Nanny still needed

Memo to: Frank Pierson

From: Peter Bart

Re: Capping the campaigning

Obviously, Frank, you like the action. This year you directed a new film, which is a pretty good achievement for a 78-year-old veteran of the cinematic wars. Further, as president of the Academy, you also piloted the Oscars through one of its most traumatic years.

And shortly, you and your colleagues will be doing your Oscar post-mortem, so I ask you to ponder the following question: Isn’t it time for the Academy to get real?

Year after year you and your confreres look down scornfully on the Oscar campaign, going “harrumph” over each pre-Oscar party and denouncing what you perceive as “excess.” More and more, the Academy is acting like an irate nanny.

Here’s the problem: You’re a cool guy, Frank, and all this “harrumphing” doesn’t work for you. Besides, every time the august fathers of the Academy try to curb the “commercialization” of the process, the results seem counterproductive.

Perhaps the time has come to give moral indignation a rest and acknowledge the changed atmosphere of the business. Sure, the Oscars are intended to honor the art of filmmaking, but they’re also about commerce. The TV show is intended to sell products and boost careers. Hence Oscar campaigns are by definition both fervid and profligate. And by taking a month out of the process next year, you will only further increase the noise level of Oscar campaigning.

This will be especially true since, from the look of things, the films competing for next year’s Oscar will include several $100 million-plus movies from the major studios. Yes, Frank, the majors apparently have decided that there’s too much money and cachet at stake to let the Oscars become the Harvey-and-Jeffrey show. They want in, too. And that means, harrumph, some major campaigning.

The brouhaha about Robert Wise’s testimonial, Frank, signaled yet again why the Academy’s irate nanny stance doesn’t resonate. A venerable filmmaker and former Academy president, Wise allowed his name to appear on a brief essay supporting Marty Scorsese’s claim to an Oscar. Harvey Weinstein ran the testimonial in paid ads.

That’s when you entered the picture, Frank. In deploring the ads, you made it into a page one story in the Los Angeles Times — rather aggressive placement, one might argue. After all, last year Wise delivered a testimonial on behalf of Baz Luhrman and “Moulin Rouge,” and it ran in even more ads. Academy members are not supposed to reveal how they vote, you reminded everyone, but last year several prominent voters apparently overlooked that admonition, including Julia Roberts, Warren Beatty and Francis Ford Coppola.

“Baz and his team have re-invented the Hollywood musical,” Wise wrote last year, supported by Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds. Did he actually write that line or did someone from 20th Century Fox write it? No one apparently asked last year. Indeed, who cares?

I would argue that the irate nanny role has outlived its usefulness, Frank. The new Hollywood is Corporate Hollywood. It’s all about money. The Oscars are about money, too. There is no way, within the context of a free society, to suppress pre-Oscar parties or to mandate a lid on campaign spending.

Has Harvey Weinstein helped redefine the Oscar? Sure he has. But then the next question becomes: Have his movies not advanced the art and craft of filmmaking? What would the Oscars have looked like this year without the Miramax entries?

These are some of the issues I hope you will deal with during your post-mortem, Frank. And while you’re doing it, a final word: Let me congratulate you one more time on your remarkable year.

As I said, Frank, the irate nanny role is just not for you.