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And the Oscar goes to...

Oscar is turning 79 this year. And he looks practically the same as he did back in the late 1920s. On the other hand, he’s just a statuette… Or is he really? Only a statuette?

When you look at him, he is a shiny figure made of gold-plated britannium (a copper, silver and nickel alloy) on a black metal base, only 34 centimeters tall. Weighing almost 4 kilos, the image is that of a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film with the inscription AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Despite its competitors–including Berlin’s Bear, Venice’s Lion and the Cesar of Paris–it remains the most desired cinematic award in the world. Just a statuette, eh?

The origin of the name “Oscar” is still disputed. One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, Oscar Nelson. Another version is that an Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, who first saw the award in 1931, said that it reminded her of her Uncle Oscar. Husband or uncle, the important thing is that the nickname caught on. Nowadays, both Oscar and Academy Award are registered trademarks of the Academy, fiercely protected by law.

The idea of awarding outstanding filmmakers originated in 1927. It’s an important date in the history of cinema, the year in which films spoke for the first time. Or rather sang with the voice of Al Jolson, to be precise. This fact inspired a few Hollywood actors, directors and producers to establish the Academy of Motion Picture to recognize excellence among professionals in the film industry. The statue itself was designed by Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer art director Cedric Gibbon and sculptor George Stanley.

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on Thursday, May 16, 1929, at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of the previous two years, 1927 and 1928. It was hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks. The number of categories was not established then, but since 1931 it has been growing. The number now officially stands at 24 but, interestingly, the Academy doesn’t know how many statuettes it will actually hand out until the envelopes are opened on Oscar Night. Even though the number of categories and special awards is known prior to the ceremony, the possibility of ties and multiple winners sharing the prize makes the exact number unpredictable.

Even though the Oscar looks more or less the same as it did in 1929, sometimes the statuettes have taken various sizes and have been made of different materials. During World War II, they were made of plaster (to be replaced by the real thing in 1945). Young recipients of the award were given a miniature version. Walt Disney also received seven mini-Oscars for the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first all-animated feature film. There is even one instance where a wooden Oscar was awarded to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.

In 1949 the Oscar statuettes were numbered for the first time, beginning with number 501. Anyone who decides to get rid of his or her Oscar must sell it to the Academy for one dollar. Approximately 40 Oscars are made every year in Chicago by the manufacturer R. S. Owens. If they do not meet the strict quality control standards, the statuettes are cut in half and melted down. The ones that make it to the ceremony are awarded to the winners and then… sent back to Chicago, where their owners’ names are engraved on them.

Oscar Night is a live televised ceremony watched by the whole planet. It is an elaborate show full of smiles and thank-you’s. It also gets its share of criticism for being boring, repetitive and political. The most famous critics of the ceremony included Marlon Brando and Woody Allen, who once boycotted it (though for different reasons). It is, however, a general belief that most of the movies and actors that have won Oscars seem to have deserved them. In any case, it is nowadays hard to imagine the world–or at least the world of cinema–without this prize. The Academy Award continues to evoke at least the same excitement that it had at the beginning. So don’t wonder what should come after the phrase “…and the winner is…” Every time you hear it, the answer is the same. The winner is always Oscar.

Ryszard Wolański

 

Glossary
copper miedź
alloy stop metali
crusader’s sword miecz krzyżowca
reel rolka
origin pochodzenie
catch on (past: caught on) przyjąć się
registered trademark zastrzeżony znak firmowy
excellence doskonałość, znakomitość
sculptor rzeźbiarz
prior to przed
tie tu: remis
multiple wielokrotny
plaster gips
recipient odbiorca, tu: laureat
feature film film pełnometrażowy (zwykle fabularny)
ventriloquist brzuchomówca
melt down stopić
engrave grawerować
elaborate rozbudowany
evoke wzbudzać, wywoływać
dumpster pojemnik na śmieci
 
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POLISH OSCARS
1941 Leopold STOKOWSKI
Special Oscar (music) Fantasia,
Dir. W. Disney
1953 Bronisław KAPER
Oscar (music) Lili,
Dir. C. Walters
1982 Zbigniew RYBCZYŃSKI
Oscar (short film) Tango
1993 Janusz KAMIŃSKI
Oscar (cinematography)
Schindler’s List,
Dir. S. Spielberg
1993 Ewa BRAUN and Allan STARSKI
Oscar (art direction and set
decoration) Schindler’s List,
Dir. S. Spielberg
1998 Janusz KAMIŃSKI
Oscar (cinematography) Saving
Private Ryan, Dir. S. Spielberg
2000 Andrzej WAJDA
Oscar (lifetime honorary award)
2002 Roman POLAŃSKI
Oscar (director) The Pianist
2004 Jan A. P. KACZMAREK
Oscar (music) Finding
Neverland, Dir. M. Forster

OSCAR RECORDS
Most Oscars for a director
Walt Disney–26 awards
Most Oscars for a film
Ben Hur (1959)–11 awards
Titanic (1997)–11 awards
The Lord of the Rings: Return
of the King (2003)–11 awards
Youngest Oscar winner
Shirley Temple–age 6
Oldest Oscar winner
Jessica Tandy–age 81
Shortest Oscar ceremony
1929–15 minutes
Longest Oscar ceremony
2000–256 minutes
Most ceremonies hosted
Bob Hope–18 times
Most awarded actor
Jack Nicholson–
11 nominations, 3 awards
Most awarded actress
Meryl Streep–13 nominations,
2 awards
Longest thank-you speech
Greer Garson–5 minutes
30 seconds
Biggest losers
Equus (1977)–
11 nominations, no awards
The Color Purple (1986)–
11 nominations, no awards

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