (Best Actor-Comedy or Musical); Eleanor Boardman (The Crowd) (Best Actress-Drama); George Groves (The Jazz Singer) (Special Achievement In The Use Of Sound); "Toot Toot Tootsie" (The Jazz Singer) (Best Song); Charles Rosher and Karl Struss (Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans) (Cinematography)
MUST-SEE MOVIES OF 1927-28: Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans; The Man Who Laughs; The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg; The Circus; Wings; The Crowd; Laugh, Clown, Laugh
The most popular movie of 1927 was The Jazz Singer, which introduced synchronized sound to the movies at last. Audiences were thrilled not just to see Al Jolson singing but to hear him singing—and after plowing through dozens of silent movies in the past couple of weeks, I can't say I blame them. You forget how much information you process through your ears and how much pleasure you can get from a human voice—at least until you do without for a while.
Only one problem with The Jazz Singer: it's a terrible movie. Really. I mean, yeah, being able to put sound in a movie was a tremendous breakthrough and audiences ate it up with a spoon, but beyond it's importance now as a historical footnote, I can't recommend it.
As for everything else that was released between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928 (I'm following Oscar's convention of straddling the two years), the Academy actually did a pretty good job of distinguishing the wheat from the chaff even if the awards were largely parceled out as a result of insider politicking and studio manipulation.
Wings (Best Production) and Sunrise (Unique and Artistic Production) won the two best picture awards, Emil Jannings was a well-respected actor and won for The Way Of All Flesh and The Last Command (remember, the award in those days was handed out for a body of work rather than a specific picture), and best actress winner, Janet Gaynor, was the star of the best movie of the year, Sunrise.
There were two best director trophies that year, one for comedy, one for drama. Lewis Milestone, who would win another Oscar for directing the classic All Quiet On The Western Front, won for the former; Frank Borzage, another two time winner, won the latter.
All respectable choices. With the benefit of more than eighty years worth of hindsight, however, I think the Academy could have done better.
That's where the Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards come in.
I've done away with the splitting of categories—one director instead of two, one best picture award instead of the unexplained and unexplainable Best Production and Unique and Artistic Production awards.
I'm also doing away with Academy's habit of spreading the award for writing across a wide variety of ever-changing categories, including best original screenplay, best adapted screenplay, motion picture story, story and screenplay, screenplay and even this year's award for "title writing." With the Katies, it's one award, Best Screenplay, regardless of whether it's based on another source, wholly original or, as is often the case, a thinly disguised rip-off of last year's popular movie.
As I did with the career achieve- ment awards for the Silent Era, I will explain my choices in a series of essays over the next couple of weeks.
I've also included here a list of what I think are the must-see movies of the year, and will include a must-see list for each year I hand out awards.
Finally, I have included choices for best supporting actor and actress even though the Academy did not create those categories until 1936. I felt I otherwise would have ended up ignoring too many performances worth recognition. Besides, it gave me another excuse to see even more movies—and what could be wrong with that?
Notes: I don't have an official Fun-Stupid movie pick for 1927-28, but two might fit the bill: Wings is overly long for a silent movie and a bit corny but it also has at least an hour's worth of some of the best stunt flying and aerial dogfights ever filmed; and Charlie Chaplin's The Circus features a lot of physical comedy and acrobatic stunts and is readily available.