There are six days left until the movie industry’s annual sob-fest unleashes the usual tidal wave of gush, glitz and God-awful acceptance speeches, on an increasingly suspecting public.
The Academy Awards ceremony – an emotionally fraught, “and the winner is …” edge-of-your-seats spectacular – was once a genuinely innocent, onion-juice in the eye-liner number. Superficially it still is.
Performers wear unusual dresses, some reveal more breast than is considered decorous by the press and the press print close-up pictures over four pages to prove it, winners evince shock, delight and surprise, and the saintly, warm smiles of the losers fail to disguise the bitter rank jealousy that they feel inside – so no change there.
Backstage, however, the picture has changed. For production companies, this is the home straight on a gruelling marathon that has consumed huge amounts of energy and vast amounts of money over the past months.
It’s money that has been invested in schmoozing a route to success, because when producers, performers, writers and directors walk off stage with an Oscar, it’s not 12 inches of gold they’re carrying, but a whole barrowload of bullion.
It’s reckoned that a good run in the Oscars can add between $50 and $100m at the box office. When that kind of money is at stake, things can get ruthless. Who wouldn’t be tempted to nobble, bribe and creep up to the jury? You smear the opposition, you spread gossip, rumour, speculation and lies, you whisper strange secrets and tall tales, and you manipulate the media into whatever contorted shape you desire to do your bidding.
This is what is alleged of, for example, Miramax. The company’s detractors claim they invested over $15m to secure Oscars for Shakespeare in Love and Life is Beautiful, in a hugely one-sided assault designed to trash Saving Private Ryan. But who knows – the allegation may well have been a smear by those very detractors.
The backroom tacticians and the frontline fighters in this war were the PRs, PRs whose skills are so refined that they make Jo Moore and Stephen Byers look like Laurel and Hardy in Toytown. I’ve commented before on the fact that when Tom Cruise got his last Oscar, the first person he thanked was his publicist. When your PR is more important than your mother, you’ve got a serious problem.
Russell Crowe’s mother definitely has nothing to offer of any use to her embattled son this year, since he got uppity about his poetic prowess and slammed Endemol’s mild-mannered Malcolm Gerrie against the wall, and later tried to beat up a fan for taking a snap of him outside his hotel. (Or did he?). Watch out for some heavy, heavy overtime on Crowe’s case this week, from both sides.
Already Miramax – pushing hard for Oscars for In the Bedroom – has accused director Ron Howard of editing John Nash’s homosexuality (related in the biography that was adapted for the film) out of A Beautiful Mind.
So now we’ve supposedly got a violent, foul-mouthed star, a “dishonest” adaptation, and homosexuality which the conservative majority (and particularly any screaming closet queens) will always detest.
Then we have Crowe – great heart-warming human touch this – sobbing down the phone to Malcolm’s son, apologising for having caused the wee man so much grief in the playground.
Whatever the tale may be, don’t bother asking the American media, because as the big studios trade future favours, the craven US press just toes whatever party line pays the hotel bill.
In the UK, the saving grace of cynicism will ensure that the studios won’t be so successful in feeding the media with their strategic hysteria, if it’s any consolation. So sit back and keep a weather eye out this week, because this is the real spectacular, and the ceremony itself is just the after-show party.