Saturday, January 21, 2023

Book Review: Oscar Wars

America does not have royalty. It has the Academy Awards. For nine decades, perfectly coiffed starlets, debonair leading men, and producers with gold in their eyes have chased the elusive Oscar. What began as an industry banquet in 1929 has now exploded into a hallowed ceremony, complete with red carpets, envelopes, and little gold men. But don’t be fooled by the pomp: the Oscars, more than anything, are a battlefield, where the history of Hollywood—and of America itself—unfolds in dramas large and small. The road to the Oscars may be golden, but it’s paved in blood, sweat, and broken hearts.

In Oscar Wars, Michael Schulman chronicles the remarkable, sprawling history of the Academy Awards and the personal dramas—some iconic, others never-before-revealed—that have played out on the stage and off camera. Unlike other books on the subject, each chapter takes a deep dive into a particular year, conflict, or even category that tells a larger story of cultural change, from Louis B. Mayer to Moonlight. Schulman examines how the red carpet runs through contested turf, and the victors aren't always as clear as the names drawn from envelopes. Caught in the crossfire are people: their thwarted ambitions, their artistic epiphanies, their messy collaborations, their dreams fulfilled or dashed.

Oscar Wars comes out on February 21, 2023. Harper Collins provided an early galley for review.

I have always been fascinated by Hollywood, by actors and by the movies. Growing up, I remember flipping through the entertainment magazines that my grandmother would occasionally buy - just to look at the pictures of the stars all dressed in glamour for premieres and such. So, a book like this one was very appealing to me. Also, the cover reminded me a bit of the artwork in movie parodies that ran in Mad Magazine, something I read a lot growing up. I enjoyed those movie parodies even though I might not have actually seen what they were satirizing.

Schulman has done his research when it comes to this book. He covers the nine decades of the Academy Awards, from the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences first came together all the way up to most recent times. It is told in a chronological manner, and it highlights some of the biggest films that were nominated, often pitted against one another, and how the battles played out. The stories are filled with the names of those who are legendary in the Hollywood story - actors and actresses, writers, directors, producers and studio executives. This one is a cavalcade of who's who in the entertainment industry.

There were a number of fascinating stories that I got out of this one. I enjoyed the parallels from the two 1950 films Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. I am always interested to hear about the HUAC actions of the 1950's and how individuals got around being blacklisted. I was intrigued with how Candace Bergen brought about change in the demographics of the Academy in the early 1970's. And, despite all the bad press it got, I rather enjoyed Allan Carr's production of the 1989 Academy Awards show (but I also was a huge fan of his Can't Stop The Music and Grease 2.

I very much recommend this for movie fans.

No comments: