Shakeup at the Oscars

www.newyorker.com

Speaking of bucking trends, one reason I believe Moonlight has a real shot (beyond how great it is) is the fact that there was a huge Academy shake up this past year. Though it was hardly the first such shake up. Michael Schulman dives into it and the others:

Like Hollywood’s best sagas—“Star Wars,” “The Godfather”—the Oscars often play out as a drama of generational conflict. Daniel Smith-Rowsey, a film historian, has referred to the latest shakeup as “the third purge,” following two previous industry-wide talent overhauls. The first occurred in the twenties, as the rise of talkies swept scores of mugging mustache-twirlers and big-eyed ingénues to the sidelines. This shift coincided with the founding of the Academy, in 1927, by Louis B. Mayer, the head of M-G-M, who hoped to preëmpt the unionization of studio craftsmen by concocting an organization that could mediate labor disputes. The bestowing of “awards of merit” was an afterthought, and in May, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the Academy’s first president, Douglas Fairbanks, dispensed the trophies in fifteen minutes. That year, for the only time, there was a prize for title writing. “The Jazz Singer,” the silent era’s dinosaur-killing asteroid, was given a special prize, as it seemed unfair to put it in competition with the silents. By the next year, the Best Picture contenders were all talkies.
The second purge came in the late sixties, as the studio system was grappling with its own decline and the rise of a youth culture with which it seemed hopelessly out of touch. A generation of stars—the Bing Crosbys and Doris Days—suddenly seemed square and quaint, displaced by a new crop of “ethnic” talents like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand, while sword-and-sandal epics gave way to New Hollywood hits like “Easy Rider” and “The Graduate.” In 1967, Robert Evans, the thirty-seven-year-old head of Paramount, said, “The strongest period in Hollywood history was in the thirties, when most of the creative people were young. The trouble is that most of them are still around making movies.”

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