Sunday, February 25, 2007

The First Best Pictures

January 11, 1927 - Louis B. Mayer hosts a banquet for 3 dozen VIPs from 5 branches of the motion picture industry (producers, directors, actors, writers, technicians) to promote an organization to be called The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All 36 sign on and become the Academy Founders.

May 4, 1927 - The Academy becomes a legal corporation. 300 eligible industry professionals are invited to a banquet where the Academy's newly elected first president, Douglas Fairbanks, convinces over 200 of them to become new members.

He also announced that the Academy will give awards of merit. These awards were not initially voted on by the Academy members, but determined by a panel of judges. Each member was allowed to vote for a nominee in their own branch. A panel of judges in each branch would count the votes and narrow the nominees down for a central board of judges. This board would have 5 members, one from each branch, and they would decide the winners.

Initially there was two best picture categories: Best Production was awarded to "the most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture's greatness"; and Artistic Quality of Production was given to "the most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude." Because The Jazz Singer was such a sensation, the Awards Committee decided to rule it ineligible for either of the best picture awards and gave it its own special award.

Wings won for Best Production and Sunrise won for Artistic Quality of Production, but there was some controversy. The Central Board of Judges initially decided to award the Artistic Quality of Production award to King Vidor's The Crowd, but Louis B. Mayer, who was there despite not officially being a judge, persuaded them to give the award to F.W. Murnau's Sunrise. One of his arguments was that if they gave the award to a Fox production, it would prove there was no collusion between Mayer, The Academy, and MGM. After arguing until 5:00 am, the Central Board relented.

February 18, 1929 - The winners are announced in the Academy Bulletin.

May 16, 1929 - The banquet is held and the statuettes are handed out. Douglas Fairbanks presented all the awards, and they were all distributed in less than 5 minutes.

This would be the only time that there would be two best picture categories. I think it's interesting to consider what might have happened if they continued to award art movies in a separate category from big productions. It seems inappropriate to compare Good Will Hunting with Titanic, or Lord or the Rings: The Return of the King with Lost in Translation. But I supppose that's what The Independent Spirit Awards are for.

Inexplicably, Wings and The Jazz Singer are not available on DVD (at least not on GreenCine or NetFlix), so I've not been able to see either of them. I did find these clips of Wings on YouTube:


Pat said...


I made the WINGS music video on your page.

This is available on DVD. It's the version that TCM used to show about 15 years ago. It's a sort of crappy VHS transfer to DVD with additional Chinese subtitles ( you can't remove ). I found it on eBay. I purchased it from a Honk Kong reseller via Britain, I beleive.

Anyway, they are still producing it. I got it for $8 dollars, within 4 days. And that price included the shipping. :-)


akrizman said...

The video was truly inspired. Thanks for that.

Also thanks for the heads up on the DVD. I think I'll wait for the proper release, though. They're bound to release a restored version with bells and whistles someday.

I checked out; way cool.