At the second-floor entrance to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences there is a one-sheet poster of Wings, the first-ever Oscar winner for Best Picture and to date the only silent film ever to win. Next to it is a one-sheet of the most recent Best Picture winner (The King’s Speech) which remains in that place of honor for a year. How ironic then would it be if major contender The Artist were to win, creating a never-dreamed of Academy bookend for two black-and-white silent movies separated by 84 years of Oscar history.
There was no mention of The Artist Tuesday night at the Academy during introductions to the premiere screening of the restored Wings, but the feeling that history could repeat itself this year was definitely something felt in that room. The Academy program was the kickoff to Paramount’s yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, and in addition to screenings of its first Best Picture winner Tuesday and Wednesday the Academy is displaying posters and memorabilia from the studio’s storied history in its Grand Lobby through February 6.
It’s a big year for studio 100ths with Universal also celebrating a centennial and promising yearlong events and restorations just like Paramount. In fact Academy President Tom Sherak announced last night that the Acad will also be hosting a similar event for Universal later in the year. But this night belonged to William Wellman’s masterful Wings which at a cost of $2 million in 1927 was the most expensive movie to date in Hollywood. In addition to its Best Picture Oscar, Sherak noted it won an Engineering Effects award and was a true blockbuster — “the ‘Star Wars’ of 1927 that had actors doing their own flying stunts” he said in his opening remarks.
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Universal this month is launching a yearlong 2012 centennial celebration with an ambitious and almost unprecedented film-restoration effort, a new logo, a swarm of special-edition Blu-ray movie packages, theme park celebrations emphasizing their film history, special events, premieres, and a major social media campaign. Like Paramount, which is also embarking on a centennial celebration, the emphasis here is making the old seem new again. Key among Universal’s plans is the complete restoration of 13 films that showcase a large part of the history of the studio — from 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front to 1993′s Schindler’s List.
When I spoke with Universal president and COO Ron Meyer on Monday morning, his excitement about this opportunity to mark the studio’s storied past and take it into the future was evident. “One hundred years is such a great milestone,” he said. “I am a movie lover. It’s such an important part of the American culture, a part of the heritage of this country. I think we have a responsibility to our employees, to the public to celebrate not just a milestone but celebrate the movie business, and this gives us a reason to do it.” He emphasized the centerpiece of this yearlong effort: the restoration of many Universal classics each uniquely repping their own decades.
Films chosen to get the full restoration treatment — in addition to the aforementioned All’s Quiet and Schindler’s List — are both 1931 versions of Dracula, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), and Out of Africa (1985). That’s actually 12 titles altogether, but there are 13 films since the studio is restoring both 1931 versions of Dracula — including Bela Lugosi’s famous English-language picture and the Spanish version that was filmed on the same sets at night. Pillow Talk repping the ’50s was one of Universal’s biggest hits ever to that time, earning an Original Screenplay Oscar and Doris Day’s only Oscar nomination. It seems an interesting and inspired choice to me, and to Meyer. “What a great movie,” he said. “I have four children who don’t know these movies. They don’t know a Doris Day movie or Rock Hudson movies. And they are going to enjoy them when they see them. Once they see it they can appreciate it. There’s no way for even 30-year olds to know some of those movies unless they are film buffs.” Read More »