The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held on 16th May 1929, though it honoured films released from 1st August 1927 – 1st August 1928. This weekend, while everyone’s fretting over who’s wearing whose frock, and who’s going to win what, remember that in 1929 everyone already knew who had won months in advance: the ceremony was just a formality, a gala dinner for the winners, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks and lasting only 15 minutes (yes, really). They also gave awards to the best film of the year, one of the best films of all time, Sunrise;
Janet Gaynor was voted Best Actress, not for a single role, but for her performances in Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel. Emil Jannings was Best Actor for The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command. Charlie Chaplin received an honorary award for The Circus,
The Best Picture winner (or, as it was termed then, Outstanding Picture, Production) at the first ceremony, the only one that was not broadcast on TV or radio, was Wings, starring Clara Bow. Lewis Milestone (comedy, for Two Arabian Nights) and Frank Borzage (drama, for Seventh Heaven) were both awarded Best Director. Oh, how things have changed.
On this day in 1932, Disney premiered Flowers and Trees, the first cartoon short to use Technicolor, and the first to win the Academy Award for best animated short (Walt Disney Productions won the next seven years in a row, too). It was already in production as a black-and-white film when Walt decided to start again and use it as a test case for the three-strip process, for which Disney had an exclusive contract.
While the media puppies were distracted by the Oscar chew-toy, the Visual Effects Society was handing out its 8th annual batch of awards. Soundly trounced by The Hurt Locker at the Academy, Avatar could take some comfort from its haul of six statuettes in the shape of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. You can see a full list of winners here. The VES recognises films, TV shows, commercials and videogames that exhibit innovative or outstanding visual effects: these are effects completed in post-production as opposed to special effects, which is meant to refer to things done on the set, but which has become a catch-all for visual trickery of all sorts. As a result, almost every nominee (the stop-motion Coraline is the honourable exception) is featured for its digital effects. And what do you think was the single most impressive effect of the year? Was it the destruction of L.A. in 2012? The plane crash in Knowing? Nope, it was a shot of Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri drinking water from a leaf. A CG character dribbling CG liquid into her mouth. It’s less obviously spectacular than the fire and brimstone of its competitors, and techie insiders obviously recognised the complexity of modelling and compositing all of those separate elements, but it points to the micro-spectacular properties of digital effects. Aside from the capacity for large-scale destruction, they chase after the possibility of the sensuality of surfaces, skin and fluid, hoping for their successful integration, the thrill of their touch. This, depending on your view, is either a marvelous re-direction of the spectacular towards haptic, luxuriant pleasures, or a complete waste of time when there’s plenty of serviceable skin and water to be found in the real world at any time.