1927-1928: Year One

I left very little out this year from V. 1. Which is more than I can say for the Academy, who handed out Oscars for Best Engineering Effects and Best Writing (Title Writing) without saying what movies all the nominees were nominated for in the first place!

Neither of these categories were ever used again, which is one reason (among many) I chose to ignore them.

Engineering Effects:

The winner was Roy Pomeroy, for Wings. An obvious choice, over Ralph Hammeras and Nugent Slaughter, who not only had no film titles listed, but both of whom had names perfectly appropriate for members of a death metal band…

Wings remains one of the seminal adventure films, despite some of the dopier subplots. I have to assume the Oscar was given for solving some of the technical problems involved in filming aerial combat, and given the influence of Wings on so many other dogfights, almost certainly deserved. The Oscar may also be for some of the coloring done in the original release, but further research will be needed. Part of me suspects the Academy was only stroking its own kittens again, as it were, since Pomeroy was one of the founding members of the Academy.

Pomeroy previously worked on the original Cecil B. DeMille The Ten Commandments, and would go on to write and direct the WWI melodrama Shock in 1934, starring the less-than-immortal Ralph Forbes, Gwenllian Gill, and Monroe Owlsley. Shock was made for a now-forgotten company, W.T. Lackey Productions, and is more than likely lost (UCLA has not even a shred of it in their film library). Pomeroy was born in India and died in 1947.

As for Mr. Hammeras and Mr. Slaughter, the Academy says nothing about Mr. Hammeras, but has this to say about Mr. Slaughter (the name would also serve as a super-villain, or a Quentin Tarantino character…): “Though no specific titles were indicated during the presentation on May 16, 1929, or in the official results from the Central Board of Judges for this honorable mention, Academy records indicate that Mr. Slaughter was most often mentioned in connection with The Jazz Singer.” [http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain.jsp?curTime=1386549119008]. The Jazz Singer remains one of the most important movies ever made, beginning the sound revolution that doomed the silent era — as well as one of the greatest displays of schmaltz ever released. Neither jazz nor singing can be found. The nomination is more than likely for the sound. Nugent Slaughter never received another film credit of any kind, but he apparently served in WWI with distinction, as a lieutenant colonel in the Signal Corps, receiving the Army Distinguished Service Medal [http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=18177]. We salute you, Colonel Slaughter — which, by the way, makes for an even more bad-ass name.

Hammeras (who with an additional “s” might have also had a career in porn) had a career working in special effects, including the original The Lost World and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The most likely candidate for his nomination for Engineering Effects is for The Private Life of Helen of Troy, directed by Alexander Korda and starring Lewis “I was Andy Hardy’s Dad” Stone as Menelaus, Ricardo “I was the first Sam Spade” Cortez, and the now forgotten Maria “I was married to the director, but spelled my last name differently in a vain attempt to deny the nepotism” Corda as Helen. A big-budget spectacle, The Private Life of Helen of Troy is now a lost film, with only fragments remaining in the British Film Institute. As for the rest of his achievements, Hammeras invented the traveling glass matte process: “Around 1925 another method of making a matte was developed. One of the drawbacks of the old mattes was that the matte line was stationary. There could be no direct contact between the live action and the matte background. The traveling matte changed that. The traveling matte was like an in-camera or bi-pack matte, except that the matte line changed every frame. Filmmakers could use a technique similar to the bi-pack method to make the live action portion a matte itself, allowing them to move the actors around the background and scene – integrating them completely.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matte_%28filmmaking%29]. Hammeras would receive two other Oscar nominations, one in art direction for the wonderfully goofy Just Imagine and one for special effects for Deep Waters, a movie dangerously obsessed with lobsters. Ralph Hammeras passed away in Los Angeles in 1970.

Title Writing:

The winner was Joseph Farnham, but no movies were listed as part of the award. What is listed is his status as a founding member of the Academy, so once again, arms were being broken patting themselves on the back. Farnham came to the movies after being a successful playwright; the silent classic The Big Parade is based on one of his works. For those of you obsessed with Trivial Pursuit, he was also the very first Oscar winner to die — he is buried in Forest Lawn in Glendale, if you’re morbidly inclined to visit. He also worked on The Crowd and Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman, which is enough for me to want to drop by and say hello someday. As for trying to figure out which films he was nominated for, that’s next to impossible, since he made over two dozen films in the time under consideration, including the lost Lon Chaney vampire film, London After Midnight.

The other two candidates, Gerald Duffy and George Marion, Jr., were nowhere near as prolific as Farnham. Marion was also an actor, whose most famous role was as Greta Garbo’s father in Anna Christie. The film he was most likely nominated for is The Red Mill, now available on Warner Archive (I’m not sure why I had it listed as a lost film in my notes from my first book — but it’s been available since 2009 from Warner Archive: http://www.amazon.com/Mill…/dp/B002EAYEBK/ref=sr_1_1…).  Marion also worked on the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic, The Gay Divorcee, as well as W.C. Fields’ You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man. Duffy, on the other hand, had his career ended in 1928 — not by bad reviews or the coming of sound, but by death. One should try to avoid being reviewed by Death. Duffy died while he was dictating a script; Death is such a harsh critic. Duffy was probably nominated for The Private Life of Helen of Troy, which as pointed out above, is lost. But here’s a screenshot.

So there’s the first year — and guess what? I had no reason to feel guilty at all, since none of the movies under consideration were available.

I hope you’re as relieved as I am. We’ll see you in the next year’s special features, provided Death doesn’t decide he’s had enough of me.

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