This week, I take another look at the award itself, from the other side of the coin.
It Happened One Night was made in 1934, directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Ms. Colbert won the Oscar for lead actress, despite her believing it was the worst performance of her career.
I wasn’t there when she won her Oscar, but a lot of people were. These people clapped, some cried, a few were jealous, but most of them smiled.
Ms. Colbert probably held her hand up to her chest and exclaimed she couldn’t believe it, then thanked everyone she could think of for this golden statue, in as short a time as possible.
She probably was on an emotional high for the remainder of the night, the rest of the week, and could return to that elation throughout the rest of her life.
Ms. Colbert surely found a special place for the award, perhaps on her mantle, perhaps beside the photo of her and Clark Gable in costume on the set.
Friends came by to gaze at it, they met for coffee and talked about what it felt like to go to the Oscars. Her mother told everyone at the sewing circle, and she was so proud.
Actually, we really don’t know if any of that is true.
We know that despite the grandiose moment, the symbol of great achievement eighty years ago, no one wants it today.
In 1997, Christie’s auction house failed to sell it. There were no bidders. No one wanted the Oscar that meant so much to so many in 1934.
Like many industries, those who work in film will fight and claw for the job, say anything for the prestige, and float for miles like buzzards over a crawling animal, waiting for a chance to eat.
But the moment is fleeting, the satisfaction is temporary, and the glamour is traded in for a new dress every year.
In a warehouse somewhere, all the unwanted awards wait, boxed up, wondering how they went from being the most coveted of all things, to something no one remembers.
Her Oscar itself is worthless nowdays.
Or is it?
I know this story because I subscribe to www.dvdinfatuation.com - "2,500 Movies Challenge" is a service ran by a guy named Dave B., a guy who loves movies. He sends out periodic movies reviews, and constantly shares his reviews on social media. He’s challenged himself to watch 2,500 movies and review them all for us to read.
As I wrote last year, for those who make films, or whatever it is you make, the award is what you give yourself when you do the work. And, as we see from Ms. Colbert’s story, any other award is falsely disguised as a rush of endorphins that only lasts for so long. The award is great, but not the point.
Those awards that anchor such emotion may end up in a warehouse, screaming like ghosts for their souls long ago lost: So why even have them? It's useless and vain.
Or maybe it's not enough to just say this is a dog and pony show.
The other side of the coin is people like Dave B., people like myself, and people around the world who love cinema.
I’ve recently read friends try and knock the awards down as celebrity worship only, I’ve read and listened to this year's controversy, I’ve watched people talk about the gowns and people argue over who deserves what. I've seen people treat filmmaking as if it's politics, as if it is something to democratize, as if it is anything other than a collective dream.
I’ve also spent a lot of time on my own film. An agonizing amount of time, in fact. So agonizing, that I’ve often questioned if it is worth it. Why dedicate your life to something that is so easily dismissed, especially in a world that moves too fast to notice?
Something so prestigious one day will become something so unwanted the next.
The sacrifices one make seem useless in a temporary life, all to create something that is watched quickly, if it is even watched at all.
And then, I remember how much I love to sit and talk with friends over a cup of coffee about five minutes of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. It took us five minutes to watch, but continues in our conversation over the span of years. It must have been difficult to make, a film he spent years putting together, and as much time agonizing over the result.
When I think it’s futile, when I think of Ms. Colbert’s Oscar reality, and the dusty warehouse of forgotten dreams, I remember that we didn’t forget.
We still argue over which Batman is the most authentic, or wonder about the sanity of a Russian director who’s been making the same film for decades.
I still eagerly open Dave B.’s posts and read about a film I never heard about, and will maybe never see, but one that inspires me just the same, if only for the story behind the story of making it.
Or, I think about the carnival, this depraved carnival of making films, jumping from one production to the next, sacrificing any resemblance of a normal life, and often with the impression that those sacrifices are not noticed or even respected.
I think of how demanding and arduous some of the work can be, when on a production, with little time, no money, and everyone wanting you to be cheap, but loyal and with nothing in return.
But somewhere in that darkness, you find a twinkle in the eyes of some. Those who respect and clearly demonstrate appreciation for that hard work. Those who discuss with you their time working with their own heroes, and how they were taught to "light the air." Those who take the time to care about your own work.
They are the ones you end up doing your best work for.
When I think about this, I realize how much people love stories, movies, and the culture that exists between the agony of making them. And I see my own appreciation, and I realize my world would be less enriching without them.
And this inspires me to get up one more day, and make my contribution, and to remain a grateful audience. We can't live the words of Oscar Wilde too long: "The play was a success, but the audience was a disaster," or we'll have no culture left. There'll be no reason for an Oscar, other than repeating Mr. Wilde.
So, with the awards season over, and vultures still arguing over who deserves to eat from the dying animal we’ll forget in eighty years, I look to the other side of the coin:
Thanks to those who appreciate and respect the work. People like Dave B., people like my friends and colleagues who take the time to care.
Storytellers are nothing without you, and you are the most important part of the story.
The Journey Continues
If you liked this article, you may enjoy Thoughts On Awards