31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: The Snubs – Defunct Categories

Introduction

Oscar Envelope

Film is an ever-changing artform, so it stands to reason that the awards that Hollywood created to help celebrate the industry should evolve. It’s more apparent when you realize that the Oscars began when the industry was in flux as sound was in its infancy.

Film has twice adapted itself in competition with other media arts. Synchronized sound came on the heels of the popularity of radio and a shift in aspect ratio, away from 1:33 to widescreen formats was introduced to distance itself from television. The same competition with television helped push films away from black and white film and towards color. With just these technical changes its natural that some award categories would fall in an out of favor over time, some aren’t so obvious. Some, surprisingly, should have never left. I will discuss the categories that are no longer around.

Best Picture, Production and Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production (1929)

Sunrise (1927, 20th Century Fox)

The Academy Awards began with two different iterations of Best Picture. In 1929 the winners of these two respective categories were Wings (Production) and Sunrise (Unique and Artistic). My interpretation of these trophies is that one is more akin to a PGA (Producers Guild of America) award. Whereas, the logistics, accomplishments and merits of the production are highly impressive and well-executed even if the picture mat not be the best overall. Unique and artistic would then be a more narrative-award with special emphasis on creativity. This is a distinction that could’ve proved highly useful in later years. Imagine if it had been around in 1998 (the first year that jumps to mind) give Production to Titanic and Unique and Artistic to As Good as It Gets or L.A. Confidential or Good Will Hunting. Or earlier maybe How Green Was My Valley could get Production and Citizen Kane can get Unique and Artistic and everyone can leave the former alone already, and stop hating it for something that’s no fault of its own.

Ultimately, I understand how the two awards would forever cause confusion and why they needed merging, but it is interesting to consider.

Best Director, Comedy Picture and Dramatic Picture (1929)

Frank Borzage

The Golden Globes still have Comedy/Musical and Dramatic categories for Films and Actors, but not directors. The directing job is highly different in both aspects. Are comedies far too overlooked when it comes to award shows? Yes. Does each year really merit having both categories? Probably not, and surely enough it was not a category the following year.

Best Title Writing (1929)

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927, First National Pictures)

To be quite honest considering that the industry was already in flux awkwardly transitioning from silent to talkie I’m a little surprised this was a category at the first awards. Granted some were trying to dismiss synchronized sound as a fad, but it was clear it was coming. Some categories held on longer, but silent films in the end virtually vanished quite quicker than black-and-white fare or 4:3 aspect ratio films.

Yes, titles were crucial in the silent era, and silents did win Oscars, but it’s slightly unusual that this was actually a category for one year.

Best Cinematography, Color and Best Cinematography, Black and White 1936-1939 (Special Achievement) 1940-1966

Psycho (1960, Universal)

This split became a mainstay of the Academy for 27 editions of the Awards. This is quite a long time and indicates that despite the business-related impetus for color cinematography the necessity of occasionally going into more ethereal monochrome remained and undeniable siren’s call for filmmakers for many years to come.

As wide as the gap between color productions and black-and-white ones have become they are not extinct as recent films like Ida, The Artist and The White Ribbon indicate. Yet, color cinematography in unquestionably ubiquitous enough such that the split no longer makes sense. It most definitely did at one time: color and black-and-white are two different ways of seeing the world. The reason for splitting the two was due to that and the fact that they were fairly equally split. With little equality superlative black-and-white films do have to compete against chromatic ones be it fair or unfair; it’s just a reality.

Best Effects, Engineering Effects (1929)

Wings (1927, Paramount)

The awards for Special Effects were ones that had many names an iterations before becoming a mainstay. A category for “Special Effects, Engineering Effects” existed at the first ceremonies. They returned in 1938 with and Honorary Award. From 1939 to 1962 Visual and Sound Effects shared an award titled Special Effects. In 1963 Special Visual Effects took over. From ’72-’77 it was awarded under Special Achievement Award. The current Special Visual Effects title debuted in 1995.

However, going back to the original trophy it puts me in a mind that perhaps the Academy does need to encourage and reward different kinds of effects work. Maybe split it between practical and computerized. It actually would encourage creativity and be fair. For example many of the most impressive feats in Inception (like the spinning hallway) were done practically. This could highlight those creative moments but still reward highly-creative, ever-evolving computerized effects work.

Best Writing, Achievement 1930

The Patriot (1928, Paramount)

This was the category introduced for the 2nd Annual ceremonies and for that year only. It was an attempt to transition away from three categories (Original, Adaptation and Title Writing) to just one. The only other award I ever saw merge all screenplays into one category was my own for a while. However, adaptation and original screenplays are games with similar rules but different approaches and need different skills. They should be separately awarded and this change is one that was needed.

The Juvenile Award (Awarded intermittently from 1935-1961)

The Window (1949, RKO)

This is an award I’ve already written about at length here. In that post I chronicled those young people who were honored by the Academy. I also followed-up on that by listing who since 1961 would have earned the honor, or could have, if it was still something awarded. Since my personal BAM Awards have started offering parity (meaning the same categories for mature and young performers) I have become convinced the Academy could fill a roster of five nominees a year for a category with this same concept. The term juvenile may be dated, and have poor connotations now, but the idea is one worth revisiting.

Best Short Subject, Cartoons (1932-1957) Short Subject, Comedy (1932-1937), Short Subject Novelty (1932-1937), Short Subject Color (1937-38) Short Subject One-Reel (1937-1957) and Short Subject Two-Reel (1937-1957)

The Dot and the Line (1965, MGM)

You can almost always look to the Academy for some kind of indication as to what the state of the art at least in terms of trends. One thing that would be apparent to someone looking solely at the Oscars with no other film knowledge would be that short films used to be a much more integral part of Hollywood films than they are now. For six years Live Action films were split into Comedies and Novelties, which featured, as the name implies varied subjects and approaches. Starting in 1937 animated films (then referred to as Cartoons by the Academy) were split off and Live Action films were bifurcated by length either one-reel (about 10 minutes or less) or two-reel (about 20 minutes or less). In 1958 Live Action was introduced as the only short subject category for live action, Cartoons still the term used, and the category changed to Best Short Subject, Animated Films in 1972. It is notable that serials never had a category somehow. Maybe because Poverty Row and “lesser” majors specialized in them.

Best Assistant Director (1933-1937)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

Assistant Directors back at the beginning of the film industry had a far different role than they do as the industry and art evolved. There used to be far more directing for assistant directors. First ADs now are far more administrative and keep the production running, most of their direction geared at background performers. Therefore, its interesting that the Academy once underscored the greater level of responsibility this job had with an award.

Best Dance Direction (1936-1938)

Show Boat (1936, Universal)

There are a few instances of the Oscars highlighting the elevated place that the film musical once held. This category specifically aimed at choreography on film is one.

Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration Black-And-White and Color 1940-1966

Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Warner Bros.)

This is the second of three categories that for year offered two prizes owing to the unique challenges and distinct differences in working in black-and-white and color. In simplest terms in color there are temperature, palette and tone considerations but in monochrome there is a transliteration of actual colors to gray tones for desired effect that must be considered and calculated by all department heads.

Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy (1946-1957) Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (1942-1945) and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942-1957)

 

bernard-herrmann5

Here’s one more testament to the potency the musical once hand in the cinematic landscape of Hollywood’s output. In 1958 the distinction in scoring ended. For 16 ceremonies musicals were a category apart. They were so prevalent, significant, and thought to be so different that it had its own category for scoring.

The issue with genre-splitting is: where does it end? Comedy was excluded for three years, and then added. If musicals had stayed at their zenith would further scoring splits have occurred? Unlikely, but it may have been clamored for. Clearly, the loss of a category did not shut the door on the musical winning Best Score, The Sound of Music jumps immediately to mind, but it’s fascinating that it was a class apart for years.

Costume Design Black and White and Costume Design Color (1948-1966)

Jezebel (1938, Warner Bros.)

If there’s one thing that you can laud the Academy for it’s that there was uniformity in when categories stopped being subdivided by color and black-and-white. In all cases when there was such a division, either from the inception of a category like costume design, or later in the game like with cinematography, that split ceased after the 1966 Awards.

Similar to Cinematography and Art Direction costuming for both media is a different game. Black-and-white requires a more abstract understanding of colors and textures and how they’ll read when exposed. Thus, its a bit more intuitive, at times counterintuitive, and far less literal than working in color. Again the time had surely come for the category to merge due to ubiquity but the task is by no means an easy one in monochrome.

Conclusion

 

Oscars (AMPAS)

In most of the these cases it is just interesting and important to note how far the artform and industry have come. It’s important in aesthetic appreciation to note some things that used to be taken for granted and to acknowledge different trends and forms of the past. However, in some of these cases these categories could still be highly useful and be brought back today.

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Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012, Part 2

This is an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Wait Until Dark (1967)

Wait Until Dark (1967, Warner Bros.)

Part of what I really like about 31 Days of Oscar is that despite how high up the you-shoulda-seen-this-by-now ladder a film is the slate typically makes it quite easy to catch up on many of those titles. I always figured that the closing half of this film must be great, but what good is that without an effective build-up? Not much, but this film has both.

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Wild Boys of the Road (1933, Warner Bros.)

Yes, I learned it an always vaguely knew what Pre-Code was, but this year was the first time I really studied up on it and started to watch it more. This film, in part, was the catalyst. What really strikes you is how this film epitomizes the working class, stoic tackling of Depression themes head on that was a Warner signature of the era.

The Window (1949)

The Window (1949, RKO)

If I wanted to try and completely drive myself insane and place these films in order, this would likely come out atop the fray. This is a film based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the same man who gave us Rear Window, and is essentially that tale crossed with “The Boy who Cried Wolf.” It’s short and as suspenseful as you could possibly stand, with real danger and a tremendous performance by Bobby Driscoll that earned him the Juvenile Award from the Academy.

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Mrs. Parkington (1944, MGM)

This is a another 31 Days of Oscar selection that allowed me to redeem missing one of Greer Garson’s nominations as Best Actress. A few years back TCM aired each of her five successive nominations in order and I should’ve seen the whole block. This is a duplicitous family portrait that spans lifetimes and does so very entertainingly.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque Red Death (1964, AIP)

In my previous post I discussed the dichotomy between Roger Corman and Charles Band. Where Corman sets himself apart is in the careers he helped kickstart, but also with his Poe adaptations. I saw a lot of these films in the past year and this was likely the most artistically daring and complete of the lot.

Faces of Children (1925)

Visages d'Enfants (1925, Pathé)

I have a lot of silents and older films sitting on my DVR that I must get to. This is a case of my catching a piece of this film on TCM late one night then being determined to watch it whole again one day. This film stuck with me not just because I discovered the work of Jacques Feyder through it, but also due to the wonderful tinting work involved in it.

Spectre (2006)

Spectre (2006, LionsGate)

I embrace any and all horror series like Six Films to Keep You Awake that round up genre directors from certain countries to tell quick effective tales. It’s not dissimilar to Door into Darkness or Masters of Horror, this edition highlights the uniquely opaque, intricate and dramatic flair that Spain has for the genre. There will be another tale from the series on this list. This is the one that separates the die hards from the casual admirers.

A Child Called Jesus (1987)

A Child Called Jesus (1987, Silvio Burlusconi Communications)

Any film willing to fill in some Biblical gaps, or at the very least cover ground rarely trod, will get my attention. Similarly any film that can hold my attention in spite of terrible dubbing is also worth noting.

The Christmas Tale (2005)

A Christmas Tale (2006, Lionsgate)

As mentioned above in Spectre, this is a Six Films to Keep You Awake tale, but this is the more accessible of the two I chose. It deals with a group of kids who find a woman trapped in a hole, as they learn about what got her there each faces moral dilemmas about how to deal with the situation. It not only sets up good horror but great character study.


Death and Cremation (2010)

Death and Cremation (2010, Green Apple Entertainment)

Prior to Jeremy Sumpter being the not-so-obscure object of desire in Excision he starred in this film which features a very overt and twisted mentor-protegé relationship. Bringing horror icons into the fold of a new project can be a double-edged sword but Brad Dourif is very effective in this role. Conversely, Sumpter utilizes his seeming vulnerability to channel a disconnected attitude and anger. The undertaker/death obsession mixed with suburban malaise can be seen as an obvious connection, but it’s not an overwrought one and works well with the performances.

For the Return of the Juvenile Award

This can be considered a general call to attention for several entities. Firstly, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you will be asked in the course of this article to un-retire an award. Now several categories have been scratched from the list of Oscars handed out annually many of them with reason. For example, there used to be separate color and black & white cinematography awards. This was logical because there is an inherent and obvious difference in shooting black & white versus color. It was also logical because for many years there was a fair split between films shooting in either medium. Now the question “Color or black and white?” is hardly asked and the award no longer is qualified.

That is an example of an award that has been retired and should be. An award that should be un-retired and become a staple is the Juvenile Award. The Juvenile Award was presented 10 times between 1935 and 1960. It was a category where there were never nominees but on occasion the academy would feel a performer was worthy of honoring.

Now the nomenclature is a little dated and if the Academy were willing to update the name that’d be fine. The fact of the matter is that due to the outstanding and consistent achievement by young performers year after year there should be a category to recognize these achievements. We’ve reached a point where the occasional young nominee as an honoree and as a pseudo-stunt is old.

This will allow proper credit to be bestowed upon young talent and thus Keisha Castle-Hughes would have her statuette and so would Haley Joel Osment and he would’ve been nominated appropriately as a lead amongst the youths anyway.

There is precedent for honorary statuettes becoming standardized categories, for example, honorary awards were bestowed upon foreign releases before the creation of a fully-nominated category in 1957.

The second intended audience for this piece is the studios and distributors who are sitting on Oscar-winning performances which are pieces of history that are unknown to the public.

Typically, the Juvenile Award was cited for the actor’s body of work as the best of his age group in Hollywood during the given year. However, examining filmographies one can easily see the specific projects that garnered the honor.

Juvenile Awards were Awarded to:
     

Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills in Pollyanna (Disney)

“For Most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960.”

Pollyanna is a Disney classic title and readily available.

Vincent Winter and Jon Whiteley

Jon Whietely and Vincent Winter in The Little Kidnappers (United Artists)

For his outstanding performance in The Little Kidnappers.

This title seems to be out of print and it shouldn’t be it’s a shared award for one film, which is rare. I had also never heard of this film or these last two winners until I was updating this post so I’m glad I did.

Bobby Driscoll

Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll and Paul Stewart in The Window (RKO)

“For the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949.” 

This was mostly for the The Window, a film noir where Driscoll plays a modern incarnation of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” So Dear to My Heart, a Disney film, went wide in January of that year but premiered in 1948. It is typically drama that’ll have influence on such an award and The Window is available from The Warner Archive Collection but streams on Amazon.

Ivan Jandl

Ivan Jandl

“For the outstanding juvenile performance of 1948 in The Search .”

This film is available from Warner Archive. It’s the tale of an American soldier helping a Czech boy find his mother.

Claude Jarman, Jr.

Claude Jarman, Jr. in The Yearling (MGM)

“For the outstanding child actor of 1946.”

This award is truly for The Yearling which was Jarman’s debut. It is still readily available on DVD and is well worth seeing. Be sure to have Kleenex on hand for this tear-jerker.

Peggy Ann Garner

Ted Donaldson, Joan Blondell and Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (20th Century Fox)

“For the outstanding child actress of 1945.”

While her notable performances from 1944 (Jane Eyre and Keys to the Kingdom) are available and her most famous 1945 role (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) the other two parts in 1945 that earned her a general citation for excellence (Nob Hill and Junior Miss) are out of print.

Margaret O’Brien

“For outstanding child actress of 1944.”

O’Brien earned her award for four performances. Only Meet Me in St. Louis is on DVD. The Canterville Ghost is on VHS, if you like that sort of thing.  
 
 
Judy Garland 
  

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (MGM)


   
“For her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year [1939].”

Judy Garland’s performances in both Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz which won her the award in 1940 are both readily available. The first is part of a Rooney-Garland Box Set released by Warner Brothers Home Video.

 Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

MGM

“For their (Durbin/Rooney) significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.”

Rooney’s Andy Hardy films are still readily available.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple

“In grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.”

Most of Shirley Temple’s filmography is still readily available.

Any gaps in the availability of a performance in the history of this unique and short-lived award should be rectified. Likewise, the award should return. The Academy can name the award after Ms. Temple if they like and honor young actors every year.

For even missing from this list are the likes of Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, Roddy MacDowell, Dean Stockwell, Elizabeth Taylor, Patty McCormack, Anne Rutherford, Debbie Reynolds and more, so even in an era when the award existed not everyone worthy won the award. Not that trophies need to be handed out in hindsight or to those who have left us but the award should definitely make its presence known again both on video and in the ceremony.