Unless you are a movie buff, you probably won’t remember or bother about watching an award-winning title let alone the annual Academy Awards results. To many, it’s just a star-studded affair featuring actors and actresses dressed in fancy tuxedoes and designer gowns and lots of boring predictable thank you speeches.
Michael Schulman from the New Yorker however treats readers to the many colourful behind-the-scenes of the Academy Awards right from its turbulent birth by MGM cofounder Louis B, Mayer in Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat and Tears.
For readers who aren’t familiar or keen in the old, silent classics Hollywood era in the 1920s and 30s where Douglas Fairbank and Mary Pickford ruled the day might find the first four chapters kind of dozy as Schulman unfolds a sprawling narration involving labour disputes, contract disagreements, stars rivalry and the incoming of World War II. Despite Schulman’s attention to details (including archival research at the New York Public Library, the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library and countless interviews), it does require a little patience on the reader’s end.
Contemporary movie buffs will find it more relatable as chapter seven depicts the beginning of a certain Steven Spielberg and his mechanical “Jaws”, Stanley Kubrick’s insistence on perfection etc. It’s a time when the Academy honored the emergence of filmmakers that doesn’t go by the rule. Things get way more exciting from chapter eight onwards as the Academy nearly gets into a lawsuit with Disney over the appearance of Snow White in the 1989 over-the-top awards ceremony.
The notorious Harvey Weinstein gets a huge mention in the subsequent chapter as Harvey and DreamWorks battle it out over Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan and of course you know who is the ultimate winner of the little gold man in the end. The final chapters detailed the rise of how Halle Berry made Oscar history and the mayhem behind the Moonlight and La La Land mix up.
Beside acting as a great historical piece, Oscar Wars also questioned the relevancy of the awards given the huge decline in ratings over the years. The Academy has failed to adapt despite the rising of streamers and social media. Perhaps the movie business is going to evolve in the coming years, the question is when. In the meantime, enjoy Schulman’s captivating tale of ego, scandal and fame. It’s all about the drama isn’t it?
Review by Linus Tee
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