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March 25, 1991 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-03-25

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ARTS
The Michigan Daily Monday, March 25, 1991
Oscars are a meaningless sham

Page_5
American Indian
dances at center stage

by Mark Binelli
Once every year, the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
rolls out the red carpet for the
Queens and Kings of the Big Screen
'who have become America's unique
version of royalty, with LA's Shrine
Auditorium filling in for Bucking-
ham Palace and Rule Britannia be-
ing replaced by obnoxious produc-
tion numbers of the nominated show
tunes. And a basic question regarding
the royal families of both London
and Hollywood naturally arises: that
is, why the need for an outdated
monolithic monarchy that has more
often than not been a forum for hon-
oring the wrong people for the
wrong reasons?
It all, of course, comes down to
politics. Nominations and wins both
assure huge visibility and box office
receipts, making Spy magazine's
blurb-o-matic critic Walter Monheit
not all that far-fetched. Oscar has
somehow managed to maintain his
gilded image with the majority of
the movie-going public, however,
despite a truly shameful history of
ignoring quality and rewarding medi-
ocrity for dubious reasons (profit,
politics, popularity).
Who picks the winners? Produc-
tion companies, for the most part,
by deciding which films to push and
launching massive advertising cam-
paigns to influence the voters. Many
of these voters, incidentally, have
not seen the films that they are vot-
ing on and are completely unquali-
fied to vote, anyway - for a not-so-
small fee, you, too, could join the
prestigious Academy.
And who wins? More often than
not a gently politically-correct film
(preferably an "epic") that reinforces

the status quo while making Middle
America feel good about our collec-
tive "progrese (see last year's inof-
fensive best picture winner Driving
Miss Daisy, which beat out the
completely ignored, clearly superior
Do the Right Thing).
Comedy and horror films have
been traditionally overlooked, not to
mention any sort of innovation; the
non-mainstream Mystery Train's
will always be sacrificed for stuff
more fit for mass public con-
sumption - i.e. Awakenings.
Independent films have also been
consistently snubbed in favor of
studio films, with a major exception
being this year's probable best pic-
ture winner Dances With Wolves,
but hey, it was popular, politically-
correct epic, and it starred Kevin
Costner's butt - how could it lose?
In the end, it might be a better
idea to avoid the ridiculously-popular
celebration of greed and excess and
join Woody at Michael's Pub.
But if you insist, here's a list of
a few of the most infamous mo-
ments (and believe me, there were
plenty to choose from) in Academy
History. And you thought Ghost
getting nominated for best picture
was bad ...
1929: The first awards are given
at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
The voters, even then displaying
their great wisdom and foresight, de-
bate the pros and cons of allowing
"talkies" into the competition.
1931: Greta Garbo is nominated
for best actress for her role in Anna
Christie, but loses to Norma
Shearer (The Divorcee), wife of
MGM production chief Irving Thal-
berg (MGM wielded great influence
over the Academy at this time.)
Garbo will never win an Oscar, but
doesn't really seem to care.
1942: Orson Welles, director and

by Michael Paul Fischer
it seems an appropriate moment
indeed for the American Indian
Dance Theatre's unprecedented, cel-
ebratory spectacle.
Kevin Costner's epic western
Dances With Wolves is expected
to sweep the U.S. film industry's
annual Academy Awards tonight,
taking to a new plateau the na-
tion's acknowledgement of Native
American culture.
The Dance Theatre's own reper-
toire - in the spotlight tonight at
Ann Arbor's Power Center am-
phitheater - has also been a finan-
cial success. Tonight's show has,
in fact, been sold out for six
weeks. But producer and founder
Barbara Schwei - convinced of the
inherent wonder found in Indian
culture - is hesitant to explain the
ensemble's success in terms of
popular trends.
"You see this from time to
time," explains Schwei, regarding
the impact of Wolves. "You have
to think back 10 or 15 years -
you also had other movies too that
had the same comment, like Little
Big Man, and everybody said, 'Oh,
look! That is fascinating!"'
"I just hope that we could
progress beyond it now," she
contiues, "and not just say 'Oh,
that's something very interesting'
for six months, you know?"
Schwei's ensemble, neverthe-
less, has been regularly selling out
performances since its inception in
1987. The group has performed in
Europe and Japan, as well as for a
1990 PBS Great Performances
TV special, and was nominated for
a Grammy Award.
Comprised of dancers from over
20 American Indian nations and

tribes, including Apache, Chero-
kee, Navajo, Pawnee and Zuni per-
formers, the group will perform 19
different dances tonight, some of
which date back as far as 600 years.
Though the tribes originate
from many different parts of Amer-
ica, traditions of these diverse cul-
tures are unified by many common
threads.
"The drum is central to all the
dance," explains Schwei. "The
drum is what inspires the dancer,
and the song. And there's certainly
a sense of nature and of cycles, and
oneness with nature and the earth,
that you see repeated over and
over."
Schwei attributes the AIDT's
success primarily to the fact that it
has been - and remains today -
the only national troupe of its
kind. She herself still is unsure as
to why the concept of a national
Indian touring company hadn't
been realized earlier. "Perhaps there
wasn't a feeling that people
wanted to be unified. There had
been troupes of Indian actors and
playwrights, but no one had gone
into dance and music."
Schwei is uncertain as to
whether her group's success might
have any potential as a vehicle for
a unified political movement
amongst Native Americans.
"We do occasional benefits for
organizations," she explains. "But
our approach is that we're just do-
ing a positive image of the culture,
and that's the business we know
about."
"We don't know," she adds with
a chuckle, "about oil rights."
THE AMERICAN INDIAN
DANCE THEATRE performs at 8
p.m. tonight at the Power Center.

With the current obsessive '70s nostalgia, even bell-bottoms and disco
are back in style. Can streaking be far behind? Here level-headed
Englishman David Niven maintains his composure at the '74 Academy
Awards show, despite an unscheduled interruption. (Photo courtesy of
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, from The Real
Oscar.)

star of Citizen Kane, one of the
finest films ever made, is booed ev-
ery time his name is mentioned, due
to the power and influence of
William Randolph Hearst, whose
life the film was not-so-loosely
based on. Kane receives nine nomi-
nations, but only wins one award,
for best original screenplay. Ho w
Green Was My Valley is named
best picture.
1954: Donna Reed, for her role
as a prostitute in From Here to
Eternity, becomes part of a distin-
guished line of "Pretty Women" to
win Oscars. Other female actors to
win for gold-hearted hooker roles in-
clude Shirley Jones, Janet Gaynor,
Judy Holliday, Elizabeth Taylor, Su-
san Hayward, Jo Van Fleet and Lila
Kedrova. Can Julia Roberts lose
with such a time-honored tradition
behind her?
1961: John Wayne begins a
long line of unethical Oscar public-
ity campaigns by implying that not
voting for his directorial debut, The
Alamo, is unpatriotic. The Alamo is
undeservedly nominated over clearly
superior films such as Psycho, In-
herit the Wind and Sparta cus.
Meanwhile, the campaigning dam is
broken, as one of the stars of The
Alamo, Chill Wills, proves with his
own tasteless ad, which featured a
photo of the film's cast and the
statement, "We of The Alamo cast
are praying - harder than the real
Texans prayed for their lives at the
Alamo - for Chill Wills to win the
Oscar." Even the Duke distanced
himself from this one.
196 3: Queen Bitch Joan
"Mommie Dearest" Crawford, irked
that her What Ever Happened to
Baby Jane? co-star Bette Davis was
nominated for best actress while she
was not, arranges to accept the award
for Anne Bancroft, who was nomi-
nated for The Miracle Worker.
Bancroft wins, Crawford gets the ap-

plause and Davis later said, "It was a
moment I'll never forget."
1972: Marlon Brando is named
best actor for his role in The Godfa-
ther, but he sends Native American
activist Sacheen Littlefeather to
refuse the award as a protest of the
unfair treatment of Native Americans
by America and Hollywood. It later
turns out that Littlefeather used to be
part-time actress Maria Cruz, a for-,
mer Miss Vampire U.S.A. Mean-
while Brando, when confronted by
Dick Cavett a year later, admits,
"Would I do it again? Well, uh, I
don't think so."
1974: Robert Opel streaks behind
host David Niven, who quickly
notes, "Isn't it fascinating that prob-
ably the only laugh this man will
ever get in his life is by stripping
off his clothes and showing his
shortcomings?" A libidinous Raquel
Welch, on the other hand, disagreed,
saying, "Hmm, must have been the
Schlitz Malt Liquor bull. I'd like to
meet him."
1977: "You Light Up My Life"
is named best song. "Stayin' Alive"
is not nominated, but John Travolta
is, for best actor.
(Sources include The Real Os-
car: the Story Behind the Academy
Awards, by Peter H. Brown, and the
Daily film staff, especially Jen and
Gregg.)
ANNA R

Quote of the Day: David Lee
Roth quipped this gem to Matt
Resincoff in next month's Musician
magazine. Resincoff asked Diamond
Dave: "You sing about the blues,
about empty pockets and a silver
spoon background. How do you rec-
oncile that? Does the blues come
from suffering or from guilt about

being privileged?" Roth, in ever-tact-
ful form, replied: "Well, you're as-
suming that blues has to do with
economic background. Muddy Wa-
ters may have invented electricity,
but picking cotton never helped any-
body sing the blues any better. The
more money you make, the more
blues you got...." Yeah, right.

u v

I

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"Lightning-bolt man" was part of the cerebral entertainment at a '30s
Oscar ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences, from The Real Oscar.)

Ilene H.Fo
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of the History of Art
1991 Warner G. Rice Humanities Award Recipient
The Ivory Tower:
Monastic Metaphor
at Michigan
March 26
From Cloister to Quadrangle
"It will not do to make the
Law Quad'a legal monastery."
April 2
The Making of the

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