The Oscars are considered the Olympics of the cinematic world. They are the ultimate glory and accolade that can be bestowed upon an artist of the performing arts.
The first Oscar was awarded in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Thursday, the 16th of May in the year 1929. This is a significant year. It was the last year of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. Great technological advances had been made ever since the end of the Great War in 1918. There was a rampant exuberance amongst the business and higher classes. Everybody expected more.
Even in Hollywood, there was a sea change in what people wanted. In 1928 itself, chaos reigned in Hollywood. Most of the major studios had been caught unprepared by the overwhelming demand for talking films. This ability of the silent image to ‘talk’ brought it much closer to reality. The distinction between reel life and real life was blurred.
This saw critically acclaimed silent films playing to near-empty theatres. Small town theatre owners watched locals drive off to the nearest city where they could view the new ‘sound’ movies.
As theatres scrambled to install sound equipment, the studios raced to build soundproof facilities. This change in technology also required a change in film-making technique. Desperate studio executives purchased the rights to hundreds of existing plays and songs, and every major studio hired Broadway composers to write new screen-based musicals for them.
The change in the cinematic atmosphere was almost electric. It shook up things so much and brought about so much change that this explosion of creative energies saw rewarded with the very first industry-wide award for the moving picture; the Oscar awards. In a manner of speaking, it was the ‘voice’ that cinema got that gave the Oscars, and not the other way round.
Early Oscar Winners
In keeping with the sweeping technology engulfing the world at this time, the first Oscar winner for the best movie was also the first and last silent movie to ever win an Oscar. ‘Wings’ is a war movie set during the Great War.
The second Oscar winner for best movie was a talking movie. There would never be a silent film winning the Oscar for the best movie again. ‘The Broadway Melody’ was, characteristically, a musical.
The third movie to win the Oscar for best picture was ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. This, again, was a war movie set during the Great War.
The fourth movie to win the Oscar for best movie was ‘Cimarron’. This was an early western.
It can be seen from the first 4 Oscar winners for best picture that action was very much the current vogue. The war and western genres as well as the musical format all involve strong emotions. The Roaring Twenties were full of celebration and anticipation. The following economic collapse of the Great Depression was equally full of emotions. There was the shock and despair at the implosion of great expectations. There was also the hope and need to rise out of this rut. This again called for action.
It is surprising that the beginning of the Oscar awards coincided with this tumultuous period of history; the end of the Art Deco era and the beginning of a climate of frustration that would eventually lead to the most brutal war that the world has ever known: the Second World War.
These early movies were filmed with methods, materials and techniques which were very different than those of today. Many movies from these early days were silent movies. There are many in the 8 mm format. It is almost impossible to view these today. The hardware to view this format is now out of fashion. Sometimes it is possible to do super 8 conversion to DVD to make watching these films possible. Luckily technology has continued to advance. Today’s films’ use of special effects could not even have been imagined during the early days, as there were simply no computers to create them.