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On the opening night of its annual 31 Days of Oscar festival, TCM presents the world premiere of And the Oscar Goes To... (2014), a new documentary tracing the history of the Academy Awards. Produced by Telling Pictures, Inc., in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Hollywood Newsreel, the special is written, directed and produced by Oscar®-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, with Christopher Pavlick and Rick Spalla also producing. The documentary is one of a series of programming events leading up to the TCM 20th anniversary in April 2014. CNN Films will air the encore presentation of the documentary on CNN, following the film's first broadcast on TCM.
In telling the story of the gold-plated statuette that became the film industry's most coveted prize, And the Oscar Goes To... traces the history of the Academy itself, which began in 1927 when Louis B. Mayer, then head of MGM, led other prominent members of the industry in forming this professional honorary organization. Two years later the Academy began bestowing awards, which were nicknamed "Oscar" and quickly came to represent the pinnacle of cinematic achievement.
The documentary features reminiscences of such Oscar® winners as Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List, 1993; Saving Private Ryan, 1998), George Clooney (Syriana, 2005), Helen Mirren (The Queen, 2006), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, 1982), Liza Minnelli (Cabaret, 1972), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost, 1990), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, 1993; Forrest Gump, 1994), Cher (Moonstruck, 1987), Jon Voight (Coming Home, 1978), Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, 1974), Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, 2000) and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls, 2006). Vintage clips show other recipients including Janet Gaynor (Sunrise, 1927), James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story, 1940), Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind, 1939; A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951), Jack Lemmon (Mister Roberts, 1955; Save the Tiger, 1973) and Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8, 1960; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , 1966). In addition to directors and performers, tribute is also paid to technical achievements including those in art direction, cinematography, editing, music, makeup and costume design.
Spielberg speaks of his special relationship with composer John Williams, winner of five Oscars® for his scores, including those for Spielberg's Jaws (1975), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Schindler's List (1993). A bemused George Clooney discusses the honor of being up for an Oscar®, along with the potential "humiliation" of losing. Helen Mirren acknowledges the excitement of winning awards, with the caveat that on some level it seems "wrong" to her for artists to be drawn into competition.
Minnelli recalls that her mother, Judy Garland, only gave her "one acting lesson" - to search for the meaning behind the words - and recalls Garland's "perfect" Oscar®-nominated performance utilizing very little dialogue in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Goldberg remembers her own excitement at winning while acknowledging the achievement of Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African-American performer to take home an Academy Award, for Gone With the Wind (1939). When it comes to winning an Oscar®, says Goldberg, "Some people act like it's not a big deal. It's a huge deal!"
Other award-winning filmmakers interviewed include Kathleen Kennedy (Schindler's List, 1993), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, 2009) and Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, 1989). Behind-the-camera interviewees include cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, 1993; Saving Private Ryan, 1998), editor Kirk Baxter (The Social Network, 2010; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2011), production designer Jeannine Claudia Oppewall (L.A. Confidential, 1997); costume designer Jeffrey Kurland (Inception, 2010); makeup artist Ve Neill (Beetlejuice, 1988; Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993; Ed Wood, 1994); visual effects designer Craig Barron (Titanic, 1997) and sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars, 1977; E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982).
In addition, And the Oscar Goes To... will feature interviews with frequent Academy Award ceremony host Billy Crystal, ceremony producer Don Mischer and head writer Bruce Vilanch, as well as former Academy executive director Bruce Davis and cinematographer and Board of Governors member John Bailey. Also appearing is TCM host and Academy Awards historian Robert Osborne, author of 85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.
The special is packed with great moments from 85 years of Oscar ceremonies, first held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, now home to the TCM Classic Film Festival each spring. Included are such controversial awards/acceptance speeches as Jane Fonda's win for Klute (1971), Michael Moore's for Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Sacheen Littlefeather's appearance to decline Marlon Brando's Oscar for The Godfather (1972). Also watch for behind-the-scenes ceremony footage from the archives of Hollywood Newsreel, much of it never shown on television before.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are among the few directors, writers and producers in the independent film world traversing non-fiction and scripted narrative. Their films together include Lovelace (2013), starring Amanda Seyfried; and the documentary The Battle of Amfar (2013). Their films have screened throughout the world in movie theaters, at major film festivals (including Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York) and on television and home video. Between them they have received two Academy Awards, five Emmys, three Peabodys and Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships.
Other films by Epstein and Friedman include Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (Academy Award, Feature Documentary, 1989), Where Are We? (1991), The Celluloid Closet (1995), Paragraph 175 (2000) and the feature film Howl (2010).
By Roger Fristoe