OSCAR FEVER by Emanuel Levy


The History and Politics of the Academy Awards
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A revised and updated version of And the Winner Is . . . (1987) provides a decidedly less-than-stellar overview of Hollywood’s annual exercise in tackiness and self-congratulation.

Levy (Cinema of Outsiders, 1999, etc.), senior film critic for Variety, identifies the motive behind the founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1927 as a desire to establish the film industry “as a respectable, legitimate institution,” an ambition that has borne fruit in the Academy Awards: “part variety show, part news event, part horse race, part fashion display—and all promotion.” In theory, he has a subject of such intrinsic interest that simply presenting nuggets of trivia (e.g., that Ben-Hur was the first remake ever to win Best Picture) is a sure-fire winner. Unfortunately, his narrative reads like a collection of index cards endlessly reshuffled into different topics, such as early and late recognition of nominees, types of roles most associated with Oscar winners, and the award’s impact on winners. Much of this information will not surprise Oscar junkies. What will surprise them are some of Levy’s “facts” about nominated films: that Anatomy of a Murder hinges on the alleged rape of Lee Remick by a black tavern owner; that Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire is a “repressed” Southern belle; and that Forrest Whitaker (rather than Stephen Rea) is shocked by Jaye Davidson’s real gender in The Crying Game. Levy also displays a tin ear for such nuances of language as correct word usage, noting for example that Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is “indoctrinary” when he means “doctrinaire.” At times, he produces what can only be viewed as unintentional howlers. Does he really think that Mildred Pierce gave Joan Crawford “a perfect role that captured the essence of her offscreen life”? Christina Crawford might beg to differ.

Tediously written and sloppy—barely an also-ran for any film buff's shelf. (49 film stills)

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 2001
ISBN: 0-8264-1284-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Continuum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001


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