Kris Tapley had a chat with Sasha last week about the impact of presidential politics on Oscar voters and came up with his own projection of election year synergy at In Contention: Hollywood reacts and responds to the nation’s socio-political climate.
That’s what’s so great about movies, books, paintings, songs, etc. They are as much a direct reflection of the times as they are a nebulous Rorschach for them. Involuntary extrapolation can be as significant as clear-eyed reaction to a straight-forward treatise. And in an environment as heated, tense and divided as this, the art that escapes the cauldron is bound to be, if not willfully profound, then a fascinating looking glass, at the very least.
I hopped on iChat with Stone last week to chew on this idea a bit and do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: really dig through the history of election years and the Oscars. Much of what follows is owed to that conversation and the ideas that came out of it. It’s a fool’s errand to try and tie any given election year down to the Best Picture winner, of course, but it certainly makes for intriguing considerations.
The Oscars actually began on an election year, interestingly enough. In 1928, as Herbert Hoover continued a period of Republicanism by beating out Al Davis, the country was at the end of a booming economic period. The Academy Awards, meanwhile, were initially created as a financial boost to the film industry. It made sense, then, that something as extravagant as William A. Wellman’s “Wings,” the epitome of everything that was possible on the big screen at the time, would be duly rewarded.
After that it was headlong into one of the country’s darkest hours: The Great Depression, with a granite leader to see us through not only that, but eventually, war. Beginning in 1932, it was 16 years of Franklin Roosevelt (who took down the likes of Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey along the way). That year, Edmund Goulding’s “Grand Hotel” — a cross-section of characters and the human condition — took the prize.
You’ll want to click over to read Kris’s complete historical recap, but I’ll jump ahead a few decades to highlight a salient Oscar trend that always exasperates me. The tendency of Academy voters to put on a Pollyanna happy-face during America’s most trying times. I understand the palliative purpose of escapism, but in retrospect such rose-colored focus sure makes Hollywood look oblivious.
But times were going to get dark, and the country was going to develop a rift. The Best Picture winners of the 1960s, for the most part, reflect the aforementioned desire to look away and just be entertained. Musicals won the day, and for 1964, with Kennedy assassinated and Lyndon Johnson defeating the extreme right-winger Barry Goldwater at the polls, it was George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady.”
Times would get even darker. In 1968, we would see the assassinations of civil rights leaders (Martin Luther King), rays of political hope (Robert Kennedy) and US ambassadors (John Gordon Mein). Racial tension was still dominant (independent George Wallace even won a handful of states in the south) and a war was tearing the country apart. Nixon, finally taking the spot he coveted, would beat out Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. And the Academy would award… Carol Reed’s “Oliver!,” a frothy musical that even took some of the bite out of Dickens.
Much more to absorb at In Contention.