Sunday, January 04, 2009

Mae West: Story of O

Only one of MAE WEST's motion pictures received an Academy Award nod. Alas, a wink is not a win. The Brooklyn bombshell's big box-office for "She Done Him Wrong" left no impression on the gold-plated statuette's baby-sitters. And so, anticipating the season of Oscar, New York Times writer Dave Kehr offers his analysis about the tug-of-war between wowing the audience versus winning the laurels.
• • According to Dave Kehr: One of the enduring traditions of the Academy Awards is that the Oscar for best picture almost invariably goes to a film that isn’t. This will not be news to anyone who has sat through some genuine groaners from Oscars past: pictures like Frank Lloyd’s 1933 “Cavalcade,” Robert Z. Leonard’s 1936 “Great Ziegfeld” and Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 “Greatest Show on Earth.”
• • But even when good movies win, the other nominees are usually of equal or even greater interest. Most famously there was the banner year of 1941, for which John Ford’s magnificent “How Green Was My Valley” was named what the academy then termed “outstanding motion picture” (a more modest, defensible claim and perhaps one the academy should revive) while Orson Welles’s game-changing “Citizen Kane” went home with only the original screenplay award.
• • If the Oscars aren’t a reliable guide to artistic accomplishment, they provide an infallible index to how the leaders of the motion picture industry want their business to be seen in any given year. In 1933, for example, pressure was mounting from civic and religious groups for Hollywood to clean up its act — — pressure that would result in the renewed enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.
• • By selecting “Cavalcade” — — a numbing historical pageant, derived from a Noël Coward play, about a wealthy couple (Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook) stiff-upper-lipping their way through 40 years of English history — — the members of the academy distanced themselves from the racy entertainments that then dominated the box office.
• • Hollywood's 1932 — 1933 Season of O
• • Among the other nominees of the 1932 — 1933 season: the flesh-baring, garter-snapping backstage musical “42nd Street”; Mae West’s “She Done Him Wrong” — — the film in which she sings the innuendo-laden ballad “Where Has My Easy Rider Gone?” [sic]; and Frank Borzage’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms,” a film so forthright in its depiction of premarital sex that 12 minutes had to be cut when it was reissued into the more prudish, post-Code world of 1938. . . .
• • For most of the ’30s the academy whipsawed between popular entertainments (“It Happened One Night,” 1934) and prestigious literary adaptations (“Mutiny on the Bounty,” 1935) meant to assure would-be censors that Hollywood was a dignified, pipe-smoking kind of place, tirelessly working for the moral improvement of American audiences. . . .
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: "Big, Important Picture? Sure. But Is It Best?"
• • Byline: DAVE KEHR
• • Published in: The New York Times
• • Published on: 31 December 2008

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Mae West.

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