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The Academy Awards, the book - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - Arrived recently at the house was a large book entitled 75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. Written by the film historian Robert Osborne, the book weighs between ten to fifteen pounds. Not only in size is the book remarkable, but also in what it contains.

Chronicling the history of the Academy Awards, the book has listed, by year, the nominees as well as photographs from the movies duly nominated. The text is written by Osborne who does great research, and breaks down year by year, the controversies and provides a brief running of commentary of what filmgoers saw and what the Academy chose to honour as the year's best.

The Academy Awards exercise each year is often an exercise in the garish and extreme. Not to mention self-serving, as the world tunes in each year to watch the film industry pat itself on the back. But year in and year out, people tune in, just as much as they watch movies. Gilbert Cates, who has produced many Oscar telecasts in recent years, said that you can go back to every Oscar telecast and within the confines of the three, sometimes four-hour show, can get a feel for the social history of the cultural if not political year. This book tries to capture that, but surprisingly for a book so large; Osborne's writing doesn't focus on year-to-year cultural history, as much as he does the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which to the average filmgoer, is not as interesting as lets say box office gross or fads born thanks to something seen on the silver screen.

The book, for all its lavishness, is not a book that I suspect will sell well. I assume that this book, by virtue of its price ($75.00 US, $105.00 CDN) will be a book, as the publicity materials accompanying it states, for movie buffs and serious film scholars. Add to that Oscar fanatics, a select few in journalism circles and of course members of the said Academy, who will relish the splendid work that Osborne has culled together making this the definitive book on the Academy Awards and the Academy.

75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards is the authoritative book on the Academy Awards. It's up-to-date containing the nominees up to the recent Oscar fare from this past spring. Being that I'm more of a fan of the Academy Awards themselves, rather than the films that they honour, I find that the book leaves me wanting a little more. In every year's listing alongside the list of nominees, the author includes stills from the movies so honoured. You'll see Robert De Niro in character in his Oscar winning performance in Raging Bull. Shots such as Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy or Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront are included as well. The book is good that way, but an Oscar aficionado such as me, looks for some of the memorable highlights derived from Oscar telecasts over the last fifty years. There is that shot of Katharine Hepburn, in her only Oscar appearance in 1974, as well as David Niven being upstaged by a streaker. Nevertheless, one wishes that there were more shots from the telecasts themselves, then stills from the films that either won or were nominated for Oscars. Though this year's reunion of past Oscar winners is included, the one from five years ago at the 70th annual ceremony is conspicuously absent from these over-400 pages.

If you're looking for a little more backstage gossip or a look at the politics involved in selecting winners and losers at the Academy Awards, you won't find it in 75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. No, you're advised to check out Damien Bona's Inside Oscar books, which are more dense, as well as no-holds-barred in their recollections and reportage.

Then again, Robert Osborne's 75 Years of the Oscar is more definitive than it is descriptive. It's a recollection rather than a revising revisit. It's a magisterial tome that would make a spectacular gift. It is breathtaking in what contains, and it's a remarkable book to have in any collection. It is both a perfect resource for facts, as well as a distinguished addition to any coffee table. If you can spare the expense, then get this book. Other than that, it is probably just for the audience that it was meant for, Academy members wishing to pat themselves on the back for an extraordinary history.

75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards by Robert Osborne (ISBN: 0789207877), published by Abbeville Press is $105.00 CDN ($75.00 USD).

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