Awards time brings out true Christmas spirit

THOUGH WE WERE RAISED to believe that Christmas was the time when people pulled together and thought good thoughts about their fellow man, I have increasingly come to believe that Oscar season fulfills that purpose far more effectively. Indeed, as the pressures of the awards season build, we can already see all sorts of disparate groups extending the hand of amity. All year long, for example, movie stars snub reporters from obscure overseas publications, and studio power players joke about the curious constituency representing itself as the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. But suddenly it’s January, and everyone’s warm and cuddly. The studios buy tables at the Golden Globes, NBC broadcasts the event with Oscar-like pomp and circumstance, and stars fall all over themselves to attend.

Then you have those other two implacable foes, the studios and the film critics. Talk to studio executives during the summer and they’ll remind you that film critics consistently call ’em wrong, and that the new era of more mass-marketing has made their projects critic-proof. But now it’s awards season, and suddenly we see full-page ads heralding awards from arcane critics’ circles all over the world. I asked one studio marketing chief if he’d ever actually met a member of the National Board of Review, and he confessed, “Look, I don’t have the remotest idea who they are, but I’d quote them even if they were all in Forest Lawn.” Now that demonstrates “good will toward man,” doesn’t it?

A SIMILARLY INCLUSIVE SPIRIT is evident in the selection of quote ads. Major stars and filmmakers normally urge studios to cite blurbs only from important critics and to steer clear of the Bonnie Churchill-Paul Wunder-Susan Granger school of random raves. If you can point to praise from the New York Times or Time magazine, why go with Bobbie Wygant, KXAS-TV, Fort Worth, (she said “Daylight” was “the most daring action thriller ever made”) or Susan Stark, Detroit News, (“Of some 6,000 films I’ve seen over 28 years as a professional viewer, ‘The English Patient’ is best of all.”) During the pre-Oscar scramble, however, all such inhibitions seem to be shed. This ecumenical spirit also makes itself apparent in other ways. When awards are handed out at banquets, plaudits are heaped on the winners in a seeming groundswell of good feeling even from former adversaries. Take Dustin Hoffman, for example. That gifted but feisty actor will be this year’s recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes ceremony, and in anticipation of that event, trade ads already are immortalizing him not only for his gifts as an actor, but also as a humanitarian. Now that’s all very heartwarming, but talk with directors and producers who have worked with Dustin in years past and you are assaulted with a variety of war stories. You hear about how Dustin angrily berated directors before shocked crews, made 11th-hour demands for script changes and launched into other sudden tantrums. All this can be explained away in the context of Dustin’s well-known perfectionism. Few stars have ever demanded more of themselves or their colleagues. On the other hand, when Dustin was flirting with the idea of playing the role of the young Adolf Hitler some years ago, one filmmaker with whom he had worked told me, “Dustin shouldn’t play Hitler it’s typecasting.” THIS IS THE SEASON for amity, however. Everyone at the Golden Globes will forget Dustin’s past transgressions and he will emerge as a cross between Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa. The problem, of course, is that the curtain comes down abruptly on all this good feeling with the Oscar ceremony March 24. Suddenly the ebullient conviviality of all those black-tie dinners grinds to a crashing halt. Everyone who has won the lesser globes, plaques and random baubles are suddenly furious because they have not won the only statuette that really carries clout the Oscar. The gracious platitudes of praise suddenly seem as evanescent as a Bonnie Churchill quote. And everyone realizes, “It’s reality time again.”

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