It’s been fun sharing awards season with you (translation: IT’S ALMOST OVER). As we exit the most over-blogged Oscar season of all time, let’s back up 21 years to revisite some past Academy controversy. Though this year the New York Times felt compelled to run a piece from research scholar Kim Elsesser bemoaning the fact that gender-segregated acting categories still exist (why? Isn’t it enough of a horse race already?), the Oscar op-ed isn’t necessarily an annual tradition.
Their last major NYT Oscar editorial ran four years ago, when Adam Cohen proposed that the 2006 class of “Crash,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, And Good Luck,” “Syriana” and “The Constant Gardener” represented a new day in awards seasons, acknowledging movies that engaged with the controversial present rather than the safely resolved past. Obviously, this didn’t work out.
20 years ago, the Times archives record one major op-ed contribution, a letter from one Arthur J. Morgan, who expresses his unease about attending a matinee of “Glory” where “cheers were coming every time a black killed a white.” But for real controversy, you have to go back to the 1989 awards, which seem universally remembered as one of the worst ever, mainly due to the opening sequence, a long series of musical numbers featuring “Snow White” (Disney considered suing for defamation of character) singing opposite recent-sex-scandalee Rob Lowe.
The Times, as it happened, was sanguine: their wrap-up editorial asked the annual rhetorical question: “Does anybody really want the show to be great? Isn’t trashing it the next morning half the fun?” Nothing’s significantly changed since then, even if the fever-pitch speculations have only increased in intensity.
Watching that opening sequence two decades on, what’s surprising is how well it’s aged. For all the infamy, there’s a lot to treasure. Snow White and Rob Lowe is a great camp moment, of course, but there’s more to it — cameos by Roy Rogers, Cyd Charisse, Vincent Price, Dorothy Lamour and so on suggest the assumption that everyone can remember back 50 years cinematically, something that seems unlikely these days. Worst ceremony ever? Pleasing time capsule (it was also Lucille Ball’s last public appearance)? Just remember: no matter how earth-shakingly awful the Oscars will turn out (already predetermined by your personality), in 20 years that ceremony be nothing more than some era-specific memories and faded outrage. Just enjoy it, okay?
[Photos: “The 61st Annual Academy Awards,” ABC, 1989; “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,” Disney, 1937]